Monday 25 September 2017

Jamesie O'Connor: Banner flaws will not take much fixing

Davy Fitzgerald, whose suspension ended at midnight last night, celebrates in the tunnel after the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald, whose suspension ended at midnight last night, celebrates in the tunnel after the game. Photo: Sportsfile

Jamesie O'Connor

My eldest daughter started the Junior Cert on Wednesday. So, on the Bank Holiday Monday I figured family O'Connor wouldn't be straying too far from base and I agreed to go on the independent.ie championship podcast, The Throw-In.

After some gentle initial banter with the presenter, Will Slattery, I professed myself happy with Clare's win the previous day, if not necessarily all aspects of the performance. The gentle opener out of the way, Will's next words had me straightening up on the couch fairly quickly. "Jamesie, I'm gonna start with a few quotes from your old manager Ger Loughnane, who maybe took a different view to other people."

Hearing those two words, 'Ger' and 'Loughnane' in the same sentence tends to concentrate the mind fairly quickly. Immediately you're bracing yourself, knowing that he'd loaded both barrels in his Monday morning newspaper column, and half-wondering who or what he's after blowing to pieces in it.

Back to Will, in the studio, who began to quote from the latest salvo launched by Feakle's most famous son. "'Only the most deluded of supporters would have enjoyed yesterday. If anything, Clare look to have gone back to where they were before. They were atrocious in so many aspects of the game. Their puck-outs were brutal. Their free-taking was a mess. Their ball-winning ability was non-existent.' Pretty scathing stuff there from Ger. I assume you didn't take such a critical opinion of it?"

What do you say to that? As the quotes were coming, I could visualise him hunched over the keyboard on Sunday night, knowing full well the reaction it was likely to provoke. It's a line I've used before, but a journalist once said of Ger when he was managing us that it was a dream to have someone like that at the helm who was "incapable of uttering anything other than good copy". Blunt as his assessment was, and he didn't mince his words, I had to admit there was a certain element of truth to some of the points he made.

There was huge pressure on the Clare players to deliver last Sunday. It was all about the result, and for that bunch of players, making it into their first Munster final. On that front, it was mission accomplished. They have secured a place in the last six and are now guaranteed to be hurling on the second last Sunday in July. Not a bad day's work, irrespective of how they played.

That said, of course Loughnane is right about certain aspects of the performance.

The Clare management made a promise to all three goalkeepers on the panel that they would get matches and an opportunity to play during the National League. I saw all their games, and when given his chance, Andrew Fahy's puck-outs and distribution were outstanding - the primary reason, I assume, why he won the starting position. Clare aren't exactly blessed with a plethora of 6ft-plus ball-winning half-forwards; they probably have more diminutive men playing in the middle third of the field than any other team in the championship. Hence the premium on accurate distribution, movement and a clear puck-out strategy. Things obviously didn't go according to plan on that front because there were times last Sunday, especially early on, when they couldn't seem to win any primary possession, and you were left wondering just what the strategy was.

On the free-taking front, no one will know better than David Reidy, who assumed those duties at the weekend, that missing five from 10 simply isn't going to get it done from here on out. To me every free-taker has a range, and a couple of the ones he missed were at the limit of that range. If you're wondering if you have the distance, you're more likely to force it, and that's when things can start to go awry technically. Whether with club or county, I had an arrangement with Seanie McMahon that he hit everything up to the opposing '45', and anything from there in was my responsibility. Occasionally, if I was hitting them well I might stray further out. It wasn't that I wasn't capable of hitting a '65'. Of course I was, but he was better from long range, and that was it. That needs to be sorted out, but whether it's Reidy, Conor McGrath or Tony Kelly on the frees in four weeks' time, I don't see a repeat of that inaccuracy coming.

The other big talking point from last Sunday was Kelly's muted performance. If you'd said to me before the game that neither Kelly, Podge Collins nor Aron Shanagher would score from play, I'd have been a worried man. Again, I don't see it as a major issue; if anything, think it'll serve as extra motivation for all three of them, especially Tony, ahead of the final.

The good news if you're a Clare supporter is that the management will be fully aware what the various problems were. It will have been forensically analysed, and they have another four weeks to address the failings that emerged in Thurles. Clare also have the added luxury of being able to sit back and watch Cork and Waterford go at it next Sunday for the right to meet them in that Munster final.

When all is said and done, they won by four, missed five frees and a penalty, half their starting forwards, including arguably their best player, didn't score, and they shot 14 wides. I'd have taken it at the start of the day. Roll on next weekend.

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