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Colin Ryan looking ahead to Déise battle for Clare.

Eanna O’Reilly

Looking ahead to Clare’s opening Munster championship game against Waterford on Sunday, former Banner forward Colin Ryan is optimistic, based on the positive performances he saw from Brian Lohan’s side in the league. Although the Banner lost their opening game to Antrim, they turned their campaign around impressively and finished with three successive wins, leaving a lot of positivity in Ryan’s eyes.

‘‘It was a disappointing result in the first game [against Antrim] but anyone who has gone up to Belfast will know how hard Antrim are to beat, especially with the crowd and the atmosphere. The Wexford game then, we were comfortable for long spells. I think the sending off had a huge impact on that game. Clare finished the league really strongly then with three wins [against Dublin, Laois and Kilkenny] so if you look closely at it, it’s been really positive. We could have had four wins out of five and finished on top of the table. So, there are plenty of positives now going into the championship.’’

Ryan feels that Clare’s best team gradually came together and became much clearer as the league progressed. The 2013 All-Ireland winner feels that Brian Lohan has sorted out a few key positions, which should make the Banner a stronger outfit in 2021.

‘‘I was surprised when John Conlon was starting at centre back, to be honest. But when I saw him playing there, I could understand Brian (Lohan)’s thinking behind it. John is a great leader, and he has a great reading of the game. I think he has really settled into centre back now and has strengthened our defence. We moved a few guys in and out of centre back in recent years. Conor Cleary was there for a while, but Conor is playing really well at full back now. I think that’s a huge positive this year. With David McInerney back at wing back as well, I think we have a really strong defence overall.’’

As well as having a solid defence, Ryan believes that Clare have a greater scoring threat in the side this year. Aidan McCarthy and Mark Rodgers have added something extra to the Clare attack, which he believes should take the pressure off their talisman Tony Kelly.

‘‘It’s vital that we have a couple of lads who can add to the scoresheet in every game and take some of the pressure off Tony. We haven’t gotten enough from some of the other forwards in the last few years in terms of point scoring. What happens then is you’re reliant on Shane O’Donnell or Aron Shanagher to get a couple of goals to stay in games. I’ve seen Aidan McCarthy play wing forward for his club and wing back at times as well. He always looked very difficult to mark for his club. We really needed someone to step up in the forwards and bring a bit more dynamism to it. I’d be confident now that Clare have found some of that’’.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s clash with Waterford, Ryan has a few theories about what his county need to do to come out on top. ‘‘I think Aron Shanagher is a key player at full forward. There is a lot of speculation that Conor Prunty might be out injured or if he does play, what will his fitness be like? That’s something Clare have to target, and Aron has the ability to really threaten them. John [Conlon]’s role will be vital as well. I think we need him to sit deep at centre back and cover the spaces in front of Waterford’s full forward line. He’ll allow our corner backs to attack the ball, which is what we want to see.’’

With regard to Clare’s opponents on Sunday, Ryan identifies the key men that Clare will have to subdue in order to win the game. ‘‘Dessie Hutchinson is a big threat of course. But I expect Rory Hayes to have a great battle with him on Sunday. They had a great battle last year and I think Clare will want to put it up to him [Hutchinson] from the start. Austin Gleeson is obviously a key man. But I don’t think Liam Cahill has really figured out what position he is best suited to in this Waterford team. Its hard to know what to expect, but I get the impression that they don’t know themselves where best to play him.’’

Interestingly, Ryan believes, as Eoin Murphy does, that Gleeson would thrive as a wing back. ‘‘I think he would be best suited to number 5 or 7. He wouldn’t have to hold the centre and it would give him more freedom. He could go forward and attack, along with Calum Lyons, which could cause huge problems for any team. But it will be really interesting to see where Liam (Cahill) puts him on Sunday.’’

When it comes down to it on Sunday in Thurles, Ryan believes that Clare’s panel is strong enough to cope with the loss of Shane O’Donnell to injury, and that their strength in depth might just be enough to secure a win against the Déise.

‘‘With Shane being out, Mark Rodgers will probably start, and Mark has been going well this year. Colm Galvin might be brought in at some stage and he could easily add three or four points. A lot of players have really stepped up a level, the likes of Aidan McCarthy and Diarmuid Ryan certainly have. I think Clare have developed really well in the off-season and they are in a strong place. Hopefully, it will work out now on Sunday.’’

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