Thursday 22 March 2018

Mullane on Monday: Clare will still have a big say in this year's championship

Clare hurling boss Davy Fitzgerald (right) watches on as referee Colm Lyons (far left) leaves the field for the half-time break alongside Patrick Donnellan, whom he had just sent off, during yesterday’s Munster SHC clash SPORTSFILE
Clare hurling boss Davy Fitzgerald (right) watches on as referee Colm Lyons (far left) leaves the field for the half-time break alongside Patrick Donnellan, whom he had just sent off, during yesterday’s Munster SHC clash SPORTSFILE
Westmeath hurling has seen huge progress under manager Michael Ryan
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham

John Mullane

Clare may have lost the battle yesterday but they could still win the war. Davy Fitzgerald will be disappointed with the result but not overly so.

The one big positive he will take from the game is how his team kept going right to the end, and could just as easily have won it.

Clare have gone the back-door route before with great success and the last 20 minutes suggested to me they will have a big say yet in the championship.

It's not all doom and gloom for the Banner and I think they're in a better place than they were two years ago as they regroup for the qualifiers.

Considering they were missing Brendan Bugler, Conor McGrath, Podge Collins and Colm Galvin, that was a good performance yesterday.

Aaron Cunningham's contribution when he came on was another big plus and Clare will settle on their best 15 before the summer is out.

There is one big problem for Clare and it's the recurring theme of indiscipline.

At crucial stages in the game, they gave away the kind of silly, needless frees that can tear the life from a team.

We saw it last year when it cost them against Wexford and the trend has continued into 2015.

Patrick Donnellan's sending off was stupid and he's the last player you'd expect to do something like that as captain of the team.

And it's another suspension for Clare they could do without heading into the qualifiers.

Shane Dowling scored 10 frees and could have ended up with 13 on another day.

Clare could have taken off Domhnall O'Donovan earlier, or moved him off Cian Lynch before they did. Lynch cleaned out O'Donovan but it didn't get much better for the corner-back when he went across on Graeme Mulcahy.

David McInerney was doing fine on Mulcahy but the Limerick man came into the game when O'Donovan was marking him.

It's a game the Clare corner-back will want to forget quickly.

Seadna Morey could have been brought in earlier to help deal with the problems in the Clare full-back line and I'd expect him to be in the shake-up for a starting place next time out.

The first half of the game was cautious and tight, with no real structure or pattern to it.

Neither team wanted to give each other an inch but that didn't surprise me as a quote from Limerick selector Paul Beary struck me before the game.

He mentioned that if you don't adapt to how the game has changed, you'll be left behind, adding that tactical nous now poses a lot of challenges for management teams.

He also mentioned how these are challenging times from a tactical perspective, to rethink how hurling is played, and that suggested to me that we would have a tight first half.

Limerick were always going to counteract what Clare had planned and before the summer is out, we might see plenty more of what we saw in the first 35 minutes. It was dour stuff, a lot of bodies out around the middle third, one-man full-forward lines and no support play. It could well be a sign of things to come.

Only when Clare went down to 14 men, and were forced to throw caution to the wind, did the game open up.

Shane O'Donnell and Shane Dowling were both double-marked from the start and there was no real offensive play in the first half.

But in the patches that we did see, O'Donnell and Cian Lynch were the highlights.

Lynch enjoyed a fantastic debut for Limerick and is a player with a bright future ahead of him.

By the letter of the law, Limerick's Seanie Tobin also deserved to be sent off. He did use the hurl but on another day, a yellow card could have been issued.

After Donnellan was red carded, Limerick needed to tread carefully because referees have a tendency to balance things up.

You see it every day when a player comes on and he's met with an old-fashioned shoulder charge.

But Tobin did use the hurl on Patrick O'Connor and he left Colm Lyons with no option.

The game ended in controversy with Clare claiming they were denied an extra couple of minutes to find an equaliser.

We're hearing that Lyons indicated one minute and to be fair to him, the breakdown of communication on the sideline wasn't his fault.

Still, you could understand why the Clare players and management were having it out with him after the final whistle.

In an overall sense, this Limerick performance typifies them.

They had another poor league campaign but they're the one county who can go through something like that and come out on Munster championship day with a big support behind them and turn it around.

Limerick now have a game under their belts and having to travel to the Gaelic Grounds on June 21 is a daunting prospect for Tipperary.

That should be another humdinger of a game and one that's hard to call. Home advantage could well prove decisive.

Don't forget Laois and Westmeath in great hurling debate

Laois and Westmeath deserve great credit after progressing to the Leinster quarter-finals.

Laois were four points down against Westmeath at half-time and showed real character to turn it around.

After that initial setback in Antrim, they have come roaring back and victories over Carlow and now Westmeath have set up a spicy local derby with Offaly.

They were on the back-foot from the off in this group but worked hard to get themselves back into contention.

Sometimes hurling's so-called minnows don't get the coverage they deserve but these achievements that often go unnoticed deserve more recognition. While the bigger counties target provincial and All-Ireland titles, the goal for counties like Westmeath and Laois is to come out of the qualifier group and it's job done.

Westmeath's manager Michael Ryan, formerly of Waterford, has done a great job there.

Of the four teams in that round-robin series, Westmeath would have been viewed as rank outsiders.

But they have emerged to set up a tie against Wexford, and Westmeath hurling is in a good place.

Huge progress is being made in the Lake County and Wexford will be wary of the challenge that awaits them, as their minors were beaten by Westmeath recently.

After that result, and considering that Westmeath really put it up to Laois, this is a game Wexford will not want to take for granted.

But forewarned is very much forearmed from a Wexford viewpoint and I can't imagine Liam Dunne will allow his players to slip up.

For Antrim and Carlow, the season has ended prematurely and they have an awful long time to wait for their next taste of competitive hurling.

That doesn't do them any good whatsoever and the question is where will their players turn to now?

Many of them will surely take the opportunity to hurl in America.

Dublin's Ger to win battle of the Cunninghams

I'm tipping Dublin to knock Galway out of the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship next weekend.

But the news that Niall McMorrow is ruled out through injury is a blow to Dublin's hopes. I had earmarked him to be a real player for the the team managed by Ger Cunningham this summer after watching him in the latter stages of the league.

Against Limerick in the quarter-final, Dublin were outstanding and for 50 minutes of the semi-final with Cork, they played unbelievable hurling too.

If they can take that form into the Galway game, they won't be too far away and with my neck on the chopping block, I'm backing the Sky Blues to get the job done.

It's a massive game for both teams and the winner will have a great opportunity to go on to a Leinster final and a passage to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Whoever loses will find it hard to pick themselves up and Galway are already at a real crossroads.

Galway are a real Jekyll and Hyde team and we really won't know what to expect from Anthony Cunningham's men until they hit the pitch. They may even decide to play an extra man in midfield, similar to 2012.

I was more impressed with Dublin in the league and they're the type of team that could improve with more hurling as the summer progresses.

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