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Cathal Noonan/INPHO Donal Óg Cusack has joined the Clare hurling setup for 2016.
# Comment
No room for excuses as Clare hurlers seek to recapture past glories
Clare have assembled a superb backroom team and group of players that need to achieve.

THE BUILDING BLOCKS are in place and it’s time for the Clare hurlers to get back up on the scaffolding.

Standards have fallen considerably since that brilliant run to All-Ireland glory in 2013 but there can be no excuses now.

They’ve already collected the Munster senior hurling league crown but Sunday’s league opener at home to Offaly is the start of the 2016 examinations that Clare will sit.

Manager Davy Fitzgerald has assembled a backroom team that is the envy of many.

Donal Óg Cusack has been tempted from his cushy RTÉ chair to help oversee a Banner revival and Paul Kinnerk, regarded as the mastermind behind the Banner County’s recent U21 dominance, is back on board with the seniors, having worked alongside Fitzgerald three years ago.

Podge Collins is back too, after opting for football only last year, and Clare look well set to emerge as serious contenders again.

Patrick Donnellan’s loss with a cruciate knee ligament injury is a blow to Clare’s hopes but with Fitzgerald and Cusack sure to opt for blistering pace, the former All-Ireland winning captain may have struggled to nail down a regular position in the team.

Throw into the mix the fact that Colm Galvin is on board for the entire year and the Clare cocktail could be a heady one.

Cathal Noonan / INPHO Colm Galvin returned to the Clare panel late last summer after a stint in America. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Waterford lie in wait in the Munster championship and that’s already one to whet the appetite of hurling fans.

When he appeared at the launch of the Brendan Cummins autobiography in Thurles late last year, ex-Waterford star John Mullane joked that the summer meeting could end up nil-all, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fascinating tactical battle that lies in store.

Off the pitch, Fitzgerald and McGrath are good friends and have regularly bounced ideas off each other.

But the phones are sure to remain silent between the pair between now and June 5, when the counties lock horns in Thurles.

The pressure on both managers is substantial but Fitzgerald appears to be carrying more.

McGrath has surely bought himself time in the Waterford role after last year’s League success and progress to an All-Ireland semi-final.

Derek McGrath Cathal Noonan / INPHO Waterford manager Derek McGrath. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

For Fitzgerald and Clare, defeat against McGrath’s men would represent a disaster.

Of course, Fitzgerald famously turned Clare’s fortunes around in 2013 after a defeat in Munster but they need to hit the ground running this summer, and in the forthcoming Allianz League campaign.

Clare have already signalled their intent by capturing the Munster senior hurling league title but promotion from Division 1B is the bigger aim.

Losing their Division 1A status last year was a blow to Clare, although their performance in the relegation playoff loss to Kilkenny wasn’t bad at all.

Come the summer, however, Clare sunk without trace again as Limerick inflicted a damaging defeat in the Munster championship, on an afternoon when indiscipline cost them, and not for the first time.

Colm Lyons red cards Patrick Donnellan James Crombie / INPHO Patrick Donnellan was sent off against Limerick last summer. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Red cards at various times in recent years have hit Clare hard and these acts of petulance need to be eradicated from their game.

With Fitzgerald at the helm, a high-intensity game and on-the-edge hurling are to be expected but there’s a difference between that and crossing the line.

Clare still have a brilliant group of players at their disposal, even more talented, arguably, than the crop that claimed 1995 and 1997 titles under Ger Loughnane.

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For them to finish this era with just one All-Ireland senior title, and in a year when traditional superpowers Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary failed to challenge, would have to be considered under-achievement.

But Tipperary, following their All-Ireland win in 2010, have struggled to step up to the mark since then, finding that replicating the feat even with some brilliant young players coming through, is a difficult task.

Ger Loughnane Dan Sheridan / INPHO Former Clare boss Ger Loughnane. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Galway, of course, haven’t tasted senior success since 1988 and Cork have gone over a decade without lifting Liam MacCarthy.

The chasing pack attempting to hunt down Kilkenny is as tight as it has been for some time, with Tipperary, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Clare and possibly Cork and Dublin in the mix.

Clare won’t have it easy but expectant fans will expect the Fitzgerald-Cusack double act to deliver – and fast.

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