Sparrow keeps Clare focus on toppling Laois
They may have made a decent recovery from their nightmare opener against Limerick but Clare's hurlers can't afford to slip up in Portlaoise tomorrow, according to manager Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin.
The world and his mother may already be pencilling in the Banner to face their Shannonside neighbours again in the Division 2 decider, but O'Loughlin says it's not that simple.
"We need to win one of our two final games (against Laois and Carlow) to make sure of a place in the final so we're taking nothing for granted," he stressed.
"Laois always pose a threat for us and especially given that they slipped up narrowly against Down the last day. We have always have found it hard to get a result up in Portlaoise."
If Clare and Limerick lose this week, and Antrim beat Down, it would leave everything hanging on the last round in two weeks' time.
But with Donal O'Grady's side facing Kerry, whom Clare trounced by 20 points last week, Limerick's place in the final already looks assured.
If the Banner join them this weekend then the Division 2 final will be decided before the final round, raising questions again about whether semi-finals should be introduced to make the league more competitive.
Clare's bid for promotion is in their own hands, and they'll be looking to tighten up their defence this week. They have racked up some huge scores -- 5-22 against Down and 6-23 against Kerry -- but they also conceded 2-17 to Westmeath and 1-18 to Kerry, and O'Loughlin feels such one-sided scorelines can be deceptive.
"We've put up big scores at times alright but they've been against weak enough teams so it doesn't really reflect how well we're playing and it's the same defensively," O'Loughlin said.
"When you go 12 or 15 points up it's hard to maintain that momentum; you start making mistakes and giving away silly scores."
It has certainly been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Banner, who scored just 0-6 against Limerick in that horror-show opener. They only scored one point from play and their manager called that performance "diabolical".
At one stage, 13 of his side were immersed in third-level hurling, but O'Loughlin has refused to use that as an excuse.
"I still can't put my finger on it," he said. "We thought we had prepared properly for Limerick but we just didn't switch on that day and were back-pedalling from the start.
"We missed some early chances too, while Limerick took anything that came their way. The crowd (4,000) was the biggest we've had for a league game for years so it was particularly disappointing for them."
But nicking a one-point victory up at Casement Park next time out got Clare back on track and his young side have been unbeaten since.
Yet O'Loughlin is going out of his way to play down any thoughts of a league final yet, saying: "We're not pre-empting anything. Our total focus this weekend is on playing Laois and we'll take it from there."
Clare have a relatively clean bill of health, with corner-forward Colin Ryan (ankle ligament) the only injury.