Saturday 25 March 2017

Collins' men on a single-minded march with Croke Park as the final destination

A first-ever All-Ireland quarter-final date awaits Clare if they beat Roscommon today

Gary Brennan, seen here in action against Kerry’s Michael Geaney in this year’s
Munster football semi-final, should be an All Star at this stage of his career according to the legendary Waterville maestro Mick O’Dwyer. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Gary Brennan, seen here in action against Kerry’s Michael Geaney in this year’s Munster football semi-final, should be an All Star at this stage of his career according to the legendary Waterville maestro Mick O’Dwyer. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Mick O Dwyer has a bone to pick with the All Star selectors. "Gary Brennan should be an All Star by now. And Cathal O'Connor should be close too.

"Those two are as good a midfield pairing as there is in the country - there's absolutely no doubt about that. And David Tubridy is one the best forwards in the business too," he said.

Micko has been keeping a close watch on Clare since his season with them in 2013 and is in no way surprised by their development.

"They are very good footballers. The hurlers might be getting most of the attention but the footballers keep working away and improving all the time. They're in with a right good chance of beating Roscommon," he said.

Up in Mayo, another former Clare manager is also thrilled to see the football Banner flying so high.

John Maughan tuned into local radio last Saturday for the Sligo-Clare qualifier in Markievicz Park, a game which underlined the rate of progress Colm Collins' squad have made.

They trailed by two points at half-time but won the second-half by 1-13 to 1-4 in a game where Tubridy, Brennan and O'Connor scored 2-7 between them, 1-6 from open play.

The win leaves them one step away from booking a Croke Park championship date for the first time since 1992, an unforgettable season for Clare when they were crowned Munster champions for the first time in 65 years.

Maughan was at the helm during that glory period and retains a great fondness for a county where the football fraternity has almost always lived in hurling's shadow.

"I'm sure there were times over the years when football people in Clare might have felt like giving up the fight but they never did. But then, they never would because they believe in what they do.

"Football means so much to them. And it never mattered what setbacks they were hit by, they came back twice as determined and twice as prepared to work as hard as was needed to get the last ounce out of what they have.

"They're being rewarded now. The game was always going well in the west of the county but it has spread in now and I can only see it getting stronger," said Maughan.

He still has special memories from his years as Clare manager, which were crowned by the 1992 Munster final win over Kerry, followed by the emotional pilgrimage to Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final clash with Dublin, which they lost by five points.

A win over Roscommon today would see Clare return to Croke Park tomorrow week to take on Galway or Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

And since beaten provincial finalists have a dismal record in qualifier ties six days later, this is a huge opportunity for Clare to make a very bold statement.

"The ball could have hardly have bounced more kindly for them. They not only have Roscommon on the six-day turnaround, they're also playing a team that will have suffered a lot of psychological damage after a heavy defeat.

"Clare have a really big chance. It's asking a lot of Roscommon to get themselves right in six days," said Maughan.

The season has already been a success for Clare, who won the Division 3 title in April.

Still, despite beating Kildare in the final, few would have fancied them to get back to Croke Park for an All-Ireland quarter-final but after losing to Kerry in the Munster semi-final, they re-built in the qualifiers with wins over Laois and Sligo.

"The way they ripped through Sligo in the second-half was very impressive. Sligo had home advantage so it says a lot about Clare's confidence that after trailing by two points at half-time, they came out and won the second-half by nine points.

"But then they showed great resilience against Kildare too in the Division 3 final. They obviously have great belief in themselves. Roscommon will need to put last Sunday's bad experience behind them very quickly because if Clare get their game going, they will be very hard to stop," said Maughan, who also had a spell as Roscommon manager.

Clare won't be thinking of quarter-finals in advance of today's game but, if they win, it would be to their advantage if neighbours Tipperary were beaten by Derry in the other qualifier.

In that scenario, Clare would play Galway with Derry facing Kerry. If Tipp and Clare win it will be Kerry v Clare and Galway v Tipp in the quarter-finals.

If Roscommon win, they will play Kerry as they cannot be paired with Galway, whom they have already met in the Connacht final.

Irish Independent

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