striking a balance
6 big challenges facing Davy Fitz and Donal Óg Cusack in charge of Clare's hurlers
It’s the dawn of an exciting new era in Clare but there’s plenty of work ahead for Davy Fitzgerald and Donal Óg Cusack.

1. Finding some common ground

Donal Og Cusack arrives for the game James Crombie / INPHO Clare's new coach Donal Óg Cusack. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Fitzgerald and Cusack are both fiercely independent and single-minded characters.

Both have released autobiographies in the past and the rivalry between the pair was evident in both.

As manager and coach of the Clare hurlers now, they will be anxious to settle on a clear, united vision to take the team forward.

Fitzgerald likes to take a hands-on role in the coaching of his teams but with such a high-calibre sidekick at his disposal, the Sixmilebridge man may be content to take more a back seat and focus his energies on the day to day running of team affairs.

The manager-coach axis is a very distinct one and some clearly-defined roles laid down right from the start should ensure that they don’t get in each other’s way.

2. Re-integrating Podge Collins

Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Collins has been named on an extended winter training panel and the player himself is keen to return to hurling next year.

A key member of the 2013 All-Ireland winning set-up, Collins endured a difficult 2014 campaign, when he was sent off in the qualifiers against Wexford.

The Cratloe dynamo then elected to play football only this year, with his father Colm manager of the team.

Collins was laid low by cruciate knee ligament damage during the summer and is now working his way back to full fitness.

The arrival of Cusack in Clare will provide him with further motivation, if any more were needed, to successfully revive his senior intercounty hurling career.

3. Settling on a style of play

Colm Lyons red cards Patrick Donnellan James Crombie / INPHO Patrick Donnellan was sent off against Limerick in the Munster championship this year. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Clare were at their swashbuckling best under Fitzgerald in 2013, successfully marrying solid defence with clinical attack.

The use of Patrick Donnellan in the sweeper role worked a treat and that cleared space at the other end of the pitch for the team’s marquee forwards to do their stuff.

Clare didn’t have the necessary hunger to sustain another All-Ireland challenge in 2014 and they struggled again this year.

But Cusack’s arrival, and tactical nous, should reinvigorate the set-up and it will be interesting to see what kind of gameplans he and Fitzgerald come up with.

Expect plenty of late nights in the respective Fitzgerald and Cusack households as they pore over videos of their opponents in the quest for 2016 glory.

4. Waterford

A dejected Derek McGrath Cathal Noonan / INPHO Waterford boss Derek McGrath. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

The Déise provide clear and present danger in a Munster SHC fixture next summer that’s received an extra shot of spice.

With Fitzgerald, Cusack and Waterford boss Derek McGrath renowned as three of the more tactically astute coaches in the game, this one should make for riveting viewing.

It won’t be a high-scoring shootout, with both teams expected to adopt sweeper systems, and at the recent Brendan Cummins book launch in Thurles, former Waterford ace John Mullane joked that this one could end up nil all!

Waterford aren’t expected to deviate from the sweeper system that served them so well in 2015, surely that would be too much of a sea change in the space of a year, and if one team plays with a sweeper, it’s almost incumbent on opponents to do likewise.

5. Get out of Division 1B

Cillian Buckley scores the winning point Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cillian Buckley's late point condemned Clare to relegation. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

That’s the immediate objective for Fitzgerald and Cusack.

Doing so would increase confidence among Clare supporters that a productive summer could be in the offing.

Clare suffered relegation from Division 1A in 2015 and will be anxious to bounce back at the first attempt.

It’s a feat achieved by next year’s championship opponents Waterford in the previous campaign and the Déise had one hell of a bounce from it.

Not only were Waterford content with achieving promotion, they went on to win the Allianz League outright before contesting a Munster final and All-Ireland semi-final.

6. Discipline

Shane O'Donnell consoles Podge Collins Cathal Noonan / INPHO Shane O'Donnell consoles Podge Collins after he was sent off against Wexford in 2014. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Clare’s discipline in big games has let them down over the past two seasons.

Over the course of two qualifiers against Wexford in 2014, they lost three players to red cards.

Podge Collins was sent off in the drawn game before Brendan Bugler and Jack Browne were dismissed in the replay.

Bugler also saw red against Dublin in this year’s Allianz League, and that cost Clare as he was suspended for the final group game against Kilkenny and the relegation playoff defeat against the Cats.

Clare then had Patrick Donnellan sent off in the Munster SHC defeat to Limerick in Thurles.

Despite the vast array of talent at Clare’s disposal, they cannot afford any repeat episodes of indiscipline next year.

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