GER LOUGHNANE has launched a blistering attack on former Clare players Tony Griffin and Tony Carmody, accusing the pair of letting their county down.
Loughnane, who managed Clare to All-Ireland SHC success in 1995 and '97, believes that Griffin and Carmody should still be hurling at senior level for the Banner and providing leadership for emerging young players from the underage ranks.
In a wide-ranging overview of the hurling landscape, Loughnane also accused Kilkenny boss Brian Cody of getting it badly wrong as he attempted to plot a historic fifth successive All-Ireland triumph in 2010.
And the outspoken Feakle native criticised the preparation of the Clare U-21 team for last year's unsuccessful defence of their 2009 Munster and All-Ireland crowns.
Loughnane believes that the good times lie just around the corner for Clare again, but he pinpointed the lack of experienced players on the county senior panel as a hindrance.
He pointed the finger of blame firmly at former All Star Griffin and Carmody, who did not play for Clare in 2010 and who will not be involved again for the coming season.
The highlight of the 2010 season for Loughnane was the thrilling All-Ireland SHC final clash between Tipperary and Kilkenny, when the Cats were denied an unprecedented five-in-a-row.
And Loughnane laid the blame firmly at Cody's door, insisting: "I always fancied Tipperary to win the All-Ireland. Kilkenny were living on borrowed time. Their preparation for the All-Ireland was very un-Cody-like.
"I have the greatest respect for Brian Cody, he's the greatest manager ever in hurling, but I think he got distracted last year and that was reflected in Kilkenny's performance."
For Clare to progress as a senior force, Loughnane believes that getting out of Division 2 of the National Hurling League is imperative. However, he is optimistic about the future as a talented crop of players emerge from the minor and U-21 ranks.
Clare captured the Munster and All-Ireland U-21 titles for the first time in 2009, while the minors contested an All-Ireland final last September.
"It's very important to get out of Division 2," Loughnane said. "It can be like a quagmire and the longer you stay in it, the harder it is to get out. I compare the Clare team now to the Clare team of 1992/93, when there were a lot of young players coming into the team and gaining experience, suffering disappointment and playing very badly in big games.
"But that's all part of an apprenticeship. The big problem for Clare is that so many of them have to serve their apprenticeship together without the leadership of older players.
"Some of the players that should be there in Clare, like Tony Griffin and Tony Carmody for example, have really let Clare down.
"When you're an inter-county player, you have a responsibility -- a responsibility to try your best for your county and as you go on in years a responsibility then to bring on the younger players.
"All of us went through that and all of the senior players in the 1990s regarded that as a huge responsibility, bringing in young players. When you bring them in and move off, you want those players to take on leadership roles.
"The problem in Clare is that there are very few to take on leadership roles and the Clare now is very similar to when I came on the team, with the likes of Enda O'Connor, Sean Stack, Colm Honan, John Callanan and Pat O'Connor. All the young lads had to take on leadership roles and it took three or four years before we really grew into that role.
"I started off with Clare in 1973 and it was 1977 before we became real players. We didn't have players to look up to and Clare now are in the same situation.
"But people shouldn't despair and lose confidence because there are a lot of great quality young lads there. It will take them time to come up to the proper level but I would say the sooner they get out of Division 2 the better."
Clare's defence of their 2009 Munster and All-Ireland U-21 crowns ended last year with defeat against Tipperary in the provincial final at Semple Stadium. And Loughnane insists that it was a defeat he saw coming when he compared the physical make-up of both teams.
"I was slightly disappointed at the U-21 match between Clare and Tipp," Loughnane said. "Not by the result and display, but by the physique of the Clare team.
"They were too heavy, their legs too heavy, some of them weren't properly developed in their upper bodies. They didn't have the strength and conditioning you would expect them to have.
"As an outsider, it didn't seem to me that they had built on the success of the previous year. It hadn't given them the incentive to drive on and develop their bodies in a way that's needed now for inter-county hurling.
"I was slightly alarmed by that. Louis Mulqueen was with me (at the Tipp game) and I said: 'Look at the state of Clare, they haven't a hope in this game'.
"They played well for the first 10 or 15 minutes but didn't last the game. I was very concerned by that."