Thursday 29 June 2017

Banner can make up for lost time, insists Lohan

Lohan: “When you have a group and the average age is in the early 20s after winning an All-Ireland in great style – they got on a run and showed no fear, especially when they got to Croke Park – we hoped to get back there again.
Lohan: “When you have a group and the average age is in the early 20s after winning an All-Ireland in great style – they got on a run and showed no fear, especially when they got to Croke Park – we hoped to get back there again." Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's only been four years since Clare's last All-Ireland SHC win, but in hurling terms it feels like a lifetime ago.

With a raft of talent coming through the ranks on the back of the Banner's remarkable three in a row at U-21 level, it was anticipated that senior success would quickly follow but 2013 aside, the current crop haven't scaled the heights expected.

Given that Davy Fitzgerald's side avoided big hitters like Kilkenny and Tipperary along the way to the Liam MacCarthy Cup, and Cork's subsequent demise after falling in that replayed final, that year is written off as an aberration in some quarters, with neither finalist backing up the blistering form which produced two modern-day classics.

Despite being a former team-mate of Fitzgerald, Brian Lohan, the red-helmeted rock of the Clare defence when Liam MacCarthy was secured in 1995 and '97, believed that a root and branch and analysis needed to be carried out after Clare's 2015 qualifier loss to the Rebels.

No Munster SHC win for Tony Kelly and Co under Fitzgerald, and two qualifier exits, as well as a meek quarter-final defeat to Galway last year, left Lohan feeling like the team were selling themselves short considering their outstanding ability.

But with Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor graduating to the senior helm after their heroics at U-21 level, Lohan is hopeful that something special might be on the horizon and prefers the direct style of play - as opposed to the sweeper system of previous years - being utilised under the joint-managers.

"People are happy to see the more traditional direct style. The lads have had success with that kind of approach, that long, direct ball utilising the strength of our full-forward line and the likes of Aron Shanagher and Aaron Cunningham," Lohan says.

"They're good quick players that are well able to win their own ball. Donal and Gerry know the boys very well and they have a formula that has worked and they've gone back to what they know, and Clare supporters would be happy enough so far.

"When you have a group and the average age is in the early 20s after winning an All-Ireland in great style - they got on a run and showed no fear, especially when they got to Croke Park - we hoped to get back there again.

"You get the impression that these guys like the big stage, like the big matches and the pressure that comes with it, they don't seem intimidated by it. But unfortunately, we didn't get back to Croke Park and get the opportunity to use our pace and wide open spaces.

"Maybe this year we might be in better shape approaching the Munster Championship than we have been in the past, the quality is definitely there."

While the talent is obvious, keeping them sound is another story and the news that Oisin O'Brien faces the rest of the season on the sidelines after a cruciate tear hits the Banner hard, as they have suffered more than most in recent years.

A host of All-Stars like Conor McGrath, Pat Donnellan and David McInerney are on the recovery trail from serious injury while Conor Ryan has been forced to take a year out on medical advice and Colm Galvin is off the squad.

Lohan has no worries over Galvin and expects a resolution in the coming months but when you throw in Domhnall O'Donovan and Colin Ryan, who have opted out, it's easy to see why times have been tough.

"There are good quality guys there, the problem is injuries and fitness, but if there's a good time to be getting those injuries it's now, says Lohan.

"John Conlon and McInerney were flying it in the League last year and then both were hampered by injury.

"Clare suffered as a result and while there is a strong panel, there are key guys in leadership positions that you really can't afford to be without.

"McInerney is crucial, if he comes back from his travels injury-free and mad for action, that'd be a major plus."

It may only be March but Lohan's eyes are drawn to June 4 when Clare meet Limerick in a "massive" Munster semi-final.

For now, however, Dublin's visit to Cusack Park tomorrow is the focus and Lohan, who guided UL to 2015 Fitzgibbon Cup honours, expects "a huge battle" with both sides battling for their Division 1A survival minus their Ballyea and Cuala club contingents.

"Tipp look like they're a little bit ahead of everyone else but when it comes down to it, nobody will fear anyone," he says.

"On any given day they can all beat each other."

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