Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Galway may not necessarily be Clare’s biggest game since 1995 but I think this is an absolutely massive game for Clare.
It’s equally as big for Galway but I want to focus on Clare here. I spoke on the potential fortunes of Galway elsewhere and now want to look at the Banner men. They have had up’s and down’s this season and Sunday’s game provides a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity to this young Clare team.
They are facing a struggling Galway side. They will not fear them in any shape of form but in certain ways it’s new territory for Clare. It will be the first All-Ireland senior quarter-final for these players but there are three things that I think Clare have acquired in abundance in this championship season; confidence, experience and momentum. At this time of the season any coach or manager would want their team to have these three things on their side and I think Clare are in a good position.
Clare’s confidence is growing all the time. A lot of their young players would have a lot of confidence based on All-Ireland under-21 successes in recent years. They have also had decent runs and victories at minor level and as a result this young Clare team is brimming with confidence as they enter senior level. They have also acquired more and more confidence at senior level in recent years. The 2012 victories over Limerick in the Division 1B League final and Dublin in the qualifiers were huge confidence boosters for Clare and they have built on that this season.
This season’s victory over Cork in the Division 1A relegation play-off of the National League was another huge step on their progression and a first championship win since 2008 was a monkey of the back for a lot of this Clare team and confidence is continuing to grow. While their confidence may have taken a dent against Cork, they have bounced back and they now find themselves in an All-Ireland quarter-final. They have shown character to learn from and rectify the mistakes made that day. Their under-21’s beat Waterford last week, with a lot of these players playing on the senior team, and overall this is a confident Clare outfit that will have no reservations about playing a struggling Galway.
This is a very young Clare side but they have acquired a lot of experience in the last two seasons. Winning an under-21 All-Ireland in 2012 provided winning experience and a lot of that side are now on the Clare senior team. They have gained a lot of senior experience, both positive and negative, and they will have learned a lot so far. Playing in Division 1A of the league saw them mix it with the best teams in the country and their championship games have thrown different scenarios at them which has enhanced their development.
They beat Waterford coming from behind and they were favourites entering the game with Cork. They were very poor in their second half performance against Cork but I think the experience as a whole will have stood to them. They struggled with the weight of the favourites tag and high levels of expectation. They didn’t take their chances on the day and were subsequently beaten. Developing teams can often learn more from a defeat than a victory and I think this occurred with Clare after the Cork game.
Clare have played a lot of games this season. People will wonder if it’s a positive or a negative but I think it will prove to be a positive. There is no substitute for games with young players. Players learn from being out the pitch with opposition in front of them. Win, lose or draw players will learn, develop and gain experience so I think the more time on the field is better for Clare. The fact that they are such a young team would lead one to think that fatigue won’t be a big issue and I think the extra games are a big advantage.
Momentum is another key aspect for teams as they enter the business end of a season and I think Clare have momentum behind them. Again they have played a lot of games and acquired a lot of experience. They have learned from positives and negatives and they are now in a good position. Momentum from their under-21’s complements the senior team as there are such a high number on both panels. The momentum is with Clare more than Galway ahead of this clash which gives Clare an advantage.
So I have talked up Clare so far but one must remember how poorly they dealt with high expectations against Cork. They have struggled with the favourites tag on occasions and they must deliver on Sunday. It’s a massive game for Clare, a victory here would only add to the confidence, experience and momentum ahead of an All-Ireland semi-final. IF, and it is a big if, Clare were to win on Sunday, I think they have a great chance of actually winning the All-Ireland title.
That may seem like an outrageous suggestion to some people but a victory over Galway would lead to a semi-final against either Limerick or Dublin. These are teams that Clare would hold no fear of, and an All-Ireland final appearance could be a reality. If this was to occur there would be four consecutive championship victories and it would very hard to stop a team with that momentum. Most of the players have won an All-Ireland under-21 title so an All-Ireland final wouldn’t be overly intimidating for Clare.
Again, it is a big IF. For all we know Galway could produce a performance like those in 2012 and could comprehensively beat Clare. It’s a very hard game to call. As I said it’s an enormous game for both. The winner will have a great chance to go far in the championship. Whoever performs to their best will win. Clare have been the more consistent and impressive so far, but can they live up to expectations? Galway will hardly be as poor again, or will they? The reality is that these are questions that won’t be answered until Sunday evening. It’s a huge prize for the winners and dejection for the losers. Looking at Clare, I think a victory set’s them up for a serious assault on the Liam McCarthy cup.