Banner boost as 'leader' Collins set for March return
Podge Collins could yet play some part in Clare's Allianz Hurling Division 1B League campaign after an upbeat prognosis on his knee injury from manager Davy Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has relented on his original stance that dual players could not be facilitated, allowing Collins to rejoin the hurling squad while maintaining his commitments to the Clare football squad managed by his father Colm.
Significantly, Collins was present in Sixmilebridge for Clare's opening Munster Hurling League match against Cork at the same time as the footballers were taking on Tipperary in the McGrath Cup.
Collins has been recuperating from extensive cruciate and medial ligament tears sustained in a club match last June.
But Fitzgerald has pencilled in an early March return for one of the stars of Clare's 2013 All-Ireland title triumph.
Collins' presence alone in the squad has had quite an uplifting effect already, according to joint-captain Tony Kelly, who had such a guiding hand in Sunday's win over Cork that gave Donal Og Cusack his first competitive outing as a coach.
"It's brilliant, it's savage to have him back," said Kelly. "Everybody sees what he can do on the field, but it's off the field as well with new lads coming into the panel.
"It's like he's a veteran, you'd swear he was 31 or 32. He's just a natural leader in the dressing-room. It's a massive bonus to have him back and we can't wait to have him back flying fit from his injury in March or April."
Seadna Morey will play no part in the League after having a double hip operation, Conor Cleary is also out of action for the early stages after breaking a bone in his ankle in a club game last year but Brendan Bugler is getting closer to recovery after a shoulder operation.
Kelly believes Clare must go back to basics to restore the winning touch that has deserted them over the last two years.
"We have plenty of hurling but I think we need to maybe go back to basics. We showed a bit more doggedness (against Cork)and willingness to grind results out.
"We lost a lot of matches last year by a point or two; when it comes down to those last five or ten minutes you have to be willing to put the shoulder to the wheel and grind out results."
Kelly, who is joint-captain with Cian Dillon, has been impressed with Cusack's input.
"You see what he's like on 'The Sunday Game.' Whether he's analysing Clare or Kilkenny or any team in the country he seems to know his stuff," he said.
"A lot of lads are very happy with him, he has fresh ideas. There is a buzz going into training because everything is new, you don't really know what he is going to come out with.
"It's very exciting so far and everybody seems to be enjoying it. He has a good system of playing the game and I think he can relate to us as well as we can relate to him."
Fitzgerald, who has hinted at bringing in an extra member to his back room, disputes any notion that Clare have imploded since landing the 2013 All-Ireland.
"I actually thought we did alright in 2014. We topped the League in 2014. A lot of people forget that," he said.
"People said we went two years without winning a game, but we topped the League and did okay.
"It's very hard when you win three All-Ireland U-21s and a senior at 20 years of age, that intensity, that energy. . . my job is to try and get them back on track."