Make or break for Clare

Leitrim v Clare

@ Páirc Sean MacDiarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon, Sunday at 2pm

ONE thing emerged from Clare’s desperately disappointing opening round defeat to Waterford in Hennessy Memorial Park last Sunday – the physical match-ups around the field.

It was men versus boys – in winter football it was the physicality of the Waterford 15 that caught the eye as much as they way they turned around and dominated Clare in the second half when playing against the wind.

They won the match-ups everywhere and that more than anything else turned what looked to be defeat at half-time into victory at the end of 70 minutes.

Clare won’t have that problem in Carrick-on-Shannon – Leitrim won’t be as physically imposing as Waterford, but that doesn’t make the task that awaits Clare in Páirc MacDiarmada any easier.

Put simply Leitrim will be favourites – forget the facile enough win Clare had over Barney Breen and George Dugdale’s team in Cusack Park last year. Leitrim are a different proposition this year, more like the side Mickey Moran had a couple of years ago when they beat Clare by 0-12 to 0-11 in Carrick-on-Shannon.

The FBD League is already banked for 2013 and while they lost to Limerick by 0-11 to 0-9 on Sunday, they’ll be expecting home advantage to make all the difference on Sunday.

It’s a crunch game to put it mildly – for the loser it will be a case of just making up the numbers for the rest of the campaign with the prospect of mounting a promotion push effectively extinguished.

If anything Clare have more to lose – just because with the arrival of Mick O’Dwyer in the county there was that expectation that the game would be given a lift, and a transfusion, drawing the crowds and getting results.

Neither happened on the first day out – there were more in attendance at Hennessy Memorial Park at a meaningless McGrath Cup game against Limerick Institute of Technology on the first Sunday in January 6 than there were last Sunday, while no more needs to be said about the result.

Now another loss and Clare would be back to where they were two years ago – when defeats to Leitrim and Carlow in the opening first two games rendered the rest of the campaign meaningless.

They won’t want to go back there, so in the pursuit of victory maybe they’ll try to re-discover some of the spirit that characterised their last appearance in Páirc MacDiarmada.

Yes they lost, but how they showed character in a second half purple-patch when they outscored Leitrim by 0-5 to 0-1 over an 18-minute period that transformed a 0-8 to 0-6 deficit into a 0-11 to 0-9 lead entering the last few minutes.

It was heroic because Clare were down to 13 players at that stage after the sending off of Gordon Kelly and David Tubridy, but just when it seemed they’d claim a significant victory they ran out of steam and were pipped at the post.

What’s needed on Sunday is for Mick O’Dwyer’s Clare to show some of the character Michéal McDermott’s Clare showed two years ago – if that’s there, they’ll get the result and they’ll be back in the ball-game.

If not, the league is over and out.

It’s over to the 15 players who take the field.

Verdict: Clare

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