Gary Brennan hopes Clare can take the next step
By Cian O’Connell
The recent Clare football story has been about steady progress under Colm Collins’ shrewd guidance, but an improving collection of players remain anxious to take the next step.
A couple of satisfactory campaigns in Division Two of the Allianz League supplied evidence of Clare’s rise, but Brennan, the talismanic midfielder, hopes the team can develop further.
“It is hard,” Brennan says about how Clare can evolve. “Last year we were competitive enough in Division Two, the table at the end of it this year would say we were third place, but the table lied a little bit with the re-fixtures at the end. We could have had a couple of more points, but we could easily have lost some along the way.
“You are talking about trying to break into that top tier, but when you look at our Championship performances over the last few years we have come close to Kerry, come close to Mayo, but we haven't been able to beat them.
Colm has put a great structure in place. Guys have bought into it, he knows the county and he knows the players well.
“For us it is about trying to find a way where we can keep strengthening our own panel, our own belief in what we are doing, and hopefully at some stage take that step.”
Key to the project, though, is Collins, who has opted to remain in charge for another campaign. Brennan acknowledges Collins’ significant impact in Clare and how important it was for the county that he stayed on in the role.
“It is hugely important,” Brennan admits. “Colm has put a great structure in place. Guys have bought into it, he knows the county and he knows the players well. I think it was very, very important that we continued to build on what we had been doing in the last couple of years.
“Colm, I don't know whether he is planning on being an Arsene Wenger or a Brian Cody about it, but as long as he wants it at the moment he is more than welcome to have that job.
“It is important that we are looking to put the structures in place behind what Colm is doing at the moment because whenever he does decide, hopefully it is not too soon when he wants to move on, but we have something ready to go, to push it on. “
Clare travel to the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening for a Munster Championship Quarter-Final and Brennan is expecting a ‘tough’ test.
“Limerick - seems to be the annual fixture again,” Brennan states. “Guys laugh at me, I remember last year speaking to Clare FM before the first round and saying it was going to be a tough game.
“They were talking about Division Four against Division Two, I was saying that I had never played in a Championship match against Limerick where there was more than a couple of points in it.
“That is exactly how it finished. I know you hate listening to us saying our focus is on the Limerick game or whatever, but that is what it has to be.”
It is progress, but as we are developing and start getting up those Leagues you start getting greedy.
Injuries, retirements, and travel commitments ensured Clare were forced to plan without several of the 2017 panel so the League brought huge encouragement with a string of emerging players prominent. “It is progress, no doubt,” Brennan adds about how Clare have established themselves in Division Two.
“It is nice and definitely better to be at that end of the table than to be maybe out of contention or hoping you might get out of Division Four.
“It is progress, but as we are developing and start getting up those Leagues you start getting greedy. In terms of what we took out of it we blooded a lot of new players. We lost a few guys, we had quite a high turnover of players, more than you would want really.
“We got a lot of younger guys, who hadn't had an opportunity or weren't proven. They showed up very, very well and if they can bring that form into the Championship now they have a great chance of starting.”
Improving Clare continue to make strides, but this summer is about trying to raise the standard even higher. Two years ago Clare reached an All Ireland Quarter-Final, can they return to that stage again?
“The Super 8s as you say is the topic of discussion for everyone, but getting to the Super 8s is essentially getting to the quarter-final which we've done once in my 12 years of playing,” Brennan comments.
“So it's not like it's going to happen just because we want it to. We'd love to get there by all means. But it's not to the fore of our minds at the moment.
We had some big games the last couple of years in Ennis and there's always a great atmosphere when we can bring a big team to Cusack Park.
“We're focusing just on Munster Championship, we want to go as far as we can in the Championship, that's the honest truth of it. If that brings us to the Super 8s, excellent and we'll try to go a bit further then if we do.”
Playing three matches on that stage would represent a massive boost to Clare. “Yeah, again, if you were getting to the possibility of playing in the quarter-finals of the Championship,” Brennan responds.
“As I say we've only done it once in 11 years, it'd be nice to add a second time before I finish up. It would be a great prospect, potential big games.
“We had some big games the last couple of years in Ennis and there's always a great atmosphere when we can bring a big team to Cusack Park.
“We've been pushing and pushing and trying to turn one of them over. It'd be nice to try to put ourselves in an opportunity some stage along the way to do that again.”
The Clare dream remains alive.