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From Nowhere To Division 2 - How Clare Stunned Kildare In League Final

From Nowhere To Division 2 - How Clare Stunned Kildare In League Final
By Conor Neville Updated

Amidst all the panic about Dublin's suffocating dominance and the end of competitive Gaelic football as we know it, it could be easily forgotten that Clare footballers, 9/2 outsiders, won a humdinger in the Division 3 Final.

Clare lived in the dowdy surrounds of Division 4 for many years, meriting the briefest of mentions in the Sunday Sport round-up, and only climbing out of there in Colm Collins' first year in the job in 2014.

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Last week, they lifted silverware in Croke Park, downing the second/third best team in Leinster in the doing (not as big a statement as it used to be, admittedly). Next year, they'll be mixing it in Division 2.

Citing the game in Newbridge, where Clare made the running for the first hour, manager Colm Collins was confident that there'd be little in it last Saturday.

Anybody that was really studying the thing wouldn't have put much between us. The bookies had a massive price difference but in the game in Newbridge, we were winning the game for the first hour and then they pulled away in the last ten minutes but there was very little between the teams even though they won by five points eventually. So, I was never worried there was going to be that much between us.

Twas nice to come out the right side of it and was prove the oddsmakers wrong for once.

To win a final in Croke Park, there isn't a team in the country that wouldn't be delighted. We'd a good night Saturday night but celebrations are over and there's only one thing bothering us and that's Limerick.

It was often theorised that one of the reasons why Mick O'Dwyer delivered quick success in so many counties was because of the immediate uplift of enthusiasm generated by his appointment.

Every county has a proportion of able players who opt out for a variety of reasons. This grouping is proportionately larger the further one descends the ladder. The theory went that when Micko arrived in town, the dropout rate plummeted.

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According to Seamus Hayes of the Clare Champion, the drop-off rate has collapsed under Colm Collins and players are anxious to get involved. This is not down to the celebrity factor (ironically, Micko failed in Clare) but to the professional setup he has created.

Collins reputation as a manager is strong having guided Cratloe, nonentities in football terms in eras past, to two successive county titles in 2013 and 2014.

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They have shown a steady improvement since Colm took over. He has got a lot of young players to commit to the cause. Maybe in the past, one of the problems with Clare football in the last 10 or 12 years was that some of the good players who've come through the club scene mightn't all the time have given a commitment to join the senior squad.

But since Colm came in as manager, nearly anyone who has been invited to come in has come in promptly. And there would have even been a situation where younger players have nearly sent a message to the selectors saying they were interested in coming in and asking what had they to do to get in.

They saw that the thing was being run well and that lads were being given a chance. That is one of the big successes of Colm's time as manager. Young lads are anxious to play for Clare.

I would say there were players down the years who were good enough to be on the team but who, for whatever reason, weren't prepared to give the effort to put in the commitment.

A lot of it is down to the organisation Colm Collins has brought to the setup.

Gary Brennan earned national media plaudits for his displays in the 2014 championship, flowering into a kind of latter-day Declan Browne or John Galvin, the go-to man for pundits anxious to pay homage to a player from a so-called weaker county.

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Brennan was a towering figure in the League, performing a Donaghy-esque role in the final minutes on Saturday, pulling a high ball out of the sky and laying if off to marauding centre-back Dean Ryan to slide it home.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhqbKmpM5iA

But Hayes pinpoints another man as the player of the campaign.

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Gary Brennan has been outstading but Jamie Malone, playing at wing back and wing forward, probably would get my vote as player of the League. It would be very hard to go against Gary Brennan because any time Clare needed to someone to do somthing he came up trumps, but Jamie Malone was absolutely outstanding.

Their side is augmented with the presence of a pair of Dublin-born players, one of whom played for the Dublin seniors. Pat Burke hovered around the fringes of the Dublin team in the Gilroy era, winning an All-Ireland club title with Kilmacud in 2011. Shane McGrath still plays with Thomas Davis's in Tallaght. Both their fathers played for Clare. The Daddy Rulers have been influential.

Pat Burke's father played for Clare. And Shane McGrath's father played for Clare. Shane's father John McGrath played in the Division 3 League final in 1976 against Armagh. They lost by a point. And John broke his leg that day.

It's 24 years since Clare football's finest moment, winning the Munster championship in a game which bequeathed us the phrase 'there won't be a cow milked in... etc, etc.'

That Clare were Kerry's conquerors has been enough to convince posterity that the 1992 Munster Final was Kerry's lowest point in a remorselessly bleak era.

A month later, Kevin Costner was in attendance (he was shooting a Michael Collins film which never got made) in Croke Park as Clare rattled the red hot favourites for the All-Ireland - Paddy Cullen's Dublin - in the All-Ireland semi-final.

It was archetypal moral victory stuff. Gerry Hargan's on-field post-match interview was almost entirely devoted to platitudes about how well Clare played.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo0oTAaqZAU

The weather was about to break for Clare hurling and Clare's football time in the box-seat would swiftly draw to a close. However, Hayes observes that football is expanding into hurling territory, much more than vice veras.

What is the objective for an emerging Clare team nowadays?

Collins is quick to stress that they are not averting their gaze from the challenge of Limerick. Scant material for an opposing dressing room wall. Ultimately, however, his ambition would be back that the Clare footballers are playing in Croke Park in August.

To beat Limerick is the first thing. They were in our division, thing didn't go well but Limerick are a decent side. And after that then we'll see where that takes us. We would dearly love a good run in the championship, we'd love to get back to Croke Park in August.

In the national media, Clare football has mainly been referenced in terms of its capacity to disrupt their hurlers' preparation. The Podge Collins saga et al.

This season, however, an important factor in the success has been the collaboration between the hurling and the football panels.

The hurling setup has adopted a less haughty demeanour towards dual players. They have been in consultation to endure the dual players aren't being overworked.

Collins describes the relationship between the two managerial setups as excellent. Hayes outlines the spirit of cooperation.

Last year, the hurlers decided they weren't going to go with any dual players. And Podge was anxious to play both and the hurlers didn't pick him. Now subsequently, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury after the League which put him out anyway.

I think the hurlers realised the value of Podge.

One of the successes is the way they've managed the training. In the old days, maybe both managements would be insisting on players doing all the training with each management. But the two managements that are there now work on the training programme. And if Podge is hurling this week he won't be made train with the footballers. He'll be doing the same amount of training as he would if he was only on one panel. But it's being monitored by both backroom teams.

The benefits of this new cooperation could become yet more apparent this week. Podge Collins may pick his second League medal in a week.

Read more: 7 Of The Most Memorable Goal Celebrations In The G

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