Clare primed for massive effort but 'respectful' Kerry will see them off
Published 30/07/2016 | 02:30
Eamonn Fitzmaurice jumped to Clare's defence this week, protecting them against attacks that weren't even being fired in their direction.
He found it 'disrespectful' towards Clare that anyone might suggest Kerry were very lucky with the All-Ireland quarter-final draw, which pairs them with the Banner for the second time in six weeks.
"There was a reaction after the weekend results when it was confirmed that we were playing Clare - words like 'farcical' were being used. I found that disrespectful towards to Clare, in particular, given that they had got to an All-Ireland quarter-final on merit, having played three tough games," he said.
He was equally defensive of Tipperary, Kerry's other victims in Munster, who have also reached the quarter-final.
"Both teams (Tipperary and Clare) have gone on to show the quality they have. It shows the work that is going on in counties, particularly in Clare and Tipperary, the progress they have made and the wins they have had," said Fitzmaurice.
Nobody has disputed their progress, just as nobody can seriously deny that Kerry have had a dream run to the All-Ireland quarter-final and are likely to be just as comfortable in their advance to the semi-final.
The facts are clear and unequivocal. Kerry can reach the semi-final by beating two counties whose combined record against them features only seven wins in 113 championship games.
So when the natural logic of that sequence is extended to tomorrow's game with a prediction that Kerry have the capacity to win fairly comfortably, it's not in any way being disrespectful towards Clare.
Instead, it's based purely on what everybody has seen and should not be manipulated to make it look like a slur on Clare.
It's not as there isn't recent evidence of the gulf between Kerry and Clare. Kerry won the Munster semi-final by 12 points in mid-June, having effectively settled the game in the opening seven minutes when they ran into a 2-2 to 0-1 lead.
Clare's qualifier wins over Laois, Sligo and Roscommon since then is an indication that Colm Collins' squad is improving but nobody has disputed that.
They had already showcased that progress by winning promotion to Division 2 before beating Kildare in the Division 3 final in Croke Park in April.
However, that's a totally different world to what they will experience tomorrow. Kerry are second favourites for the All-Ireland title so it will be a surprise if they don't see off the Clare challenge without too much worry. The winning margin may not be high as six weeks ago but that won't concern Kerry.
This will be Clare's fourth game in 21 days, a very demanding schedule at any time and especially before playing Kerry in Croke Park.
Despite the mountainous odds against them, it's a brilliant opportunity for Clare to test their rate of improvement in the most difficult circumstances.
Colm Collins has done an excellent job with them and the hope now is that they deliver to their very maximum and see how close it takes them to Kerry.
It's unfortunate for Clare that Kerry are the opponents in their first quarter-final. They would have had a much better chance against Galway, whom Clare haven't played in the championship since the 1917 All-Ireland semi-final. It's very different against Kerry who have enjoyed a dominant relationship with Clare in a 112-year rivalry.
Tipperary's win over Derry sent Clare in Kerry's direction with Liam Kearns' men taking on Galway.
The lifting of Cathal O'Connor's suspension - a correct decision - after being sent off against Roscommon will greatly reinforce Clare's resistance as his partnership with Gary Brennan gives them a really substantial presence around midfield.
Clare will probably set up defensively in an attempt to frustrate Kerry. It could work for a while but it will still be a major surprise if Kerry don't power into the semi-final without any real worries before beginning the countdown to August 28.