Sunday 26 January 2020

Brendan Cummins: Kelly needs to shine if Clare are to cause semi-final shock

Clare's inability to stem tide in face of adversity a major concern ahead of Galway acid test

Tony Kelly, here ghosting past Paudie Foley of Wexford, needs to show his very best for Clare if they are to surprise Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tony Kelly, here ghosting past Paudie Foley of Wexford, needs to show his very best for Clare if they are to surprise Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Dealing with adversity and being able to stem the tide when things are going against you is one of the hallmarks of greatness.

Kilkenny's outstanding team of the Noughties had a unique ability to weather opposition storms and think on their feet, but it's a massive area for concern as Clare head into Saturday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final with Galway.

Limiting the damage is not their strong point and in the second-half of their Munster final capitulation against Cork, the Banner had no answer and no Plan B when the Rebels turned into a runaway train and started trampling over them.

They can't afford the same to happen against the All-Ireland champions and if they sense trouble I'd have no hesitation in bringing John Conlon out to centre-forward alongside Peter Duggan and putting their best ball winners under the puck-out.

Galway will get on a roll at some stage and everyone will think, 'oh here we go', but it's up to Clare to soften the blow. The key is to try and keep tabs to make it a one-score game rather than letting them run amok like Cork did.

Tony Kelly and David Reidy can't be expected to claim 50-50 puck-outs and if they move all over the pitch they won't be followed as Galway's midfielders sit in the half-back line, so they have to put their ball-winners in the half-forward line to limit the loss.

You won't win the game in this period, but you could easily lose it and they have a poor track record in that respect. When the game is slipping away, they need Kelly and Colm Galvin dropping deep to run the ball through the middle.

Reidy could also play as a false half-forward and join Kelly and Galvin, meaning that your three fastest players are getting on the ball and attacking in waves at pace. They are playing a more direct style under Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney, but they may have to go back to the future to prevail.

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A lack of size against the most physically imposing side in the game suggests a change of tack is needed, so they may need to go with 20 or 30-yard passes through the hand to play to their strengths.

Rather than carrying ball into trouble, Kelly and Co need to be looking for one-twos from team-mates and try to take Gearóid McInerney out of his comfort zone. If they don't, Galway will walk all over them.

It was interesting to see what Limerick did against Kilkenny when they were in trouble, and Clare may well have taken note. At a crucial stage one of their players went down for attention and allowed everyone to regroup when they were under the cosh.

Clare keeper Donal Tuohy will be critical. He'll have to feed his wing-backs where possible from puck-outs to keep the Galway forwards honest and back in their positions and if that happens, he can start floating balls to drop them between the two '65s'.

When Wexford shocked Kilkenny in the 2004 Leinster semi-final, Damien Fitzhenry was instructed to make sure that every puck-out hit grass. If Tuohy isn't going direct on top of Duggan or Conlon, then he needs to have that approach.

A major factor will be Kelly's influence. While he's on every highlight reel with his fabulous scores, the reality is that's all flashy stuff and he needs to be more involved in games and lead from the front as their talisman.

Look at how Tom Morrissey responded to Kilkenny's goal the last day, what Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy do for Cork when leaders are needed, and how Joe Canning is Galway's go-to man in their hour of need.

Kelly is their marquee player and while there is a weight of expectation on his shoulders from supporters, he has the ability to carry it. If he does, the Banner could cause the Galway half-back's some headaches, but if he doesn't Clare will melt like they did in the Munster decider.

McInerney won't be following him and if you're Micheál Donoghue, you'll think: 'Kelly does an awful lot of running, but outside of the three or four balls he puts over the bar, is he really influencing the game?' At the moment, the answer is no.

If he wants to win another All-Ireland, he'll have to do what Eoin Kelly, Henry Shefflin and Canning have done for their respective counties and drag them over the line. He is that calibre of player for Clare, his ability has catapulted him into this position, but so far this season he's not delivering on it.

I discount the Wexford game in assessing Clare's merits because they were a shambles and you can only judge them on the Munster final and the Tipperary performance, and they struggled physically when it was put up to them against the Rebels.

I don't see where they can turn the tide in this area and Galway will likely try to exploit the Clare defence this weekend. Don't expect to see big Johnny Glynn on the edge of the square as Conor Cooney will surely come back in.

The mobility of Cork's inside line hurt Clare and Donoghue will try to do likewise. He's in an envious position where he can implement a different style every day they go out. No matter what the environment is he has the solution in his ranks and as they have already had their stumble in the drawn Leinster final against the Cats, they won't be caught napping here and should have a couple of scores to spare.

I've touted Limerick as the best equipped to topple them, but they face a titanic struggle against Cork, who have surprised me. They have issues in the heart of their defence and yet they rack up such big tallies that teams can't touch them.

The big question for Limerick is can they stick to the process in spite of all the hype and expectation around them? We played Waterford in 2008 and the game was over after 10 minutes as we forgot to turn up.

If Limerick get into the game early, they'll edge it, but if they're caught in the headlights in the new surroundings of Croke Park with a massive travelling support, it could get away from them. They can't let it turn into a tournament game, they need to make it a dogfight and play the game on their terms.

Cork are a grand side to play against, they'll tap the ball around and there's no massive physicality, but you can't beat Cork in that type of game.

Graeme Mulcahy showed that bite in their drawn encounter. He set the tone with that fiery sequence against Mark Coleman. If they repeat the trick and ruffle Cork's feathers, a final place is theirs.

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