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Heavy defeats and scoring struggles, can Clare save their season on last day in Munster?

Clare’s form has unravelled but they have one last chance to save their campaign.

Dejected Clare players after their loss to Tipperary.
Dejected Clare players after their loss to Tipperary.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

TWELVE MONTHS AGO the Clare hurlers were coming off the back of a stirring away day and getting set for an eagerly-awaited home showdown.

On 10 June 2018 they benefited from Jake Morris hitting the post and Ian Galvin hitting the net. Tipperary were sent towards the exit door and Clare left Semple Stadium with two valuable Munster points.

On 17 June 2018 they rattled off the last seven points without reply to ensure they breezed to victory in Ennis. The home fans went away happy with the prospect of a Munster final to attend and Limerick were left with much to ponder

A year on and Clare are in the same scenario of preparing for their last provincial round-robin game, a few days after a trip on the road and a few days before an outing in Cusack Park.

But right now they are in a very different headspace.

13 days into June and it’s been a bruising month for the county’s flagship hurling side with a 13-point hiding at the hands of Tipperary preceding that 18-point shellacking they suffered against Limerick last Sunday.

Last year Clare finished joint top of the Munster table with Cork on six points after four games and had booked a berth in the final for the second year on the spin. This time they are clinging on with two points after three matches, desperately requiring a win on Sunday to prolong their season.  They must also be aware that even if they do triumph, a loss for Limerick would likely see Clare depart due to their vastly inferior scoring difference, currently at -30.

In the tale of their difficult run, those scoring totals stand out. The sum they have registered is paltry and the amount they have conceded is wildly high.  In 2018 Clare (4-97) were joint top scorers in the championship with Cork (5-94). They shipped the lowest score in conceding 5-77 after four games but have leaked 4-71 already in three outings.

Colm Galvin dejected after the game A dejected Colm Galvin after Clare's loss last Saturday against Limerick. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Last year they averaged 1-24 a game, this year their average number of points has dropped to 16 and John Conlon’s second minute strike in their very first game on 12 May is the only green flag they have raised. Clare cleared the 20 point barrier in all of their four Munster round-robin ties last year but just matched that tally in their success over Waterford and have fallen short of it since then.

Drill down further into those numbers and examine their scores from play this summer – 1-13 v Waterford, 0-7 v Tipperary and 0-4 v Limerick. Of that 1-24 tally, 1-16 has been contributed by their starting forwards.

Last Sunday alone Limerick’s starting forward line hit 1-15 from play. Tipperary’s attack have averaged 2-17 per game from open play. Using the same metric, Cork’s Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan have amassed 3-17 over the course of their three outings.

Scoring struggles cannot solely be traced back to the display of forward lines. Other factors contribute. Being dominated in the middle third, having a defence under incessant pressure that contaminates the precision of their deliveries and seeing their offensive setup fall down.

Yet the bald statistics are striking in the case of Clare.

Battles against Sunday’s opponents have not been lucrative for Clare of late. They may cherish the memories of their two-game All-Ireland saga with Cork in 2013 but the five championship ties since have all swung in Cork’s direction. That run has featured a pair of Munster final losses and two reversals last summer alone.

That losing streak needs to be addressed if Clare are to salvage their 2019 campaign. In a difficult week, there have been pleas for fans to maintain their investment of faith and ensure a Cusack cauldron on Sunday tips the balance in their favour.

The Clare management have frequently stressed over the past year the importance of reconnecting with the Banner support. The turbulence generated by recent defeats has frayed that link but they will need plenty backing on Sunday.

Clare began their Munster season brightly but that narrow victory in Walsh Park has been coloured by the scale of the losses Waterford sustained afterwards.

From the outset this 15-day period in June with three fixtures was always likely to test Clare and define their campaign.

Their form has unravelled but Sunday presents a last chance to turn it around. 

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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