National Football League lessons for Colm Collins and Clare

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Clare’s Echo Head of News & Sport, Páraic McMahon looks at the learnings of Clare footballers following their 2022 National Football League Allianz effort. For the record, Clare finished fifth in Division 2 with two wins, two draws and three losses to his name.

Step up:

Conceding six goals in seven games isn’t ideal, but take a step back and consider that Clare introduced a new backline for the majority of the National Football League (NFL) and has a glow more positive. To make that shine even brighter, this is how Manus Doherty and Cillian Rouine have seamlessly integrated when they wear numbers two and four respectively. Alan Sweeney in the half-back line had also established himself as a regular until he suffered a shoulder injury. Players like Darragh McDonagh, Daniel Walsh, Ronan Lanigan, Dan Keating and Brian McNamara may consider themselves unfortunate that they didn’t spend more time on the pitch trying to do the same.

Rookie Manus Doherty arrives with Bill Carroll in pursuit. Photography: Gerard O’Neill

Injury without excuse:

Two of Clare’s most experienced defenders, Kevin Harnett and Sean Collins missed the entire NFL, Podge Collins struggled with a hamstring, Cathal O’Connor missed outings with a shoulder impact on Sweeney and Darragh Bohannon. Yet there was not a word from the management who worked and focused on the blood of others who knew they had to seize the opportunity with both hands.

Kamikaze shots:

A recurring theme in the NFL for Clare was their love/hate relationship with their own expulsions. When it worked they dominated, an example being the draw with Roscommon when they physically intimidated their Connacht counterparts in the air and on restarts everything changed completely as the campaign progressed. 45, 60, 67, 74, 78, 79 and 88 are not suggestions for a Lotto Quick Pick but Clare’s kickout percentages in the 2022 NFL. Sorting is key.

Midfield Meanders:

Replacing Gary Brennan was never going to be easy. Favorite couple now appear to be Cathal O’Connor and Darren O’Neill, injury may have prevented O’Connor from having a more influential role but his contribution needs to increase while O’Neill who is effective in the air needs to also contributing more from open play, he has the potential to open up defenses and then allow Clare shooters to hit the target.

Collins’ challenge:

Management always throws dilemmas. One of the problems Colm Collins faces is helping Jamie Malone get back to his best form, the Corofin man had a quiet NFL by his standards and found himself falling behind when he is much more effective at breaking through opposing defenses when on the wing. -attacker, that flair hasn’t been so bright since his injury last year. Collins & Co’s job is to bring the Dublin-based teacher back to his best and the reward will certainly be worth it.

Carrot & stick:

Emerging talent programs may have been a concept in Clare football circles for over a decade, but it’s something Collins has embraced. Young recruits are brought in up to two years before their scheduled engagement and placed in S&C and nutrition programs. Emmet McMahon is one of the graduates of the Collins program and is now acclimatizing to the carrot and stick approach. The UL student is very reliable when it comes to scoring from distance, a rarity in football today, but it seems management want the Kildysart man to up his pace considerably job if he wants to become a starter. His inclusion in the Higher Education Team of the Year for his Sigerson Cup displays is proof of his talent, Clare Football is now hoping he can grab the carrot!

Emmet McMahon tackling his Meath counterpart. Photography: Gerard O’Neill

Missed opportunities:

The withdrawal at Roscommon was heralded as a positive outcome, but mainly by supporters who were not at Dr Hyde Park. It was a game Clare led but failed to take home the win, they should have picked up two points but had to settle for one, they followed that clash with three rebound losses while the Rossies were crowned Division 2 champions. A game can turn on sixpence, but for Clare, this game is where their campaign turned in the wrong direction.

To believe is to realize:

Does Clare think they’re good enough to compete in the NFL’s top tier? The narrative around County is that they would suffer weekly losses to the big boys, but until they truly back each other up when it comes to bringing down a giant, they will likely stay in Division 2. Being given how far the county has come in terms of football, being in division 2 isn’t the end of the world but it’s standing still what their manager famously said is the same than to step back. To be the best you have to beat the best, this can only be done by playing them, so the mindset has to shift from maintaining our status to striving for promotion.

True to Soul:

It is worth mentioning the real supporters behind this side of the county. They represent the best of Clare GAA, they have no desire to cling to controversies, instead they are Clare to the core, this was ably demonstrated by the trip to Newry when he was not There wasn’t much to play for, in a time of rising fuel costs, making the trip was the only option for football fans.

Find league:

He’s an established player who made his league debut in 2018, but 2022’s Cillian Brennan is showing leadership abilities he has yet to showcase. Question marks surrounded his displays in years past, but the Clondegad defender had his best NFL campaign yet in County colors and is going from strength to strength.

Cillian Brennan came of age in the NFL this year. Photography: Gerard O’Neill

League player:

Thanks to his ponytail, Cian O’Dea automatically attracts attention. When it comes to football, he has been Clare’s most consistent player for the past three seasons and if a team from the province were to be chosen, he would certainly be in the top six fullbacks. The Kilfenora man knows when to drop the blade and when to earn a free, he also paves the way for the counter-attack which, when done well, was the main source of scoring during the NFL 2022. Eoin Cleary has once again contributed with outstanding scores at the other end of the pitch and, like any good captain, shows high levels of maturity.

Farewell shot:

Silence has descended from Clare’s camp for two of the NFL’s last three games under the GPA’s “media ban.” Without raising a hand to become a GPA communications adviser, a much better way to take a stand and get a message across would be to boycott the games, which would bring things to a pretty sharp point rather than a decision not to give a few sound bites to the media. Use the media to get the message across, better than the sound of silence.

What destination now?

Clare will face Limerick in Munster SFC and is fully capable of qualifying for the provincial final. Look beyond Billy Lee’s Limerick at your own risk. There’s already less drama on Clare’s side of the draw, the distant hills are greener or the ‘castles on the hill’ a certain Ed Sheeran sings can create more talk for the Cork v clash Kerry but ‘thinking out loud’ that will suit Clare who would only like to fly under the radar. For that to happen, kickouts need to improve, scoring rates need to sharpen, and the glimpse of their counterattacking strengths need to be felt more often.

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