Clare’s Senior Footballers make their long awaited return to Division 3 of the National Football League after spending what felt like an eternity in the doldrums of Division 4.
Their return promises to be a sweet and exciting one should they build on the mammoth progress over the last twelve months under the guidance of Colm Collins since he took the reigns as Clare boss in the winter of 2013.
First up for Clare in their 2015 adventure is Wexford who will come to Miltown fully expecting to claim two points. David Power is in his first season as manager of the Model County having guided Tipperary to the 2011 All-Ireland minor title which highlighted the real revolution in Tipperary football of which Power was one of the main driving forces. At thirty one years old, David Power is the youngest inter-county manager in the country and in his first league game in charge will be hoping to lay down a marker.
Wexford have named a strong team for this clash with both Ciaran Lyng and Ben Brosnan two of the greatest footballers to put on the Wexford jersey lining out in the full forward line. More than likely Meelick’s Kevin Hartnett will be assigned to Lyng while Martin McMahon of Kilmurry/Ibrickane will be tracking Brosnan. Those who follow Clare football will know what McMahon and Hartnett are capable of bringing to the table and there is no fear that these men are good enough to silence two of the most promising footballers of the present day.
Former All-Star nominee Adrian Flynn is named at centre-forward for the Model County with Declan Murphy of the Horsewood club set to wear number ten. Murphy has been playing well so far in the O’Byrne Cup having been one of Wexford’s top scorers. The Clare backs will have to limit the impact of the entire Wexford attack and avoid giving away unnecessary frees to avoid putting extra pressure on themselves this Sunday.
For 2015, Clare opted once again not to participate in the McGrath Cup, meaning this weekend will be Clare’s first competitive match of the year. Boycotting the competition last year was an inspired decision so Colm Collins and his management will be hoping it is the same again this year.
Since the 2014 season finished, a lot has changed in the background of this Clare team. Coach Paudie Kissane has departed his role and his fellow Cork man Ephie Fitzgerald has replaced him. Cratloe trio Cathal McInerney, Sean and Podge Collins have decided to concentrate fully on gaelic football for the year and this will be a gigantic boost to the team. Long serving squad member Laurence Healy has called time on his inter-county career while Cooraclare’s Rory Donnelly has yet to decide whether or not he will continue with the squad.
Former Dublin footballer Pat Burke is now part of the Clare setup and is a vital addition to the squad. After impressing in the club championships, Darren Nagle and Keelan Sexton have received the call-ups with Sexton still eligible for the minor grade this year. All-Ireland medallist with the Clare U21 hurlers Alan O’Neill has joined the panel also but is doubtful this weekend due to injury.
Clare boss Colm Collins has yet to name his starting team for the league opener. Captain Gary Brennan is expected to partner Cathal O’Connor in the middle of the park with Joe Hayes, Kevin Hartnett and Dean Ryan also expected to feature. Podge Collins is a doubt having strained his hamstring in a drawn challenge match with Kerry last weekend and he will be a big loss if he is absent from the line-up.
Enda Coughlan is still recovering from a cruciate ligament injury while Miltown’s Eoin Cleary has recently undergone surgery and is rule out of the league. Cathal McInerney is also a worry for the weekend as he is attempting to shake off a hamstring injury.
In order for Wexford to scoop an away win and two points in the table they will need the likes of Ciaran Lyng, Joey Wadding, Paddy Byrne, Ben Brosnan, Adrian Flynn and Declan Murphy firing on all cylinders.
The Banner will be relying on Gary Brennan, Pat Burke, Martin McMahon, Sean Collins, David Tubridy and Kevin Hartnett to set the standard in order to get their season off to the best possible start.
A lot of the talk prior to the commencement of the league is whether or not Clare will get back to back promotions and advance to Division 2 for 2015. In order for that to happen, Clare need to make the most of home advantage and win their four home games in the league.
Clare’s management team of Colm Collins, Ger Keane and Ephie Fitzgerald will be taking the game by game approach which is the correct thing to do in order to keep their side focused on every opposing team in Division 3. Sunday’s match will be a tough affair but if Clare are disciplined and if their forward line are on target they will shake off a difficult Wexford challenge.