Anything less than an All-Ireland quarter final appearance would be a poor championship return for Clare senior hurlers

Clare’s Patrick O’Connor breaks away with the ball in Cusack Park on Saturday;

SATURDAY’S routine win made for a pleasant and relatively stress free seventy minutes. We expect matters to be a little different this weekend.
Laois, after their stirring performance against Galway, had been hoping to make things a little difficult for us and part of that plan was the deployment of eight defenders in their backline. Clare however had done their homework and had their radar working early, a series of first half points killing the game as a contest.
We can take a host of positives from the game, a championship win by twenty odd points being first and foremost. We also had some notable performances, Peter Duggan’s four points and general workrate will do his prospects of starting against Wexford no harm, while the fact that fifteen different players got on the scoreboard is a record for the county.
This Saturday in Thurles will be different. The physicality the Wexford team will bring will test us, our forwards in particular.
It’s been a very strange year in championship hurling, Dublin’s fantastic victory on Sunday highlighting just how quickly teams can turn things around. A few weeks back Dalo’s team were lucky to get out of Wexford Park with a draw, this week they are Leinster champions and serious All-Ireland contenders.
Wexford will take heart from that as is their habit. They usually have a performance in them every year and they’ll consider Clare the soft side of the draw too. They will have legitimate ambitions about beating us.
Thurles on Saturday will be about a victory and nothing else. Our attitude will be sorely tested, as will our discipline, Wexford will not run up a big score, but they will feed on early encouragement.
That could come in the form of a skirmish or two soon after or around the throw-in. We need to be totally focussed on hurling to start and play our own game.
Our strengths are all on the hurling side, pace and movement, Semple Stadium should be a ground that suits us, the weather could also be our ally as we are one of the fittest sides in the country.
Our opponents are a much more direct team and if they can drag us into attritional hurling, they will have a chance.
While we didn’t learn much from Laois, we won the game as a top six county should. Our backs had a soft enough outing as they had numbers in their favour throughout and spare men all over the middle third when the ball was won.
As a result two of our full backline scored points, I doubt if we’ll see David McInerney that far up the field this weekend, but we might see Cian Dillon.
The Crusheen man is now back to full fitness and hurling well. The physicality Wexford will try and impose on us should be meat and drink to Dillon, he could be used in a central role on Saturday, we shouldn’t be surprised to see him sited in our half backline at an early stage.
Our running game, when executed well, will give Wexford problems but we do need to get Tony Kelly into Saturday’s match early and often. He can make us tick.
The Ballyea man is still a novice in senior terms and this mustn’t be forgotten where expectations are concerned, he has been noticeably quiet in our last two outings. However Kelly’s ability is not in question and Thurles is a happy hunting ground for him already, he can play a major role on Saturday if and when we get the ball to him.
Last Saturday Laois were always going to have to be beaten from out the field and once we did that the game became a training exercise and the match predictably petered out. However we only managed one goal, a late one from Shane O’Donnell and didn’t really create too much on the green flag department.
If we continue to rack up huge point totals this will not become an issue, but when it comes to beating the big boys, we will need goals. Conor McGrath and Darach Honan are two proven goal getters, with a couple of other forwards eminently capable as well.
The clinical composure needed when the chance arrives has been missing in our last two outings. It’s not as if the forwards haven’t been getting goals in training, they have and they have been specifically working on this aspect of their game, but there is no substitute for match conditions.
A couple of goals on Saturday will restore confidence here.
Saturday is about winning, the manner of the victory of secondary importance, (goals or not). There will be little subtlety to Wexford’s approach. They will be physical and they will ask questions of us. If they are allowed to grow into the game we could be in trouble.
Our start will be crucial, our half backline’s forcefulness crucial. Leaders in the middle third like Bugler, Donnellan, Galvin and John Conlon will be crucial for they will be targetted. All are capable of withstanding that and taking the fight to Wexford.
We also have a bench that will be needed. It will be warm on Saturday and twenty bodies are better than fifteen, thankfully we have depth in all sectors.
Clare have made serious strides over the past year and it is worth noting that last Saturday’s win over Laois was probably the only competitive game this team have played in 2013 that did not have the intensity and importance of all the others. It was a relatively stress free match.
That should be the perfect preparation for Wexford for in all likelihood we needed the breather.
Saturday is our season because anything less than an All-Ireland quarter final appearance would be a poor championship return on a year that still has possibilities.
We can and should win.


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