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*Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

CLARE’s footballers will only begin to close the gap on top counties by making a quarter-final appearance an annual occurrence.

Current county U20 manager and former senior selector, Michael Neylon has backed the call for Colm Collins to remain in the helm for what would be a tenth season in charge of the Clare footballers.

Derry put five goals past Clare with Rory Gallagher’s men recording a 5-13 2-08 win over the Banner in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final.

While there has been disappointment with the performance given on the day by Clare in some quarters, other supporters have underlined that making the last eight and retaining Division 2 status represents a positive year.

Speaking on The Water Break, The Clare Echo’s vodcast, Neylon expressed the view that the county can progress further by earning more clashes with heavyweight sides. “The challenge that lies ahead for everyone in Clare football is to support Colm and the management team and the players in whatever way possible to make sure that we give them the environment to get this far again next year, I think you will close the gap year on year if you can keep getting there, it mightn’t happen next year but it could be two years time”.

Almost a decade on from his time as a selector to Mick O’Dwyer during his stint in charge of the senior footballers, Michael was under no doubt that Clare football is in an unrecognisable condition, largely due to the influence of Colm Collins. “I think it is in a totally different place, the professionalism there now is where it should be, it’s as good as any county in the country I would say. I think that young men coming through that are good footballers have real value in playing with Clare.

“I remember meeting Colm at a game in Cooraclare just when he was appointed, we were walking into the pitch together and we had a quick chat, he mentioned one thing and this was nine years ago, he said ‘it’s all down to lifestyle’, if you were to pick one word I think that is the change Colm has brought, this has become a lifestyle choice, he has created the environment and I think players like that environment, it is a great way to live your life in your twenties to be able to challenge yourself to be in a good setup and be able to test yourself against the best in the country, there is a real appetite from players in the county to do that”.

As he has done every year, Collins will take time to consider his position. According to Neylon, the Cratloe man has a big role to play in the county’s future. “Everybody’s job is to make sure Colm is given his bit of time but he also needs to know from everybody that it’s important for the future that he stays on and keeps driving it, I’m hoping Colm is only starting, give him a good few years before he writes the book and I’d be interested in reading that book when he writes it, there’s a lot of chapters to be written by Colm yet”.

A two-time Clare SFC winning manager of St Joseph’s Miltown, Michael has yet to decide his own future as U20 boss but appears to be leaning towards a fourth campaign. “No more than Colm, I haven’t given it much thought, I’ve got caught up as a supporter of the senior team for the last month or two, you can see the buzz, what Colm is doing is having a positive impact on all of us. If we can help or contribute in any way, it is something that we will definitely be giving serious consideration to”.


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