*Stephen Ryan brings the ball away from goal. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

WHILE the siege mentality that we expected from Clare at the weekend never materialised, the Banner’s footballers will need to find their proven resilience and defiance over the final two rounds of the Allianz National Football League if they are to have any hope of staving off the dreaded relegation trapdoor.

The Siege of Ennis:

The first 35 minutes went reasonably well for Clare as they led Cork at the half-time break by a solitary point. While this was a see-saw performance with plenty of missed opportunities from both sides and 14 negative turnovers from Clare there were still enough positives to suggest a strong second half performance from the home side.

Clare started the scoring with a well taken Emmet McMahon point from play but they were soon on the backfoot. A speculative ball into Brian Hurley saw him feed the on-rushing Sean Powter who dispatched the ball clinically to the back of the Clare net.

Clare to their credit battled back with a well taken Keelan Sexton penalty when he was taken down after a defence splitting pass from Ciaran Russell. The Cork full back received a black card for this offence and it looked as if the momentum had shifted back to the home side.

However, despite Cork being down to 14 men Clare didn’t press home their numerical advantage and they had a number of scoring opportunities drop short or go wide in this period.

Down at the other end Stephen Ryan, who was impressive all day, made a fine save from Chris Óg Jones after a Clare players gave a wayward cross-field pass. A similar opportunity arose for Clare up the other end when Eoin Cleary and Darragh Bohannon managed to create a goal chance from a turnover but had to be satisfied with a point. Clare were defending comfortably with Ronan Lanigan and Manus Doherty providing the overlaps when the opportunities arose.

Cillian Brennan. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Late replacements on the Cork side, Conor Corbett and Ruairi Deane were not looking out of place in their starting line-up as Cillian Brennan and Brian Hurley were having a great personal duel all day long. Brennan is a quality defender and does not get the credit he deserves as he kept Hurley scoreless from play.

As Clare headed into the half-time break with their noses in front this was as good as it got as they were a pale shadow of themselves in the second half. It was Cork who reappeared with the siege mentality as they thundered through the Clare defence from the throw-in and were awarded a penalty after the referee adjudged that Clare custodian, Stephen Ryan had made a goal saving foot block only to make a fine save from the resulting spot kick.

In contrast, Clare seemed to go into their shell in the second half and were lacking their usual energy and intensity that they have become synonymous with as Cork ran in 1-2 without any great difficulty. Clare were not making enough contact with the Cork attackers and leaving them with too much room from which to operate in.

Cork also had their homework done and were getting great success in the second half from using wing-forward Ruairi Deane as an extra option for their kickouts under the seated stand at Cusack Park. This gave them a great attacking platform and they made it count with points from Deane, McSweeney and the hard running Powter.

Goals win matches:

Clare were still battling but found it hard to get their key men on the ball. The Clare defence also did a relatively good job in nullifying the Cork full- forward trio but the damage was done from further afield with the late runs of Matthew Taylor and Sean Powter yielding goals and putting Clare to the sword.

The Clare management will be particularly annoyed with Powter’s second goal as he waltzed past the defence without a glove being laid on him . There will be plenty of soul searching as to how Cork were able to add to their thirteen goal tally for this year’s league, having only scored six goals in the entire league last year. After the third goal went it the game was over as a contest as a flat second half performance would suggest that Clare’s exploits against Dublin in particular caught up with them in this encounter.

Cork were full value for their win based on their second half showing and have added some physicality to their game in recent times. Clare will have learned a lot about their rivals who they meet again in the Munster championship quarter-final in Ennis in five weeks time. Cork in reality are not that far ahead of Clare who may employ a more detailed man marking approach the next time they meet Cork to counteract the late running Rebels attacking options.

Clare will want to get all their injured players back in action in the next few weeks and the added physicality of Darren O Neill and Cathal O’Connor will give them a lot more options around the middle third when they return to fitness.

It was worrying however to see one of Clare’s leading players, Cian O’Dea ,being carried off the field with a leg injury late in the second half.

Relegation difficulties:

Clare are now most definitely in a battle for survival in Division 2 alongside Kildare, Meath and Limerick. Over the last number of years Clare have been the masters of staying up and have good experience of battling against the odds. Meath’s draw with Limerick see them move a step closer to safety while Kildare and Clare are on two points each and Limerick remain on one point.

Both Kildare and Meath are ahead of Clare on the head to head and this makes their position even more precarious than in recent seasons especially with Derry looming next on the horizon.

Against that, if Limerick can beat Kildare in their next outing in the Gaelic Grounds then it will all come down to the final day action. In the meantime Clare will be trying their damndest to get something out of their away match against Derry to keep matters in their own hands and not to be depending on results from elsewhere. This is a big ask considering that Derry are one of the form teams in the country right now.

The Siege of Derry:

As mentioned earlier Clare will be working on creating a siege mentality over the next few weeks with the end of the league and the start of the championship coming quickly down the tracks. Derry were extremely impressive in the second half in their victory against Dublin at the weekend but they looked quite average up until half time.

Ultimately, they are the Ulster champions from 2022 and they will expect to dispose of Clare with relative ease after their 5-13 to 2-8 victory over Clare in last year’s All-Ireland quarter final. They are sitting pretty on top of Division 2 with ten points but still need at least a point to guarantee promotion.

Derry, who can boast of a host of household names, will try to put the result to bed early in the contest as they did last year in the championship whereas Clare will be trying to stay in the game as long as possible and to frustrate the Derry faithful and their enigmatic manager Rory Gallagher before attempting a smash and grab type ambush.

Clare will try and rewrite the script and they will relish the opportunity to test Derry’s credentials. The two weeks break will give them a chance to re-group and analyse their recent performances with a view to implementing a few possible tactical changes. Clare will need to bring their normal energy and fight to the Oakleafers and to concentrate on what is happening in front of them and not to worry about any other results or events outside of their control.

That is what they have done in Division 2 for the past six years and that is what they will do again for the foreseeable future.

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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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