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With the National Football Leagues returning alongside the reopening of barbers, the almost superstitious ritual that is the championship haircut couldn’t have been better timed.

The caveat is though that with the inter-county season so condensed and a winner-takes-all knockout championship prevailing once more, it’s conceivable that the haircut could last longer than the county unless they can hit the ground running from the outset.

Three Division 2 group matches in as many weeks against Laois, Kildare and Cork will either dictate a promotion of relegation play-off for Clare before everything rests on trying to topple Kerry in the opening match of the Munster Championship at the end of June.

A six week window of opportunity that requires momentum to extend according to one of Clare’s key engine room players Pearse Lillis.

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“These matches are the best preparation we can have to facing Kerry. The league was always a good lead into championship but now that the competitions are so close to each other, this is basically a direct warm-up for the championship. That makes the league vital as it may be difficult to recover confidence from a bad league so it’s really important that we build on each week. It’s not going to be perfect from the first game but all you want to do is improve each week leading up to that big one against Kerry.

“We’ve played Laois, Cork and Kildare a lot since I’ve been on the squad in the last few years so we know to expect good battles and hopefully we can come out on top in a few of them.”

That fact that they host Laois and Cork in two of those outings is an added bonus but in an inch-tight division that never fails to disappoint, Lillis is adamant that Clare can take nothing for granted.

“We obviously love playing in Cusack Park, we so used to it now. So even though there’s no crowd there and you won’t have supporters roaring you on, it’s still be nice to have the familiarity of it and have less of a journey, less time in the car.

So hopefully home advantage can be the difference as Division 2 has been always right down to the wire. That was shown most last year I think when coming into the final few minutes against Armagh, we could have easily gone up or gone down so it just shows the competitiveness of it. Also there has been some league campaigns that when you look back on them you would be disappointed in terms of draws or one point losses that if one of them swung our way, we would have been up in Division 1 which would be a real achievement”.

One of those regrets came against Sunday’s opening opponents at the same venue last season when Laois, captained by Lillis’ cousin Kieran, pipped the home side by the minimum. “It was a tough game but a very exciting one. We lost by a point but those are the kind of games you enjoy playing so hopefully on Sunday now, it’s not the same thing in terms of the result but certainly the same kind of performance and intensity to get us over the line this time around.”

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