Next Sunday in Ennis ourselves and Clare face off in the Division Two semi-final. There’s no divisional final place on offer for the winners of this tie but a bigger prize awaits the victors as they get a slot in Division One of the National League for 2022.
The match at Cusack Park throws in at 1.45pm on Sunday. TG4 are broadcasting it live and there’ll also be live radio commentary on Midwest. Niall Cullen of Fermanagh is the ref for it.
It’s nineteen years since we played the Banner County in the National League. For a few years around the new Millennium Clare and ourselves were together in Division 1B and we met four years in succession during that period.
We drew 0-9 apiece in Ballina in 1999, they beat us by 0-13 to 0-9 in Kilmihil in 2000, we beat them by 2-14 to 1-9 in Castlebar in 2001 and we thumped them by 2-19 to 1-6 in Ennis in 2002. That game in Cusack Park was our most recent League meeting.
We’ve played them much more recently in the Championship, of course, as our paths crossed in the qualifiers in 2017. That’s the only time we ever played each other in the Championship and a memorable day that was in July that year, with Cusack Park filled to the gills and the weather perfect. It was a real belter of a match as well, which we won by 2-14 to 0-13.
That’s the history lesson but, in considering the challenge that Colm Collins’ Clare are likely to pose for us next Sunday we need to look at their more recent record.
Last year’s League campaign for them was only so-so. They won three and lost four matches in Division Two, narrowly avoiding the drop to Division Three.
Defeats to Westmeath (away) in Round 1, to Roscommon (away) in Round 3, to Laois (at Ennis) in Round 4 and to Armagh (at Ennis) in Round 7 were balanced by victories over Kildare (at Ennis) in Round 2, over Cavan (at Breffni Park) in Round 5 and over Fermanagh (at Ennis) in Round 6.
That 1-14 to 0-15 win over Cavan in Breffni Park just before the Covid restrictions came into effect was a crucial one. The two counties finished level on six points but the head-to-head rule meant that Clare stayed up while Cavan fell to Division Three.
Clare’s Munster Championship campaign last winter was short and not at all sweet. On the first day of November they went under in a quarter-final tie to Tipperary, losing out at Semple Stadium by 2-11 to 1-11 to the county that would then go on to claim a shock provincial title down south a few weeks later.
Bracketed in Division Two South for this year’s League, Clare won twice and lost once. In Round 1 they beat Laois by 1-16 to 0-12 at Cusack Park and then backed this up in Round 2 by going to Newbridge and coming away with an impressive 1-13 to 0-13 win over Kildare.
While they lost at home to Cork in Round 3, that 0-22 to 1-18 defeat meant that they edged out the Rebels on points difference in a congested table that saw themselves, Kildare and Cork all end up on four points. Kildare came out on top by virtue of their +14 points difference, with Clare joining them in the semis thanks to their +9 number. Cork, on a points difference of +5, finished third and so must now face the rigours of a relegation play-off this coming weekend.
With Division One having been our natural home for over twenty years and having won three games from three last month to top Division Two North, we’ll obviously go into Sunday’s promotion decider as strong favourites. Clare have, though, shown their mettle in this League campaign to date and in a one-off tie with a major prize at stake we can expect them to give this game everything they’ve got.
There’s another reason why we should anticipate that they’ll do this. That’s because two weeks later they’re playing Kerry in the Munster SFC quarter-final and that’s a game they’re all but guaranteed to lose. They’ll know this too and will, no doubt, figure that our match offers them a far better chance of securing a tangible return for their efforts in 2021.
From our perspective, that makes this one a tricky assignment. We’re expected to win – and should do so – while they’ll go into it utterly unburdened and with nothing to lose.
It’s a tie that has to be decided on the day, with extra-time and, if needs be, penalties to be used to find a winner. I doubt it’ll come to that and while I do expect us to prevail, I doubt we’ll have it all our own way at Cusack Park.
What, though, do the rest of you think? Let’s finish with a poll to see what the mood is like.
How will we do against Clare?
- Win (86%, 444 Votes)
- Lose (10%, 53 Votes)
- Draw (4%, 22 Votes)
Total Voters: 519