Photo: Irish Mirror/Cathal Noonan
This is the seventeenth season since the qualifiers were introduced and so the number of counties we haven’t yet met in the championship has got whittled down a good bit in the years since 2001. Clare are one of the counties we still have to cross off our list but that’s a job we’ll get to do after we lock horns with them at Cusack Park in Ennis this coming Saturday (throw-in 5pm).
The obvious footballing link between the counties – one you’d expect to see getting wheeled out over the next few days – is, of course, John Maughan. Before he ever came to within a bouncing ball of leading us to All-Ireland glory in 1996, John cut his managerial teeth in the Banner County, in the process guiding them to an historic Munster championship title victory in 1992. It was a win – their footballers’ first provincial crown since 1917 and only their second ever – that some would claim goaded the county’s hurlers into decisive, All-Ireland winning action soon after. It was also one that coined that oft-repeated Marty Morrissey catchphrase.
But let’s leave Marty to his own devices. The Clare team we’re set to face this coming Saturday evening are a side managed by Colm Collins – father of Podge, though he’ll be with the hurlers this coming weekend – who have been on an upward curve for the last few years. In that time they’ve risen from Division Four to Division Two in the League and last year they made it as far as the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
They had the misfortune to end up playing Kerry twice in the championship last summer. After getting past Limerick by 0-16 to 0-13 in the Munster quarter-final, they shipped a bit of a whipping against Kerry in the semis, going under by 2-23 to 0-17. The qualifiers proved more fertile territory for them, though, as they beat Laois by a point in Round 2, then had seven points to spare over Sligo at Markievicz Park in Round 3 before thumping the poor demoralised Rossies by 2-12 to 1-9 at Pearse Stadium in Round 4. Groundhog Day with the Kingdom followed, however, in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Clare went under by eleven points in that one, on a scoreline of 2-16 to 0-11.
Having won the NFL Division Three title last year, the Bannermen did well this spring to hold onto their place in the second tier. They did so, though, only on points difference, as they ended up the campaign on the same number of League points (five) as Down and Derry, with the latter getting relegated on that metric.
Here’s how Clare’s Division Two campaign played out this year. Round 1 – drew away with Derry, 0-11 to 1-8. Round 2 – beat Down at home, 2-11 to 0-11. Round 3 – lost away to Galway, 3-13 to 0-11. Round 4 – beat Cork at home, 2-11 to 0-9. Round 5 – lost away to Fermanagh, 0-18 to 1-10. Round 6 – lost away to Kildare, 0-18 to 1-14. Round 7 – lost at home to Meath, 3-19 to 1-13.
Main takeaways from that lot? An ability to win at home (some of the time), coupled with a tendency to concede quite a fair few scores.
Championship this year has, so far, been pretty much a carbon copy of twelve months ago for the Banner County. Win over Limerick? Check (this time by the minimum margin, 1-13 to 1-12). Defeat to Kerry? Check (this time the margin was just six points, 1-18 to 1-12). Round 2 qualifier win over Laois? Check (this time, winning by a comfortable ten points, 2-18 to 0-14). Round 3 opposition from Connacht? Check …
The rest of this particular book, however, remains to be written. They’ll come into Saturday’s fixture with their tails up and will figure that they’ve nothing to fear playing a team that, in their minds, is shorn of confidence and could so easily have been dumped out last weekend. We’ll approach Cusack Park believing that we’ve enough quality and experience in our ranks to do the job and reckoning too after Saturday that we have within us the capability to plot our way out of a tight corner.
The bookies are more comfortable with our narrative. Paddy Power have priced us at 1/4 to win on Saturday, with the handicap set at five points. I know, I know – they had us at 1/5 to win the last day – in normal time – and that wasn’t exactly on the money was it?
Right, then: cards on the table once more. What do you reckon to our chances this coming weekend?
Will we beat the Banner?
- Yes (85%, 691 Votes)
- No (15%, 124 Votes)
Total Voters: 815