Gaelic GamesThe Weekend That Was

A ruthless streak might be the only thing Clare are missing - but they need to find it

Even though Brian Lohan’s side scored 4-21 against Waterford, they left another 4-18 on the table and continued a pattern of letting big leads fade away

In and around the Clare camp now, they must know that the season holds enormous potential.

If Limerick have come back to the peloton – and we’ll have to take that judgment under advisement for a little while yet, obviously – Brian Lohan’s side are readily positioned for the sprint. There’s an art to recognising the opportunity when it comes rather than reflecting wistfully on it in hindsight.

The street heats the urgency of now. John Conlon is 35, Conor Cleary and Tony Kelly are 30. Shane O’Donnell turns 30 in three weeks and has talked openly about this possibly being his last season. David Fitzgerald, Peter Duggan and Rory Hayes are all 28. This is it, these next two months – their last chance to all be in their prime together.

In Ennis on Sunday you had to wonder if they really and truly grasped that notion. While Waterford’s refusal to wither away was admirable, the truth of the encounter was that Brian Lohan’s team were much better organised, played to a much more reliable game plan and ought to have had the afternoon wrapped up in a bow long before the end. But, not for the first time, the want of a ruthless streak kept their opponents in it.


“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll be happy with that performance to be honest,” said Shane O’Donnell afterwards.

“I think the second half was quite poor, Waterford were undoubtedly the better team. We played very well in the first half, our attack was firing and we were quite solid in defence. And then in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second [half] we just didn’t really take the opportunities that we were opening up really.

“We had a lot of wides – I don’t know how many. We had one goal scored and maybe five or six wides in those first 10 or 15 minutes. So it’s just not good enough. And Waterford were better and it was very close in the end. Those games can slip away from you in one puck of the ball, and that’s how Waterford would have felt at the end of that game.”

O’Donnell was on the money in everything he said. But it’s one thing diagnosing the problem in the minutes after the final whistle; finding a fix while the game is ongoing is something they’re going to have to get better at.

They scored 4-21 on Sunday, which sounds like the sort of gaudy total that should win any game. But as Denis Walsh detailed in these pages on Saturday, the scoring totals have gone so far into deep space now that no number is a guaranteed winner. For a sense of what Clare left on the table, consider how much they missed – 14 wides, three balls dropped short, one off the post, four goal chances fluffed.

“We were talking about just being solid in defence,” O’Donnell said. “But then being able to just open things up and then run at them and stuff like that. We know we can play that kind of game and it was definitely bearing fruit in the first half. We’d have been reasonably happy with the first half but we definitely had those opportunities.

“The second half was quite similar but we just weren’t scoring them to be honest. We were missing the shots that should have been going over. We had a lot of wides, including myself, from 30 or 40 yards out. So yeah, we aren’t going to be happy with those sort of opportunities going wide. But we still got the result at the end of the day.”

On a granular level, Clare get plenty right. They wanted to dictate the tempo in Ennis so Eibhear Quilligan noticeably slowed down his puck-outs. The average time modern goalkeepers spend over restarts is in the region of nine seconds – Nickie Quaid and Patrick Collins do their level best to shave that even tighter to the bone when they can.

Compare that to Quilligan on Sunday, whose quickest puck-out in the first half came 10 seconds after the ball had gone over the bar. His average time over puck-outs was a shade over 18 seconds.

As the screws tightened in the second half and Waterford’s various comebacks loomed in his wing mirror, Quilligan hung in there and delayed as long as he could, sending the Waterford sideline into the usual frenzy. The Clare goalkeeper is another 30-year-old in the ranks – he wasn’t going to quail under a bit of shouting and roaring.

Clare tick all sorts of boxes. They work possession well, they share the shooting load – 10 different scorers on Sunday – they have O’Donnell and Fitzgerald in the form of their life and they have Kelly working his way back. But in this championship alone they’ve had an nine-point lead against Limerick and lost by three, a six-point lead against Cork and won by two and an eight-point lead against Waterford and won by one.

There’s no rule that says you can’t win an All-Ireland that way. But the law of averages isn’t likely to be your friend for long. Clare need to develop a habit of killing off matches when they’re on top. Granted, it’s not a simple thing to do.

That’s why they give the trophies to the teams who are best at it.