Clare’s national hurling league position will depend on small margins

Clare V Galway 2013
Clare Senior Hurling Manager Davy Fitzgerald motivates his side during their meeting with Galway in Cusack Park

THIS league campaign will rest on margins. Very small margins. Two weeks ago a lot of the county over-reacted to a one point loss to Waterford that could have been very different, on Sunday we got out of jail against Galway when the luck went with us.
Our valuable two league points were collected by virtue of character, a very useful club to have in the bag. That and a fantastic, brave save from goalkeeper Patrick Kelly.
Those are the margins. And they are fine.
Two Sundays ago Clare created four clear-cut goal chances. Last Sunday we didn’t engineer one. Yet we still managed eighteen points and left the rest to our defensive attitude which was first class.
That was Sunday’s most redeeming feature. Our team played like their lives depended on it. From one to fifteen we were tenacious on a championship level. We still made mistakes and we will continue to do so for some time to come, but on Sunday, luckily they did not come back to haunt us.
That is about the size of it. One swallow doesn’t make a summer. We needn’t have over-reacted to the Waterford loss and we shouldn’t over-react to this win.
We should however continue to seek out the positives for they are what this league is ultimately about. We are finding out about our players, our style of play and on Sunday we learnt a lot about our character.
The good news is that this Clare team didn’t take the narrow loss to Waterford lying down. Our backs in particular played with a physicality that belied their size. They would not be beaten on Sunday and that was Sunday’s best dividend.
Looking at the league landscape we now see Kilkenny winless and at the bottom of the table looking up. There won’t be massive soul searching in Cat land, no plaintive cries for Brian Cody to change everything and very few Kilkenny men crying into their pints while pondering the end of their great team.
There are now six league points left to play for and Clare are back in the mix. Every team still is. We travel to Cork next Saturday night, a team with a lot to play for this spring and we will find out a little more about ourselves.
In two Sundays time Brian Cody brings his squad to Cusack Park and on that day we will find out even more. It now appears Kilkenny will need the points to avoid a relegation play-off and that will concentrate their minds.
Here is the biggest plus to being in Division 1A. Saturday night in Cork will be a fine test and Sunday week the best of all. Just to ensure the education continues, we round it all off with a game in Thurles against Tipp.
Those remaining three games are about us being competitive. Our first two have already shown we belong in the division. We could have won both, we could very well have lost both. If at the end of March we can still say that then the league is a success for us, no matter how many points we garner.
There is still much to work on. We are still taking the wrong option far too often at this level. Sunday was about fine margins and we diced with danger more than once by not doing the simple thing. With the game on the line on Sunday we coughed up the ball far too easily on occasion. Luckily we had the sheer will to repair the damage done, but if we continue to put ourselves in that line of fire, we will be fired.
We’d also like to see more of Darach Honan, Colm Galvin and a few more forward options tried. Substitutes must be given more time to state their case for starting inclusion and our half forwardline still needs surgery. But this is what the league is for.
Colin Ryan’s first half was almost a complete performance, his confidence now in a Clare jersey is almost visible. David McInerney has now passed his first two serious tests with flying colours. Shane O’Donnell’s rawness is being whittled into outright effectiveness with each passing match. John Conlon showed the type of leadership every serious team must have. Domhnal O’Donovan’s consistentcy is the rock any full backline can be built on. Brendan Bugler, despite the obligatory yellow card and several fluffed attempts at getting rid of the ball, showed his value once again. Man marking Joe Canning for the majority of Sunday’s game, he rendered his impact on the game from play to be almost negligible.
Those were just some of the pluses. Put all of that together with the slice of luck we enjoyed, and Pat Kelly’s reflexes, and hey presto, two league points.
Again the margins will be fine in Pairc Ui Rinn on Saturday night. The Rebels are a point scoring machine right now. A different test, but a useful one.
A win, a draw or a loss? No matter really. Every day is a school day for this Clare team and its management.

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