Clare hurlers have been left scarred by a series of disappointments

Clare hurlers have been left scarred by a series of disappointments
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

ALMOST an hour after they lost to Tipperary two weeks ago, a number of the Clare players were still sitting in their gear, staring into space, still clearly concussed from the manner and margin of the defeat.

It took the backroom team much longer than normal to initiate all the early stages of the recovery process for the Limerick game seven days later, with food, hydration and early rehab. 

That is to be expected after such a devastating defeat but joint-manager Gerry O’Connor said in his TV interview before the Limerick game last Sunday that Clare had “parked” that Tipperary game by that evening. Clare clearly hadn’t. 

Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

And given the nature of the beating they took from Limerick, how hard has it been for Clare to park that defeat this week?

Management had to be positive in the aftermath of the collapse. That came across in their post-match interviews, while some Clare players were already talking on Sunday night about the absolute importance of producing a big performance against Cork tomorrow.

Even if Clare beat Cork, they need Limerick to beat Tipperary, or for the teams to draw, for Clare to have any chance of making the top three.

It’s always harder to find that extra level of motivation when a situation is out of a team’s hands, but Clare are currently in a nowhere position; devoid of form, confidence and belief, and with public support at its lowest ebb in years. 

The players know they can still qualify but they look like a team that almost want the season, and the agony, to be over.

If they could somehow advance, having a long break to a preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final would at least give Clare the opportunity to regroup, recharge and reboot. 

A big win against Cork could be the spark Clare are desperately looking for but it’s unlikely that a team which has averaged just 0-15 in their last two games, and which has managed just 11 points from play in those two games, could still somehow resurrect their summer.

As soon as the draw was made last October, Cork would have been looking at this fixture with trepidation; if Cork needed a win to stay alive in Munster, Ennis was probably the last place to go looking for it.

Cork would have also been aware of how hard Clare are to beat in their fortress of Cusack Park. 

Prior to the Tipperary match, Clare had only lost two of their previous 20 league and championship matches in Ennis. Yet Tipp came to town and emphatically sacked the Park.

Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The manner of that win stripped away some of the aura and mystique around how hard it is to beat Clare at home but the subsequent collapse to Limerick has stripped away even more layers in the meantime.

Confidence has collapsed everywhere. 

The diehards will turn up on Sunday but Cusack Park won’t be rocking like it can when it’s packed. 

With public support towards the team having dwindled so much over the last week, the place will seem even less intimidating now for Cork. 

And especially when Cork should have more support than Clare in Ennis tomorrow.

Morale is even lower again in Clare given that they are now facing Cork, the last team which the public want to see in town. 

This Clare side should have all the motivation in the world to beat Cork but they are the one side that Clare have been unable to crack; in their nine league and championship meetings since the 2013 All-Ireland final replay, Clare have won just once, last year's league encounter.

When the sides met in Páirc Uí Rinn in March, Clare dominated the game. 

The match was so open that it was like a challenge game but context was still important because Clare desperately wanted, and needed, to win. And, they still couldn’t.

Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

“This is a bad defeat for Clare,” said Donal Óg Cusack afterwards in his TV post-match analysis. 

“It’s a long journey home tonight because this is a game they would have wanted to win. Psychologically, it’s hard to measure it but it will impact in the back of their heads come championship.” 

Those demons will return and scream even louder in their heads again now because Clare haven’t the form or confidence to fully stave off that threat. 

The Clare defence has always struggled against this Cork attack but doubts will be even more inflated since getting racked by Tipperary and Limerick.

The Clare defence was gutted like a fish six days ago but defenders were under such huge pressure because the dam was leaking all over the field before it eventually burst. 

Aside from Peter Duggan and Cathal Malone, every other Clare player was way below par. 

More worrying again is the fact that many of Clare’s key players – David McInerney, Tony Kelly, Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell - have been anonymous in their last two matches.

Kelly may have been dropping point chances into the square late on but he still only had one shot at the target against Limerick; O’Donnell had just two possessions in the same game.

John Conlon was brilliant last year but he hasn’t scored in his last two games, failing to hit the target from six shots.

Conlon has won four converted frees but, with most of Clare’s scores having come from Duggan placed balls, where are the scores going to come from with so many shooters not firing?

Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

The biggest indictment on Clare though has been the lack of fight and spirit shown over the last two games. 

The players themselves are confused as to why the train has been so spectacularly derailed but they know that they have one final chance now to at least get the train back on the tracks.

Yet the task is all the harder again now for Clare with Cork – probably the last team they’d want to meet in these circumstances – rocking into town.

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