Is it time the Clare senior footballers were re-graded to the Junior ranks?

Gordon Kelly breaks away from Laois’s Conor Meredith and Colm Begley on Saturday

SIXTY years ago last weekend the Clare senior footballers contested a Munster semi-final against Kerry in Cusack Park – or to be more truthful about this fact of football life, they were on the same field as Kerry, because at no stage during the 60 minutes did they contest.
It was the beginning of another year to September for Kerry, with Bill McCorry’s famous penalty miss for Armagh in the final helping the Kingdom to another All-Ireland title that year.
It so happened that Clare were with Kerry in Croke Park that All-Ireland day – the minors that is, as they contested the final against Mayo on a day that hinted at a new beginning for Clare football.
It was just as well the minors raised Clare’s football spirits that year, because what happened in Cusack Park 60 years ago this past weekend looked more like the beginning of the end for the game in the county at senior level.
Why? They were beaten by 6-10 to 0-2. And this was only four years after Clare had beaten Kerry in Cusack Park in a Munster semi-final and three years after holding them to a draw down in Tralee and would have won only for Sean Connolly’s winning point was ruled out by the sound of the final whistle as the ball dissected the posts.
It was one of the greatest home town decisions ever handed down in the GAA – Clare lost the replay and within a few years were the whipping boys of the province once more.
The tipping point came with that 28-point defeat, because it prompted drastic action. The Clare County Board of the time finally woke up to reality that football in the county at senior level was in a sorry state, so much so that the unprecedented decision was taken to pull out of senior competition altogether for 1954 and re-grade to the junior ranks.
Fast forward 60 years to the same July weekend and Clare football at senior level is in a sorry state – something that should prompt some unprecedented action on behalf of the county board.
Why not take the leap lads? Why not re-grade to the junior ranks? At least it would amount to Clare, as a football county, facing up to the reality that there’s a crisis, something that the county has always been loath to do and even more reluctant to do something about it.
Of course, it’s not going to happen, but maybe it should, for the good of the game in the county.
Sure it wouldn’t be good for Clare if they weren’t playing senior football, but by taking the plunge and re-grading, it would be something of the wake-up call that Clare football needs.
Why? Because Clare, on the evidence of Saturday are that bad. And, at least by taking drastic action the collective myopia that has overcome most people in the county interested or supposed to be interested in football might end.
There are far too many people in Clare who have an inflated opinion about the state of football in the county. Wake up lads! Get real and stop being narcissistic about the game in Clare.
Time and time again we hear public comment about the standard of Clare football – alas positivity about Clare football is just propaganda talk that’s fanciful in the extreme that isn’t backed up with facts.
The fact is that Clare have been in the basement division of the National League for much of the last decade; the fact is that the county has only scored two wins in the Munster championship in the past decade – against Waterford and Limerick; the fact is that having one good club team in Kilmurry Ibrickane doesn’t have any relevance or bearing on the standing of the county team.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many fine footballers in Clare, but the county is rooted in Division 4 of the National League and has endured some huge defeats in the last two years alone: beaten by 19 points by Kerry last year, beaten by 12 by Cork last year and finally, and humiliatingly so, beaten by 16 points by Laois on Saturday.
There comes a time when you have to shout stop. There comes a time when you wonder if it’s worth the effort if at the end of it all it’s always the same old story of Clare being the whipping boys.
That’s what Clare were on Saturday – and the harsh reality is that warning lights were flashing long before Laois cranked to life by hitting 1-4 without reply in the last eight minutes of the half.
It was there even when Clare were riding the wave of some early enthusiasm and sprinted into a 0-6 to 0-2 lead – it was there because Laois’ profligacy had to be seen to be believed as they sliced through Clare’s defence time after time only to hit wide after wide in the opening 15 minutes.
Once their radar was readjusted it was game over and Clare were on a fast train to their worst championship defeat in Cusack Park since – you’ve guessed it – that 6-10 to 0-2 defeat to Kerry all those 60 years ago.
Thing is, Laois aren’t Kerry – they won’t be playing football in September and they won’t win an All-Ireland. That places this 16-point defeat every bit as bad as the 28-point defeat those six decades ago – worse than that even. You could go so far as to say it’s as bad as the 9-10 to 0-4 defeat of 1947, or the 9-21 to 1-9 defeat in Miltown Malbay in 1979.
That’s what this 3-17 to 0-10 defeat to a mediocre Laois team must be viewed as. Clare are the whipping boys – it’s time this fact was recognized that and something was done about it.
It was one of the darkest days in living memory and that’s why it’s time to start anew.
And, having a few coaches in the county under the Jobbridge Scheme isn’t going to be enough.
Go back to junior and build; if that’s too big a pill to swallow, at least start campaigning for a two-tiered championship system where Clare would have some chance of being competitive. All the while, go back to would-be footballers of the pre-teen years and start to build.
Then the only way is up, because there’s no where lower than where Clare are now.


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