*Clare midfielder Darragh Bohannon. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
The Clare senior footballers finished their league campaign with a flourish after a comprehensive and confidence boosting victory against near neighbours Limerick, in Cusack Park last Sunday.
Clare always looked in control of proceedings and played a nice brand of football throughout with a lot of players getting their first starts of the season and hoping to impress. The match itself was lacking in any championship intensity but it was good preparation all the same for Clare’s upcoming Munster championship quarter final against Cork with a number of players keen to put their hands up for selection as well as allowing management to try out some younger players while looking at some more seasoned players in a different positions.
Limerick started the second half more brightly but when they had a man sent off for a straight red card midway through the second half it signalled the end of their challenge.
We will take a look at how some of the newer and the more experienced campaigners did in this recent outing.
Clare started with a full back line of Micheál Garry, Ciaran Russell and Cillian Rouine with all of them acquitting themselves well in their respective positions. Micheál Garry didn’t look out of place in his first NFL start against the lively Peter Nash. He is a teak tough defender with plenty of pace and ball carrying ability.
Ciaran Russell continues to be along with Pearse Lillis, one of Clare’s most versatile players who has played well on nearly every line for his county in a variety of positions and systems. Cillian Rouine’s return to fitness is a big boost for Clare as he was a dependable regular last season before being struck down with injury. He looked lean and hungry against Limerick and he gives good attacking options along with being defensively strong.
The half-back line of Daniel Walsh, Jamie Malone and Ikem Ugwueru were dominant throughout. Walsh is very comfortable on the ball and breaks the line at pace where he can be a scoring threat to the opposition defence. He is also well able to contest opposition kick-outs and has played midfield for UL and Kilmurry Ibrickane in recent times which could be a useful tool in counteracting Cork’s aerial ability around the middle third.
Jamie Malone looked very comfortable in the centre back position and he set the tone early with his driving runs at the Limerick rearguard and he is a definite option here come the championship.
Ikem Ugwueru was solid and kept possession very well. He needs more game time at this level to get his confidence and belief to match his athleticism and raw ability.
The midfield pairing of the hard-working Darragh Bohannon and the elusive Emmet McMahon were solid and gave Clare a good platform to attack from. McMahon continued his scoring exploits with four points from play and one from a free. He got plenty of assistance from the rest of the forward line with five of the six starting forwards all scoring.
Even though Clare chalked up two goals from play they will feel they left another possible two or three goals behind them as they snatched at a couple of efforts that could have hit the net with a little more composure.
The half-forward line of Brendy Rouine, Podge Collins and Ciaran Downes all covered an acre of ground and linked the play very well. Brendy Rouine is a very promising 19 year old player who is only in second year of senior inter-county football. He had a long and successful year last year with Ennistymon at schools, U21 and senior level and he will be a top player for Clare for years to come.
Podge Collins is an ideal link player from centre-forward and he was his usual industrious and energetic self kicking a good score while leaving a few more chances he would normally nail behind him.
Ciaran Downes had his best day yet in a Clare jersey and continued his positive college form that saw himself and Emmet McMahon being named on the 2023 Sigerson Cup Team of the year. Downes finished his goal chance clinically and his confidence and endurance is growing at this level and he is one of the younger brigade who can have an impact on this year’s championship.
The full-forward line of Mark McInerney, Keelan Sexton and Aaron Griffin notched up 1-10 between them with 1-06 of that coming from play. All three players looked sharp and hungry for scores, McInerney is a handful inside if he gets the right type of ball. He took his goal well with his right foot and was unlucky with two other chances for goals.
Keelan battled very hard overall and kicked some excellent scores from play. He may have forced a few passes in the second half when Clare were on top but he was always trying to do the right thing.
Aaron Griffin was back to his pacy best putting his hand up for a starting slot while kicking three good scores from play. It was great to see his cousin Shane Griffin making his NFL debut and kicking a good point off his left leg. On a side note both the lads sisters’, Louise and Lauren, were playing their part in helping the Clare ladies to comprehensively beat Longford and secure a Division 3 league final against Kildare on April 16th in Parnell Park. A proud day for both the Griffin households and for Lissycasey parish.
It was nice to see Darren Nagle of Liscannor and Kilmihil’s Dan Keating getting game time but now it comes down to the serious business as preparations for the championship ramp up.
All these positives come with a caveat, it is all fine to play well against a below par Limerick side in a low pressure environment but management will now be trying to figure out what players they can trust in the white heat of championship action.
The Clare panel should be in a good place and training for the next two weeks should be competitive to say the least. The panel’s internal matches should be intriguing and this is the headache that every management team are looking for as it gives them options.
The key takeaway from the Limerick game is that Clare have the potential to push on in whatever competition they ultimately end up in during the summer. Limerick on the other hand seem to have regressed since the departure of Billy Lee but there may still be a kick in them later in the year. Limerick finished the campaign at the bottom with only one point while Clare finished second from bottom with 4.Meath were next in the table with five points while Kildare finished on six with Cork on seven and Louth on eight points, very tight all-round in that middle third.
Clare along with Limerick will have the following teams for company in Division 3 next year Down, Westmeath, Offaly, Antrim, Sligo and Wicklow. If Clare can keep their standards high and keep developing their younger players there is no reason why they can’t bounce up again next year.
Clare did well to re-group so quickly after the Derry reversal especially with so many regulars not starting against a seasoned Limerick team. It was encouraging to see the younger players taking on leadership roles and being so focused on the task at hand. Cork are now the only focus for this group with the showdown taking place on Easter Sunday (April 9th) in Cusack Park, Ennis.
The Easter Rising:
Cork will be red hot favourites going in against Clare in their upcoming Munster quarter-final after their eight point betterment of Clare in their recent league meeting. A closer inspection though will show that Cork had thirteen scores (3-10) in contrast to Clare’s nine scores (1-08).
If Clare can nullify the Cork goal scoring threats and add to their own scoring scoring options and not be as reliant on Emmet McMahon and Eoin Cleary then they are in with a great shout. Hopefully, injuries will continue to clear up and Clare will a full deck to pick from.
Clare will be galvanised by their first win after five losses and this will help with their belief process. They have had a decent run against Cork in recent league meetings over the past few years but a big scalp is needed in the Munster championship. Clare will need to be extremely focused to achieve this and be ready to up their levels of energy, physicality and aggression for the visit of the Rebels.
Cork are still not a proven side and were turned over by Louth and drew with an under strength Derry side in their last two league matches. It all makes for an intriguing encounter that holds plenty of potential Easter promise.