"It’s up to players now like Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell to step up and provide leadership" - Clare in a pickle
Peter Duggan. Colm Galvin. John Conlon. Podge Collins...
You'd be forgiven for thinking we were on our way to naming the Clare forward line for their Munster Championship first round clash against Limerick at the end of this month. In reality, these are the key men new manager Brian Lohan must do without, as a string of injuries and steps back from the county panel leave him inconceivably understrength for the Shannonside derby.
"That’s arguably our two biggest ball-winners gone out of the forward line," says Banner legend and Sky Sports analyst Jamesie O'Connor.
"Colm Galvin has shown serious consistency going back to his U21 days, he’s been a phenomenal player and Podge obviously has opted out as well so it’s far from ideal..."
Between 1997 and 2001, Jamesie O'Connor won all there was to win.
Hurler of the Year (97)🏅
All-Stars (97, 98, 2001)🏅
Liam MacCarthy (97)🏆
All-Ireland club (99)🏆
2 Munster & 2 Clare titles 👏
A tribute to a @GaaClare and @StJosephsDBGAA legend 🟡🔵https://t.co/H32I6aGfwH
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) May 13, 2020
O'Connor's concern will be felt all around the county as Clare aim to restore some respect after their 18 point hammering by their neighbours in the Gaelic Grounds last year.
"Playing Limerick and the poisoned chalice of playing Tipp then after, the draw hasn’t been kind either so there is genuine concern that we’re not as strong as we’d like to be or we’d need to be. We’ve seen at this level that if you’re not where you need to be, you can get tanked. Obviously we didn’t front up against Limerick last year, it’s a local derby so you’d be hopeful that the lads can restore some of the pride that we lost last year and hopefully the lads will give a good account of themselves but certainly, Brian will have a much weaker hand than he would have had at the beginning the year..."
Indeed, the absence of these four key players is a cause for serious concern in a shortened and much less forgiving county championship, and O'Connor is finding it hard to see Clare making too much of an impression as a result.
"Kilkenny, Limerick, Wexford and Tipp - they’re the four semi-finalists from last year and they have settled management teams and settled S and Cs and so on and the game-plan and puck out strategies are embedded. They will have a jump start on the new lads in the way it has unfolded. At the same time, new managers can get a bounce and hopefully there will be element to that in Clare..."
"I just can’t see us making the latter stages of the championship and that’s unfortunately where we are. Much of that is down to the players we don’t have available this year and that’s out of everyone’s hands," he adds.
The glimmer of hope, according to Jamesie, comes from the presence of marquee players Tony Kelly and Shane O'Donnell, who he's backing to stand up and be counted this year.Tony Kelly has been in flying form for Ballyea. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
"Look, it’s up to the other players now like Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell to step up and provide leadership and get the best out of themselves and be as good as they can be.
"Tony’s delivered for his club so consistently and if Clare are to be successful this year, Tony Kelly is going to have to play well. But I know Tony Kelly had a lot of work done earlier in the year, he was really intent on stepping up this year and really proving himself. Last year, he’ll say himself that he didn’t hit the heights that he wanted to but he seemed to be working really hard over the winter, into the spring, and he was hurling well for Clare so hopefully now we’ll see the best of him, because we will need to, and the same goes with Shane O’Donnell if Clare are to have a chance against Limerick..."
As for emerging talent on the back of the club championships, Jamesie has high hopes for Scarriff's intermediate championship winning forward Mark Rodgers as well as Cian Galvin from Clarecastle. This year may come a bit soon for the pair however.
"Look it, Mark Rodgers was an outstanding minor a couple of years ago and with Scarriff winning the intermediate this year, he’s going to be who will have great days for Clare in the years to come. Cian Galvin was awesome for St Flannan’s in the Harty Cup this year and he’s another guy they’ve brought into the panel. There are great young players in the county but even just S and C wise, it’s such a massive step up to compete with the physicality and power that your Limericks, Tipps, Galways and Kilkennys will bring. Whether those guys are ready remains to be seen. Without the benefit of a league behind them - you do need time, five or six games to acclimatise with the pace of it all and so on, because it’s like nothing you’d meet in the club or even the college’s scene. It’s a leap of faith to go with these guys do you know, but Rogers in particular, the sooner we see him in a Clare jersey the better because he has a touch of class, he’s a finisher and he’s got that X Factor that doesn’t come around every year.