Thursday 13 December 2018

Conlon: We want to make this a memorable summer

John Conlon was inspirational against Waterford, firing 1-3 and regularly splitting the Déise defence. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
John Conlon was inspirational against Waterford, firing 1-3 and regularly splitting the Déise defence. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Five long and lean championship seasons have passed since Clare's last All-Ireland SHC success but after bouncing back with victory over a depleted Waterford side on Sunday, John Conlon is intent on making it a "memorable summer".

The power of playing on home soil has been highlighted during this year's new-look provincial campaigns and travelling into Ennis on Sunday, Conlon knew it was win or bust for Clare.

Only Offaly (twice) and Dublin (narrowly to Kilkenny) have lost on home soil thus far and the Clonlara powerhouse had no intention of allowing the Banner to be added to that list after defeat to Cork the previous week.

"We knew we did things right against Cork. But we know when we come in here to Ennis... I have been on the panel 10 years but driving in the new entrance out by the Queens (Hotel), I haven't experienced something like that before," Conlon said.

"There was hair standing on everyone's back. We said it before the match that we weren't going to be beaten here. You could see that with the work-rate from everyone, we need to bring that, we want to make this a memorable summer."

Conlon was inspirational, firing 1-3 and regularly splitting the Déise defence, and unlike their display against the Rebels, everything stuck in attack for Clare and they showed a clinical edge to hit a whopping 2-27.

"We met on Monday night and we knew we had a lot at stake, we did a lot right last week, we just missed six or seven goal chances and we were just giving out to ourselves that we didn't take the shot to get the goals and that we didn't trouble (Anthony) Nash," the 29-year-old said.

"We got to the final stage and the pass was wrong, we took the wrong option. We just said this week, 'if you're going for the jugular, if you're going through you're going straight for goal and if you're not, take your scores'."

It was boom or bust for the Banner but with a rest week ahead of them to prepare for Tipperary in Semple Stadium on June 10, Conlon appreciates that every game is knock-out if they wish to progress beyond Munster.

Mimic

The league was used "as a tool to get right for championship" and mimic summer preparations and Conlon insists there's "nothing between any of the teams" as Clare look to get back to Croke Park for the first since lifting Liam MacCarthy in 2013.

While there's a new-found optimism in the west, the same can't be said for Waterford. It says something about their misfortune that Conlon was earmarked to pick up their sweeper only for both Tadhg de Búrca (shoulder) and Darragh Fives (calf) to be forced off.

Compound those losses with Noel Connors (back) and Barry Coughlan (hand) - Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony also missed out through injury - and the sending off of Kevin Moran, and a shell-shocked Derek McGrath could hardly believe his luck.

From All-Ireland finalists last September, the Déise are now teetering on the brink without a host of their most influential players and things don't get any easier with another three games on the road, starting with Tipp in the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday.

"They're in a bit of a mess going into the weekend," Waterford legend John Mullane told Independent.ie's 'Throw-In' podcast. "Like a lot of other teams, they have plenty of cover up front but the defence is the one area they can't afford to miss anyone."

McGrath, in his fifth and what is expected to be final year at the helm, "can't feel sorry for himself", according to Mullane but he faces many sleepless nights over his players' fitness and whether to risk former Hurler of the Year Gleeson and ace free-taker Mahony this weekend.

"Does he risk playing Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony or does he say to himself, 'we'll try and win the last two games' because I can't foresee them beating Tipp.

"If they do play and miss the following weekend then it's a total write-off," the five-time All-Star added.

Tipp boss Michael Ryan knows McGrath's position all too well having gone through the ringer last week in the wake of their six-point defeat to Limerick. But such is the nature of the round-robin series, teams can sink or swim in record time.

The Premier men may have saved their championship aspirations after reversing a nine-point, half-time deficit to force a draw against Cork in a game which may resemble a turning point similar to their qualifier resurrection against Galway four years ago.

That revitalised their campaign and eventually left them a hair's breath from All-Ireland success and this may also give it the kiss of life.

While Michael Breen, who was set to start at midfield against the Rebels before a freak ankle injury in training, looks sets for a month on the sidelines, there's better news about Cathal Barrett.

The All-Star corner-back, dropped from the panel last year for disciplinary reasons, should return to the match-day 26 on Sunday while Niall O'Meara is also on the mend.

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