A photo did the rounds last season of Roberto Firmino scoring a ‘no look’ tap in for Liverpool. The photo was perfectly timed to catch Firmino glancing behind him as he stroked the ball home. The caption explained why Liverpool would end the season trophyless:
‘When your defence is so bad, you can’t trust them not to concede when you’re scoring!’
Liverpool have gotten themselves into title contention this season by breaking out their chequebook for Virgil Van Dyke. Without him, their defence could never have been trusted. Just too many holes and too many mistakes.
The Clare hurlers don’t have the same luxury of dipping into the transfer market and making a big money move to solve their defensive woes but solving them or limiting the damage they are doing to their prospects is of paramount importance to their managerial duo.
Donal Maloney and Gerry O’ Connor must be tearing their hair out watching their team play at the moment. Similar to Liverpool last season, they are blessed with a myriad of attacking riches (John Conlon, Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan et al.) but their possibilities of winning matches are being stymied by incessant and often unnecessary fouling by their defensive sextet. The scale of Clare’s malaise is exemplified by the table below. Figures in the table are based on the concession rate from frees for each of the Division 1A hurling teams in their last two League matches.
In a hurling world where the top eight have never been so tightly bunched, the figures above are damning for Clare. This is not a new problem as it is one that has inhibited them throughout O’ Connor and Maloney’s term but most worryingly, it is one that is becoming increasingly prevalent and harmful. To outscore Cork by 0-16 to 1-04 from play on Saturday and not emerge victorious just highlights how glaring this problem is.
Clare came within the width of a post of reaching an All-Ireland final last summer. That does not necessarily mean they will get back to the same position again this year. Plenty of teams over the years have come close to scaling the summit only to plateau the following year. Their issues with free concession will end any chances they have of success this summer unless they find the remedy.
The initial cause of their problems can be traced back to playing with the comfort blanket of a sweeper for a number of years. But they are now into their 3rd year of playing a more orthodox style and the evidence against defensive progression from the Banner is becoming increasingly conclusive. Ultimately, how they deal with this issue will define how history remembers their management team's reign.
For now, Clare are just reloading the gun and fouling their way into oblivion.