*Daniel Walsh executes a pass. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

CLARE’s senior football side need to secure promotion in next year’s Allianz National Football League if they are to aspire of competing in the Sam Maguire.

Heavy back to back defeats including a fourteen point loss to Tyrone and a twenty four point hammering by Donegal ended Clare’s involvement in the 2024 All-Ireland senior football championship.

Having been in with a shot of promotion back to Division 2 heading into the final round of the National Football League and putting up a strong display in a seven point Munster final loss to Kerry, there were positive aspects to take during Mark Fitzgerald’s first season as Clare senior football manager.

Speaking in Castlebar, Fitzgerald pointed out how the Ulster champions were a level above Clare. “Any day when you get a beating like that it’s not good but it just shows the gulf in class really”.

Donegal eased to a 2-23 0-5 victory with Clare scoring a solitary point from play in the seventy minutes. Once again unforced errors were far too frequent from the players in saffron and blue. “They are errors that we have made all year but in Division 3 you get away with them but at this level you don’t. Against Kerry we were a lot stingier on committing those unforced errors but you can’t do it against teams like this and you saw it today, that is ultimately what happens”.

He added, “They have to be exposed, they have to live it to learn it, that is true and we won’t let this day damage the overall positive season we’ve had, I’d have taken it at the start of the year albeit I wouldn’t have wanted it to end like this, you have to recognise what we lost last year whereas where we are now, I’d still say we’re better off in the Sam Maguire on the basis that we were competitive for two matches, what can you say, these are tough games”.

Central for the county to progress is to climb the ladder back to Division 2 in the National League, the Tralee native maintained. “There’s talks of one or two of the lads who stepped away coming back, I don’t know but the lads themselves will be better for it, the younger lads will be better for it certainly. I would say the lads have learned more about themselves since the Kerry game than they had in the previous nine weeks of the Division 3 campaign, that is hugely important but we have to get into Division 2 if we want to keep developing Clare football”.

On his first year as Clare manager, Mark said, “We had some really good days, the Munster final where we were competitive for large parts and we were able to do a few things that we worked on throughout the course of the year but relatively pleased with the year but not happy to take a beating like that”.

Goalkeeper Stephen Ryan missing out through injury and midfielder Darragh Bohannon serving a one match suspension were absences that hurt Clare, he noted. “Obviously losing Stephen and losing Darragh (Bohannon) forced our hand on kickouts, it did affect us and I felt the energy was way less the last couple of weeks after we didn’t get the result in the Cork match, albeit we were decent in patches against Tyrone but it is a learning curve for the lads, we have to manage the energy and try get up a level for all these matches, in the Sam Maguire you’re playing Division 1 opponents and they (Donegal) are a serious outfit”.

Fitzgerald continued, “It is tough but you have to face up to it, you’ve to take the good days with the bad days but it is tough, they are a serious team, I’d think we were on the back end of their defeat to Cork where they had two weeks to get ready, we’ve been flat to the mat since November and we’ve had to be, I’m not making excuses but we’ve had to be flat to the mat since November to try get out of Division 3, try build something, then deal with Kerry, Cork and Division 1 teams, I’m not making excuses but we don’t have the strength in depth that other teams have. You saw and no fault of the lads but you could see the lads coming off the bench for Donegal versus our lads who are in some instances at year one of their development”.

Donegal will take beating as the championship continues, he predicted while pointing out the Clare dressing room was not an easy place to be in at half time when they trailed 1-11 0-1. “What can you say, tactics go out the window at that stage, everything we had tried to do wasn’t working, we’d one or two attacks when we dropped the ball at the last hurdle and we needed them all to go over just to keep challenging them, dust yourselves down and try go again to improve on the first half. They are a really good side, I saw them in Ballybofey up close and I saw them up close, they will take a bit of stopping”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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