For a side so often criticised for underperforming given the wealth of talent at its disposal, it’s easy to forget that Clare were a few pucks of a ball away from an All-Ireland final in 2018, potentially setting up a tie with a Limerick team that they had already beaten in the Munster championship. But on the other hand, it’s equally as easy to be critical of a side that has failed to build upon it’s 2013 All-Ireland title promise, even with a young and exciting panel, as its prime passes it by.
Since that unlikely win in 2013, the Banner County have flattered to deceive in its home province. They’ve been losing finalists in each of the past two seasons, ultimately falling to Cork each time, a bogeyness that they may struggle to shake off this summer if their inconsistent league campaign is anything to go by.
Clare’s talent is undeniable. At the centre of it all is Tony Kelly, the Player of the Year from 2013, and many would argue still the best player roaming GAA fields around the country. Where Joe Canning had to wait so long to end his medal drought, Kelly picked up his All-Ireland medal extremely early in his career, before he entered his prime years. But he still hasn’t conquered Munster, a strange vacancy in an otherwise immaculate career thus far.
On paper, the Clare panel would rival any team in the country and be the envy of many more. So why can’t they get over the line in Munster? A string of final defeats is a worrying trend for a side that seems to hit an invisible wall at the final hurdle. Recent retirements has been a blow to the wealth of experience and leadership that intertwined the youthful talent, while long term injuries haven’t been kind to some excellent contributors.
2019 is a pivotal year for Clare. The manager duo of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor may be entering their final year in charge and the death knell will certainly toll if its another fruitless campaign. They’ve already been dealt a blow in the injury absence of trio Ian Galvin, Conor McGrath and Ian Shanahan, all of whom would have played major roles throughout the campaign.
The return of Shane O’Donnell can’t be underestimated however. The Harvard scholar, like many, hasn’t truly hit the heights of his 2013 performance, but he’s one of the most dangerous interior forwards in the country and is one of the most deadly goal threats in hurling. While he demands so much attention for his ability to win his own ball and threaten around the perimeter of the square, others around him have more time and space to flourish and take their scores.
Elsewhere, there’s no shortage of talent around him. John Conlon was an All Star calibre full forward threat, while Podge Collins provides an industry and work rate that few can match. In the centre, Colm Galvin is one of the more underrated midfield talents in the game. Defensively Clare are known to be porous at times, and liable to concede easy frees which can rack up scores quickly. While size and strength isn’t a problem, the dynamics of defending can let them down at times.
Time may feel like it’s ticking quickly for Moloney and O’Connor, but there’s years left in this Clare side. Kelly is still only 25, as is Peter Duggan. David McInerney is 26 while Shane O’Donnell is still only 24. These are faces that have been around a long time, but because they climbed the mountain so young in their careers, doing it a second time may feel all the more difficult. Firstly, they must rise above everyone in Munster and get the provincial monkey off their back.
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