In the first of a four part blog series covering the All Ireland Hurling semi-finalists, we look at how Clare advanced to this stage of the competition.
Clare’s path to the All Ireland Semi-Final
An interesting path to this point of the competition. An opening road trip loss to Cork by five points put pressure on Clare in must win territory against Waterford; they did so emphatically beating the Deise by nine points. The bye week came perfectly for Clare who produced a stirring last quarter to beat Tipperary in Thurles by two points. The momentum of this triumph setup an emphatic win over a much fancied Limerick side at Cusack Park by eleven points. Cue the Munster SHC final. Clare dominated the opening period against Cork but only led by four points at the break. The Rebels regrouped and once the game opened up in the second half, Cork’s clinical scoring prowess was decisive in victory by two points. A date against Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford looked a tricky proposition on paper in the All Ireland Quarter-Final but credit to Clare for regrouping and they easily put Wexford to the sword in a dominant showing.
Several Clare players have come to the fore this season. Tony Kelly is the fulcrum for this Clare side. If Kelly is on form, Clare are in rhythm and performing to high levels. Kelly has scored 1-22 in the championship so far and encouragingly for Clare hurling fans was superb in the defeat of Wexford; creating space to launch runs from deep and also dispatch trademark long range scores from play. A key player who Galway will look to nullify this weekend.
Peter Duggan’s emergence this season has being most welcome from a Clare perspective. With the retirement of Colin Ryan from the panel, question marks were raised on the free taking duties. Step forward Duggan into the role and the Clooney-Quin star has not looked back. His scoring returns in the championship this season have being superb and for the most part has being unerring on the placed balls. Peter Duggan will punish Galway indiscipline this weekend from placed balls.
John Conlon has had a superb season at full forward, his best position. Conlon has shown versatility in his half forward line duties in previous seasons but his physicality around the square has being to the fore this season. His scoring return from open play reward for Clare’s decision to hit early ball inside to the full forward line and players such as Shane O’Donnell coming out the field to create space for Conlon to exploit from the statistics below:
The David McInerney and Conor Cleary central defensive axis needs to be on point this weekend. The full back and half back pairing have pace, power and speed aplenty highlighted in some excellent cameos so far in the championship. Given the power and physicality that they will face this weekend, it is imperative that Cleary is assured in his game management and aerial ability. McInerney will need to be tactically on point against the aerial and physical onslaught which beckons from Galway. Glynn, Whelan, Mannion, Flynn will all throw different looks to the Tulla club player. If Clare are to win, this partnership needs to be on top form.
The side are incredibly fast with their game plan built on high tempo. Clare will look to play through the lines predominantly and expect Colm Galvin to be a key orchestator on this department. The Cratloe native’s ability to take long range scores as well as picking out forward colleagues with unerring distribution is a hallmark of the side this season. Podge Collins will look to identify gaps in between opposition back line units; his performances in recent fixtures have being on point. Mobility is a key weapon for Clare and it will be interesting to see Clare in Croke Park, a venue where Clare have recent enjoyable memories. Clare’s ability to expose full backs against John Conlon has being another hallmark this season, interesting to see how Galway’s back line deal with this tactic.
This side are loaded with talent but I question how Clare will fair in the physicality stakes this weekend. They have not faced anyone with the physicality and power of Galway and this Galway side are stacked with power players right down the spine of the side. Aerial contest will be a key factor in victory and wondering if Donal Tuohy’s puck out strategy and distribution is strong enough to cause Galway management problems. Tuohy has relied on his corner backs for early puck outs, sense that Galway will close down this avenue and will look for Tuohy to hit long. If this pattern emerges, Galway will feel confident of winning this battle given their personnel. For Clare to win, the puck out strategy has to be on point. Wexford and Limerick were too passive. Cork in the second half of the Munster SHC final pushed up on the puck out and it turned the game. Management also need to show that they can vary the game plan when required. Cork Munster SHC final loss exposed tactical issues when they suddenly stopped feeding John Conlon inside for a run game in the second half. Several questions asked here, we will find out on Saturday afternoon if they can answer them.