*Ikem Ugwueru. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
WINDY CONDITIONS and a controversial disallowed goal were the main talking points from Clare’s second round Allianz National Football League loss to Westmeath.
On the field, how did Clare’s footballers fare. Páraic McMahon looks at the displays of the nineteen footballers to feature over the seventy minutes of Sunday’s tie versus Dessie Dolan’s charges in Mullingar.
1: Stephen Ryan (Kilrush Shamrocks)
Kicked an excellent score from 65m or so out in the first half, Stephen is now venturing further out the field which offers an extra option to deploy possession to but also leaves the traditionalists in need of valium. Kickouts were very strong against the conditions with the Kilrush man getting great distance in his distribution, also made an excellent save to stop Jonathan Lynam from goaling in the first half. For the second game in a row, Clare conceded a very soft goal, while it did take a deflection, Ryan is going to have to be tougher in organising his defence.
2: Manus Doherty (Éire Óg)
For the second game in a row, Manus kept his man scoreless from play so in this regard he is executing the primary task of a defender. Luke Loughlin’s contribution to the scoreboard were from placed balls and in general play Doherty managed to nullify his involvement. One of Manus’ great strengths is his pace, most evident on counter-attacks and this needs to be incorporated more into Clare’s play. That said, when trying to make a run he was taken down by Lorcan Dolan which resulted in a black card for the Westmeath man.
3: Ronan Lanigan (Éire Óg)
Having been one of the standout players in round one, hopes were high that Ronan would match that display. He seemed unsettled at having to move out to track Ronan O’Toole early on and the All Star nominee troubled Lanigan at times. Not that the concession of the two goals in both outings have been his fault but at full-back he is one of Stephen Ryan’s chief protectors so will have to ensure going forward that any green flags given are hard earned which they simply haven’t been in rounds one and two. Always makes the smart choice when in possession.
4: Micheál Garry (Cooraclare)
Making successive league starts for the first time, Micheál grew into the role a bit more than round one. Had the task of marking Senan Baker, son of Clare hurling great Ollie, he ensured Baker wasn’t a scoring threat but wasn’t able to stop his quick hands from moving the ball on for three different scoring chances. Linked up well with Dermot Coughlan for Clare’s sixth point on twenty three minutes and made what proved to be an important turnover as Westmeath attempted to get a second goal.
5: Ikem Ugwueru (Éire Óg)
Although he started very brightly, Ikem didn’t manage the heights he showed in the opening round. Still, he broke the lines very effectively with his pace and strength proving to be almost too hot to handle. On the subject of heat, the Ennis man struggled to keep a cool head at times, ended up with a yellow card and this caution is what led to management opting to substitute him to avoid a potential second yellow in the closing stages.
6: Alan Sweeney (St Breckan’s)
During Clare’s dominant spell in the opening half, Alan gave glimpses of what he can offer to the cause. For arguably Clare’s best team-move which resulted in Dermot Coughlan splitting the posts on fifteen minutes it was Sweeney who made the line break and he did so at a roaring pace, more of this is what’s needed from the Doolin defender. As one of the longest serving panellists on the field, it was surprising that his experience didn’t come to bear when Clare needed to manage the game better as Westmeath racked up five points without reply.
7: Daniel Walsh (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
Similar to his colleagues in the half-back line, Daniel was prominent when things were going well for Clare but not as prolific when they were struggling to handle Westmeath’s final push. Early on, his ability to read the game was very visible, expertly judged a kickout from Jason Daly which allowed him to intercept, work a pass with Shane Griffin before splitting the posts. They are the moments he is capable of but not as frequent as they need to be at inter-county level.
8: Gavin Murray (Éire Óg)
Lining out against his native county was an unusual experience for Gavin but the familiar surrounds of Cusack Park in Mullingar were an asset to him. As the eldest member of the starting fifteen, he wasn’t afraid to mix it against the Westmeath men and for this he ended up with a yellow card for his troubles. The partnership with Brian McNamara is growing but his direct involvement on proceedings will need a spike.
9: Brian McNamara (Cooraclare)
May have struggled in his first senior start against Sligo but Brian led the way from start to finish in round two. Was the only Clare player to touch the ball in the first three minutes as Westmeath dominated possession. Very strong in the air and this was evident in the second half as he was the only reliable option for Stephen Ryan’s kickouts into the wind, time and time again the Cree man delivered when he leapt into the skies. Not alone was his handful of occasions when he fielded those second half kickouts to be applauded but the support runs off the ball, some of which saw him have no involvement, were excellent. Also got a levelling score heading into injury time.
10: Dermot Coughlan (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
With three points from play, it was a satisfactory outing in terms of shooting from Dermot. Showed his ability to take up the mantle as a chief scorer for the side, having been struck in a workmanlike role at inter-county level last season. Seemed confident in front of goal but given that he was one of the best forwards on show in last year’s club championship that comes as no surprise. Taking away from his display was his indiscipline, picked up two yellow cards which were costly as it left Clare with fourteen men for the entirety of additional time, an extra body would have been most helpful in this spell.
11: Emmet McMahon (Kildysart)
High standards were set by Emmet in round one but he didn’t match them when it came to the second round versus Westmeath. Not as involved in proceedings whether that be in dictating matters on and off the ball, found himself clogged up and tied down but that will be par for the course given that any opposing team doing their research will be aware of his ability to fire over a plethora of scores. The appetite and endeavour was visible in forcing turnovers in the opening half but it wasn’t sustained.
12: Ciaran Downes (Kilmihil)
Much improved showing from Ciaran saw him demonstrate his ability to chip in with a few scores. Kicking an early 45 was a nice way to bring himself into proceedings. By the half-time whistle, he had three points to his name, linking up well with Shane Griffin and Mark McInerney. Well capable of running down the flank in possession but there’s more in the tank and the Kilmihil man needs to be encouraged to empty the said tank.
13: Mark McInerney (Éire Óg)
It wasn’t an easy afternoon to be kicking frees as Mark discovered with two wayward attempts. Combined with Emmet McMahon to force a turnover in the opening half at a spell where Clare were on top and this highlighted, such examples of work ethic need to become more common for the Éire Óg forward given the way Clare play and what is expected of forwards. Substituted at half-time to aid Clare in quelling the wind.
14: Aaron Griffin (Lissycasey)
So far as shooting is concerned, Aaron may have kicked Clare’s best score, arriving in the second half when he was slightly off balance and a point was needed to keep their account ticking. Tracked well in defence and was comfortable cleaning up possession on the back of a second half turnover in the half-back line. Given that Clare attempted to capitalise on the wind by kicking from distance, his involvement was minimal at a time when Mark Fitzgerald’s charges were the side controlling matters.
15: Shane Griffin (Lissycasey)
Definitely a more productive outing for Shane than the first round against Sligo. Contributed two assists in the opening half to aid Daniel Walsh and Ciaran Downes with scores. Clocked up a fair bit of mileage and was back in the full-back line to help Micheál Garry tidy up and also to offer a quick pass to enable Clare move the play. His attacking strengths have yet to be showcased at senior inter-county level.
20: Cillian Rouine (Ennistymon)
In hindsight maybe management will say bringing on Cillian was a mistake and that he should have been given further time in his recovery from a very frustrating hamstring injury. Only had a twelve minute cameo before pulling up with injury, a sight that will worry Clare footballers who know right well the value he will bring to the team in 2024.
Not on long enough to be rated
17: Éinne O’Connor (Éire Óg)
Counter-attacking prowess has been part of Éinne’s game and central to Éire Óg’s success at club level in 2021 and 2022. He offered a glimpse of it for the lead-up to the controversial that goal that should have been but wasn’t, some neutral pundits said he should have fisted the ball over to level matters but going for the jugular by right would have put Clare in front and put two points in the bag. A starting berth is hardly far off for O’Connor.
19: Cormac Murray (St Joseph’s Miltown)
Here’s hoping when the 2024 season is analysed that the main talking point surrounding Cormac Murray is not the goal that was disallowed. Coming on for the last ten minutes in attack against such a strong breeze meant he was going to have a small involvement but his running off the ball and awareness as O’Connor tore up the end line showed what he can offer to the Clare attack.
21: Fergal Guinnane (Kildysart)
Introduced into the fray on 69 minutes for his National League debut, Fergal had two vital contributions. His attempted block put enough pressure on to deny Westmeath’s shooter a score while he also chipped in with a turnover. Brought energy and that is all a management can ask of a player entering the fray at such a juncture.