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Analysis: Clare's brilliant Conlon-O'Donnell partnership and how they can win the Munster title

The42 analyst Tommy Dunne previews tomorrow’s Munster hurling final between the Banner and Cork.

HAVING CLOSELY WATCHED Clare’s style of play and how they’re functioning as a team this season, it’s clear to me they’ve got a strategy in place that’s suited to their personnel.

pjimage (38) Key men: Clare's Shane O'Donnell and John Conlon Source: Inpho

The Banner’s gameplan worked very effectively in their victory over Limerick in Ennis and throughout the Munster SHC so far. Over the last couple of seasons, I noticed that Clare seemed a bit one dimensional with a short passing, possession type game which created point-scoring opportunities from 45m to 70m out.

This year, they’re noticeably operating with a mixture of styles, having introduced a more direct approach to their attacking play. With John Conlon and Peter Duggan as target men and then the pace of Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell and Colm Galvin complementing them, Clare are a better team for it.

There were some good examples against Limerick of how the Banner used both styles to good effect.

1. Effectiveness of Clare’s long game

Conlon and O’Donnell are a perfect foil for one another in the full-forward line. Those two guys are key to the way Clare want to play, particularly Conlon.

They still use the possession game from Donal Tuohy’s puck-outs and seldom go long But we can see how Clare look to target their full-forward line after going short from restarts.

1 minute 52 seconds — A Tuohy puck-out goes short to Jack Browne, who immediately looks to go long.

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He launches a ball onto the edge of the square.

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This is a major deviation from the last two years. Conlon eventually wins possession and although he concedes a free-out, Clare’s tactic at this early stage is plain to see.

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4:12 — Clare intercept a Limerick puck-out on the half-back line and David Reidy sends a nice pass into space in front of O’Donnell. The Éire Óg ace puts his shot wide but Clare are hitting their inside forwards as early as possible.

4:52 — Conor Cleary fires in a long clearance into Conlon, who wins it out in front of Mike Casey and slots over a lovely point from play.

12:57 — Another long Cleary drive sails over centre-back Declan Hannon’s head.

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It lands into the paw of Conlon who plays a one-two with Collins.

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Conlon is fouled as he runs straight at goal and Duggan taps over the handy free.

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Traditionally, Clare worked a lot of ball through the lines and the full-forward line were often starved of possession. But inside the first 13 minutes, there were at least a half-dozen examples of the Banner trying to find their full-forward duo. That’s why they’re scoring and threatening up front a lot more.

1A. Clare’s physicality and scrapping for the ball

When it does go long, the Clare forwards scrap and fight for everything. That’s a major benefit when the game becomes unstructured and the rough and tumble stuff break out.

Here are a few examples of the Banner fighting for the sliotar:

21:41 — Clare are a much more physical proposition with Duggan at 10 and Conlon at 14. They’re two proper target men, which is vital. In this instance, a clearance lands on the half-forward line and is won by Duggan.

Under enormous pressure from the Limerick rearguard, he slips it to Tony Kelly who picks out the unmarked run of David Fitzgerald up the right wing. Fitzgerald applies the finish. Duggan gives Clare another dimension to their attack, providing an aerial threat outside of Conlon.

23:57 —  Another long ball goes in, but this time O’Donnell fights tigerishly for a ball he has no right to win.

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Conlon backs him up and intercepts before slotting over a terrific point.

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It shows that the perfect ball doesn’t have to go inside and their full-forwards are happy to graft to win it.

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Conlon and O’Donnell have a nice relationship and seem to enjoy playing together.

28:29 — Limerick’s full-back Casey is turned over by Conlon, Collins and O’Donnell. There’s a scrap for possession, Cian Lynch comes away with it but his pass is intercepted by Fitzgerald.

He feeds Cathal Malone who is surrounded by Limerick plays, but Conlon has the awareness to recycle the ball out for Jamie Shanahan for an easy score.

37:51 — Clare’s ability to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in is evident here. Another long Brown delivery goes in and Casey wins the break but he’s driven over the endline by Collins and Conlon for a 65.

2. Clare’s short game is still in the locker

It’s interesting to see Clare have the composure to take a look and pick out the free man with short stick passes when required. This move is a sign of the development in their game.

While they prefer to go long, they still have the ability to play it short.

54:26 — Clare intertwine three slick short passes which results in Collins drawing a foul.

66:40 — Galvin goes short to Collins, who feeds it inside to Browne. The sliotar is moved onto Kelly for a nice point. Four passes are executed brilliantly inside a 40 metre box and turned into a lovely score.

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There are downsides to the short game too, as mistakes often happen more frequently. On a couple of occasions, Clare reverted back to type when they made bad decisions like carrying the ball into traffic and getting turned over.

It didn’t happen too often, but there were a few incidents in the second-half which summed up how things can go wrong with poor decision making. Although it didn’t happen too often, I thought it was interesting that these moments arrived during Clare’s weakest spell in the game.

46:56 —  Clare make trouble for themselves after a short puck-out to David McInerney. He goes off on a risky solo run inside his own 45 instead of launching it inside.

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McInerney carries it into traffic, loses possession and does well to win it back. Once again he’s surrounded by Limerick defenders and gives away the ball.

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Clare get away with it when Gearoid Hegarty picks the ball up off the ground, but it’s a situation where they could have been badly punished.

56:23 — Another example of Clare carrying the ball into trouble. Tuohy picks out Fitzgerald, who solos into traffic and his poor looped pass is intercepted by Limerick wing-back Diarmuid Byrnes.

3. Accuracy

This is a vital part of Clare’s challenge for Munster and All-Ireland crowns. Their style of play in recent years meant that, while they put up some big scores, they missed a lot of chances too.

Their accuracy has improved this year but there were still instances against Limerick where they were their conversion rate and execution in front of goal was sloppy.

The good

19:20 —  Fitzgerald had a fine game when he came on for Morey in the first-half. His first score arrives after carrying it up the flank and splitting the posts. It’s the sort of score Clare have been massively inconsistent on in the past.

37:38 — Malone picks out Kelly and he slots over his second point from play. Kelly can sometimes be a little off on shooting, but he’s a key figure and his accuracy is vital to their challenge.  

65:35 — A nice, slick Clare move sees Galvin with a chance to shoot from the half-forward line, but instead he sets up Duggan for an easy finish.

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This shows the growing maturity in Galvin.

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He makes the right decision to play a simple ball across to Duggan, who nails it.

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66:43 — Another long ball into the full-forward line. Conlon shows massive strength to win it and tags on a beautiful point from play. This is great execution from the Banner.

The bad

Clare had a sloppy period early in the second-half where they hit three wides in-a-row. This can sometimes be their Achilles heel. If they can cut this out of their game they’ll be a hard side to beat.

49:33 — Fitzgerald makes a great run up the left wing but sends a poor shot wide from 45m out.

50:56 — Fitzgerald plays a good ball into the corner for Conlon.

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With two defenders on him, Conlon should recycle it but decides to shoot from a very narrow angle and it goes well wide. This is the second scoring chance Clare have missed in 90 seconds.

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51:51 — Kelly hits a very poor wide. That’s three wides from three excellent scoring chances for the Banner inside 150 seconds. It’s an area of their game that has cost them in the past and they need to look at tidying it up.

Conclusion

Clearly, Clare have a style of play they’re very comfortable with. They’ve got key players all over the field who make them tick: Tuohy, Pat O’Connor, Cleary, Galvin, Kelly, Duggan, Conlon and O’Donnell.

Tony Kelly and Cian Lynch Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

What I like about Clare is they’ve brought more of a physical dimension this summer. They’ve got two big target men in attack which means they can go long, but they’ve also got the short game in the locker that they’re able to pull out when the game requires it. That’s a pretty powerful combination.

If their accuracy and execution of scoring chances are in a high percentage, then they’re a force to be reckoned with for sure.

Duggan’s brilliant return from placed ball means Cork will be very wary of conceding frees tomorrow. Cork bring a different challenge – they’re an athletic, dynamic running team, even more so than Clare.

Peter Duggan signs autographs after the game Peter Duggan signs autographs after the Limerick game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

I don’t think the Banner will be able to run their short game through Cork as the Rebels have athletes all over the field who can cover ground very easily. A short game on its own won’t beat Cork, which means Clare’s long-ball game will be very important on Sunday.

It’s set-up to be an enthralling final.

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