Pre-match thoughts: Clare v. Laois
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
Thursday, 4 November 2020, 17.30
This match represents something different for the two teams. Clare will see this as a chance to steady the ship after a thorough beating against Limerick, a workout that should allow the team and management to get to know each other a bit better before playing a stronger side in their next knockout game. Laois will see it as a shot-to-nothing, where a loss of less than eight points would be a noble result, and would also allow them to build a little more confidence after a constructive 2019.
Two teams on varied trajectories: Clare have been on a consistent slide since 2013 and are arguably at rock bottom. They were utterly demolished by Tipperary and Limerick last year and, if Clare had drawn Dublin, many would have seen it as a 50-50 game; evidence of how far Clare have fallen as they'd normally fancy themselves against Dublin. Laois are building under Eddie Brennan, but appear to still be at the level of hoping to put it up to teams, rather than arriving with a real chance of winning.
Image: Tony Kelly against Ryan Mullaney.
How Clare line out will be interesting. David McInerney at midfield didn't work against Limerick, so shifting him to the half-back line is imaginable. Wing-back would probably be his most natural spot, but I could see him slotting in at centre-back. McInerney probably suffers from public expectation founded on his debut year of 2013 when he won an All-Star. Back then, there were minimal expectations and McInerney played corner-back as a pacey, hurling defender, similar to how a wing-back plays. Since then, he has manned full-back gamely for several years without really ever having a defender's natural instincts.
Stephen O’Halloran acquitted himself well under ferocious pressure against Limerick; when all around him was crumbling, it was hard to be a debutant, and I'm interested to see him afforded some time to bed in at wing-back.
In midfield, Cathal Malone tends to do enough every day to hold his jersey and he can only be credited for how he performs, but I'd be tempted to go with Jason McCarthy and Aidan McCarthy. They are uber-fit and their athleticism and work-rate over a full game could add up to a lot of small, useful jobs done.
Image: Ian Galvin and Aron Shanagher against Padraig Delaney .
Otherwise, Kelly apart, Clare didn't make a dent up front against Limerick and I'd be inclined to load up the forward line with guys who can score. While Clare are short on gilt-edged forwards, they can be assembled in such a way as to maximise (a) the threat to the opposition and (b) the discomfort they cause them. To do so, I'd back guys who are liable to get a streak of scores and who, if things go well, can put a knife in the opposition, such as Aaron Cunningham and Aron Shanagher. Put them inside with Shane O'Donnell and you have a line that's varied, threatening and difficult to handle. Also, they can fluidly rotate with each other.
In the half-forward line (insofar as "lines" even exist anymore), I'd go with Kelly playing a largely free role, with Diarmuid Ryan playing centre-forward and instructed to be as disruptive as possible for his marker. Ryan is arguably a more natural defender, and playing a defensive-minded player centre-forward can be a huge pain for a centre-back, especially if he's liable to be abrasive and aggressive, which Ryan is. The last spot is open, and I'd take a chance on Colin Guilfoyle on the wing. He's keen as mustard and, like Cunningham and Shanagher, if he plays well, he might play very well.
Prediction: Clare to win easily. Tony Kelly's red-hot form against Limerick will probably continue unhindered so he may well hit a high tally of points from play.