Clare v Longford All Ireland Intermediate C'ship Semi-Final

Clare v Longford All Ireland Intermediate C’ship Semi-Final

Date: Saturday September 6th
Venue: O’Connor Park, Tullamore, Co. Offaly.
Time: 1.45pm

Live on TG4 T.V.

A third All Ireland semi-final in a row awaits the Clare ladies intermediate football team on Saturday and hopefully it will be third time lucky for the girls in saffron and blue. This penultimate stage of the national championship has proven Clare’s nemesis on these past two occasions and resulted in single point losses to the eventual winners on both occasions, Sligo and Leitrim respectively.

Clare will therefore need little motivation other than the painful memories of these semi-final losses to spur them on against Longford on Saturday in O’Connor Park, Tullamore. A third defeat in a row at this stage of the championship would be very difficult for manager Deirdre Murphy and her team of players to accept and expect no stone to be left unturned in the team’s quest for victory at the weekend.

Clare has been improving all through this years championship and apart from a singular off day in their opening fixture against Roscommon they have looked a more confident and competent side than they have at their previous two semi-final stages in 2005 and 2006. The come in to this All Ireland semi-final as 2008 Suzuki national League Division Two champions and as reigning Munster Junior champions so have the form and pedigree of winners this season. Such results strengthen morale and self-belief within the squad and this was very much in evidence in the team’s clinical demolition of Limerick in the final group stage match.

Clare’s big performance players are peaking at the right time and led by team captain Louise Henchy players such as the Kelly twins Sinéad and Maria of West Clare Gaels, Majella Griffin and ace corner forward Áine Kelly of Fergus Rovers are showing all their old appetite and flair in the Clare colours. With the addition to the forward line this year of Eimear Considine of Kilmihil Clare possess’ a really formidable offensive unit that has a penchant for scoring goals at vital junctures during games. This was particularly evident in Clare’s thrilling wins over Down and Donegal in this year’s Suzuki league semi-final and final. Goals at vital stages also saw off the challenges of Cavan and Tipperary in this years qualifying stages.

As well as their penchant for goal scoring the work rate of the Clare forward unit as a whole has increased considerably this year as has the selection choices of management. Players like Niamh Keane, Fiona Lafferty, Marie Considine and Úna Downes amongst others have performed admirably when selected or called into action all season thus giving management plenty of options when it comes to team selection and tactical replacements on match day.

Midfield will be vital on Saturday and Clare management will be relived that captain Louise Henchy is rediscovering her form for both club and county at the right time. Louise’s work rate, ball carrying ability, scoring prowess and accurate distribution are traits that can unnerve any opposition. She has been a magnificent captain all year and deserves the chance to lead her players out on the Croke Park sod in late September.

Defensively Clare will look to the experience of players such as Sinéad Kelly, Grace Lynch, Lorraine Kelly, Tammy Hehir and Michele Delaney to lead the way. These are a very experienced quintet and will give little change to the Longford forwards on Saturday. Behind them on the goal line Denise Walsh has been a solid performer all season and is definitely one of the best shot stoppers in ladies football nationally. Denise’s performance in the goals gives added confidence to the defence outside her and her many outstanding saves this season have contributed in a big way to Clare’s forward progress.

Other players competing for places on the starting fifteen will include Jane Kennedy, Sinéad Eustace, Sarah Hoey, Helen Quinn, Niamh Coyne and Sandra Malone. Clare are in the fortunate position this year in having a much stronger panel from which to chose than in their two previous seasons and will have a strong bench with readymade replacements for all areas of the field including substitute goalkeeper Emma O’Driscoll.

The Longford challenge must be treated with great respect by Clare. Both sides met in last years’ championship and only two points separated the sides after a keenly contested game in Pearse Park, Longford. The midlanders team will be a big physical side and will have plenty of skill also so there will be no room for complacency. Longford have accounted for Westmeath, Kilkenny and Fermanagh (twice) in their championship run to date and their only reversal was a narrow two point defeat to Wexford. They have scored an incredible 15-54 in their five games to date which is an average of 3 – 11 per game – so they won’t be shy in front of goals. They have conceded 10-41 (or an average of 2-8 per match) giving them an average winning margin of six points per game played, including their defeat to Wexford. This should in itself be a warning to Clare that they will have nothing easy on Saturday.

Clare must attack the game from the throw in and exert dominance through the middle and convert this early dominance into scoreboard advantage. Clare has the forwards to outscore Longford and the Leinster team knows this and will put in a huge effort to stem supply of quality ball to the Clare front line. A top notch half back and midfield performance is thus required to ensure that the supply lines to Majella Griffin, Áine Kelly and Eimear Considine are kept well and truly open. If this trio sees plenty of action then, combined with our pacey half forward line outside them, we can outscore anything Longford may post at the other end.

Clare’s chances of victory will be further enhanced if a sizeable number of supporters travel to cheer on the side on Saturday. The whole team has put in a huge effort all year and now deserves the backing of the Clare sporting public. They are but a step away from a Croke Park All Ireland Final appearance and need every ounce of help and support to make this final step a reality.

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