Clare manager Colm Collins isn’t one for sitting on the fence where the 2015 National League is concerned, stating unequivocally that back-to-back promotions are the goal, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh
IT’S amazing what success can do. After years of toil where league promotion was tantalisingly close, but at the same time as far away as it ever had been the dam finally burst up in Antrim last April when Clare dug out a victory over the Saffrons and got over the line at last.
It was the goal of the management teams before that — Michéal McDermott on two occasions and Mick O’Dwyer came close, but when it didn’t happen for them and when luck deserted them at vital stages coming down the stretch, Clare players and supporters would have been forgiven for thinking that it would never happen.
That was until Colm Collins landed fresh from guiding Cratloe to a first ever senior football title in 2013. Clare finally turned a corner under his watch, principally because of the way he built on the progress made under McDermott and O’Dwyer, also picked things up hugely over the course of 12 months. In terms of preparation, in terms of performance and critically in terms of results.
Take the game up in Antrim that looked like going horribly wrong in the first half when Clare were backed by a gale sweeping in from Lough Neagh, yet failed spectacularly to make any headway before turning it around brilliantly in the second half to win by 0-10 to 0-6.
Take the championship performances against Kerry and Kildare — the two Division 1 sides the faced in 2014. Kerry may have started without James O’Donoghue and Kieran Donaghy who became stars of summer and autumn and may have been shedding some cobwebs, or ‘dirty petrol’ as manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice preferred to call it, but it was still a noble performance by Clare when going down by 1-17 to 1-13, particularly when you don’t have to be long of memory to remember the pummelling against the same opposition less than two years previously in The Gaelic Grounds.
Then there was the Kildare game that Clare should have won when leading by 0-12 to 0-6 early in the second half, but somehow contrived to concede seven without reply from there until the end to die by 0-13 to 0-12.
It was heartbreaking at the time, for sure, but when all was said and done it was a great year for Clare — they played 14 competitive games between league and championship during the year — winning seven, losing four and drawing two.
For Clare that was a huge upturn in fortunes, something that has contributed to a new feelgood factor around the team, with building on the progress in both league and championship now the goal as the 2015 beckons. Finally.
You don’t succeed when you don’t give yourself completely to the set-up in the sense that you’re hedging your bets.
I firmly believe that we have the players in Clare – players that Dublin, Mayo and others would love to have.
IT started in January when Clare took the decision not to take part in the McGrath Cup, which concluded on Saturday last with the novel pairing of Waterford and University College Cork contesting the final.
“We felt that we’d be better served by trying to get our gameplan together properly and our tactics together properly in an an environment where the pressure wasn’t on results but where the emphasis was totally on what way we were doing things,” said manager Colm Collins on the decision.
“This was just our own decision to see if what worked last year can work again this year. If we’re successful it will be an inspired move and if we’re not it will be a case of ‘why didn’t we play McGrath Cup’,” he added.
Now, as D-Day of Sunday, February 1st looms Collins and co are upbeat about Clare’s chances — on the back of the progress made in that first year and the uninterrupted work that has been done over the last couple of months.
“Things have been going well,” he revealed. “We’ve been working hard and hopefully we will hit the ground running on February 1st. It’s so important to be at our best that day and build from that throughout the league.
“It’s about keeping improving and I’m confident we can do that. Getting promoted is definitely our goal. There is tough opposition there and we are up against a lot of good teams, but we’re as good if not better than most of them so I think we’ve a tremendous opportunity and challenge ahead of us. You couldn’t fault the draw that we got, so I think we’ve got a great chance.
“We need to get promoted because if you’re not improving I think that you’re going backwards. I firmly believe if that we can build on last year and improve. We’re well capable of getting promotion out of Division 3,” he added.
In Collins’ second year in charge change has come in the form of an influx of new players, the departure of experiences players like Michael O’Shea, Alan Clohessy, Laurence Healy and Shane McNelis to retirement and the introduction of Ephie Fitzgerald into the backroom team.
“It was great to replace an excellent coach with another one. We are very happy with Paudie Kissane last year and he did a great job, now we have Ephie Fitzgerald who is a great coach as well. We are really happy that things are going the right way,” he said.
“Like everything you try and improve things all the time — make a few adjustments to try and drive the thing forward. We have done a few little things. Having new lads on the panel is very important — it brings something new and keeps things fresh while it puts pressure for places where there is genuine competition for positions on the team. I think we have a lot of good young fellas coming in and they’re really livening things up and we’re delighted with them.
“There’s a great freshness about them — they’re mad to learn and they’ve brought a great buzz to the panel and we’re delighted to have them. Hopefully they’ll keep improving and will push hard for places on the team and that will be good for everybody.
“Every game is so important when you’re targeting promotion. We need to hit the ground running and try to collect our points early. The most important thing is to try and be improving all the time and have that mentality that you’re trying to improve — you can never dictate results, but if you can put in your performances and if you’re trying to improve I feel that the results will take care of themselves,” he added.
They did last year in the league — a repeat and the rarefied atmosphere of Division 2 football awaits.