Ger O'Loughlin and Limerick counterpart Donal O'Grady at Croke Park this week. INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
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Sparrow: gap is narrowing between top flight and second tier

Clare need to take the step up with a defeat of Limerick this evening, says coach Ger O’Loughlin.

CLARE SENIOR MANAGER Ger O’Loughlin says the gap between the top flight and those in hurling’s second tier is closing.

The Banner take on Limerick in the Division 2 league decider in Ennis tonight. But O’Loughlin insists whichever side moves up a flight, will not be making a massive leap in standard.

“I would like to think that on a given day there would be very little  between Wexford, Offaly, Limerick and ourselves,” the Clareman told TheScore this week.

“I’d also like to think  that we could live with Waterford and Galway but you won’t know that  until you have the experience of playing against them.

“If you take your eye off the ball and remain in Division 2 and you’re  content with that, that’s not good for hurling in the county.  At times this year we looked like a Division 2 team, there’s no denying  that.

“Only time will tell if we’re a Division 1 team or not because we’re a new-look Clare team. It’ll take getting back up to Division 1  for us to find out.

Earlier in the year Clare were humbled by Donal O’Grady’s Limerick. O’Loughlin must learn the lessons from that defeat if the Banner are to take victory this evening.

“From our own point of view we hadn’t any excuses that day. We just failed to turn up.”

We started pretty ok in the first seven or eight minutes and probably had better chances that particular day but we just didn’t capitalise on  them. They won a bit more of the breaking ball and then got a goal and a point and our game seemed to disintegrate completely after about 15  minutes of that match. We just never responded and it’s hard for me to  put my finger on why that happened.

“But that was in February and I’m  hoping that it was a once-off. Limerick have certainly improved and I’d like to think that we have as well. No matter what route you take, the important thing is to be in the final  so all of those games are in the back of our head now. I’d say we’ve  learned a bit from them as well,” he added.

Today’s tie is another step along the road for O’Loughlin’s young side. He said the showpiece event is important to their growth.

“For the development of hurling in Clare, Saturday is of huge importance and huge significance. We certainly don’t want to be spending a third year  in Division 2.

“It’s not easy to get out of it. The Limericks and Offalys and Clares are all well able to beat each other – most of those  counties are at a similar level. But it’s of huge importance that you  don’t remain in Division 2 because you’re learning nothing there from  four or five games and then you get to the final and it’s winner take  all.

“From an interest point of view in Clare, we are definitely at a crossroads  with regard to the public’s interest in hurling at a senior level. We  need to win on Saturday, it’s as important as our Championship.”

- additional reporting Niall Kelly