Clare hurlers’ absentees are a major setback, says Jamesie O’Connor

In his first column of the 2020 GAA Championship season, Sky Sports hurling analyst Jamesie O’Connor looks at his native Clare’s chances, and discusses the club season.

Brian Lohan will have to prepare for the championship without the services of John Conlon, Peter Duggan, Colm Galvin, and now Podge Collins.

Conlon’s injury is a massive blow. He has been a massive player for Clare.

And Galvin has been outstanding right through from his U21 days, there has not been a greater big-game performer for the Banner than Galvin.

No county can afford to lose guys of that calibre, and guys of that experience.

The draw wasn’t kind to Clare in the first place. First up is Limerick – probably everyone’s favourites this year. Look at the strength and depth that John Kiely has in his squad, and add in the hunger that they have after the disappointment of last year.

The winner of that game is faced with the ‘poisoned chalice’ of All-Ireland champions Tipperary, with Cork or Waterford waiting in the decider. As I say, the draw was not kind.

I think the standard of the Clare Club Championship is probably a little bit short of what it is like in Tipperary or particularly in Limerick.

Ballygunner came to Sixmilebridge last year, and comfortably put them to the sword. So I don’t think the depth is there to replace the calibre of player that we’ve lost.

Any team in the country would struggle to replace the players that Clare have lost, given their experience.

It’s a blow to Brian, to hear that Podge isn’t available. Obviously it gives somebody else the opportunity, and there are some good young players in Clare – Mark Rodgers, Cian Galvin, some of the guys they have brought in are hopefully going to be great players for Clare in years to come. But are they ready for it now? Strength and conditioning-wise, have they got the physicality to compete at the level that it’s at now? Arguably not. And it just makes the task facing Brian and the management team all the harder, given the draw they have ahead of them.

GAA’s decision to halt all club action

The GAA announced earlier in the week that they were suspending all club action.

In one sense, it’s disappointing. I think there’s still some county finals to be played. There are underage competitions at the latter stages, and some of them are just getting going. And they’re all pulled now.

The GAA deserve a lot of credit in how they handled the return to play protocols. It just became second nature that you were filling out your health questionnaire before training or matches.

By and large, the clubs went very well during the summer, in terms of clubs towing the line and taking all the necessary precautions. But I think we’ve all taken our eye off the ball a little bit. It wasn’t so much what was happening on the playing field, it was what was happening afterwards.

It’s human nature that when you win a county final, you want to celebrate. Obviously, they had issued a warning that people needed to be mindful of the numbers going up and people needed to be mindful of what was happening after games. Then there were pictures on social media after the weekend. And you couldn’t be seen to be condoning that, or standing idly by and not doing anything about it.

Some people may have seen it as heavy-handed, but I felt they had to act. Given NPHET were talking about heading to Level 5, you couldn’t go weekend after weekend, and see more of these scenes taking place, with the GAA being on the receiving end of criticism which was starting to be the case.

Split season?

On the whole, it was a positive few months. And perhaps the GAA inadvertently stumbled across a solution to the club-vs-county debate.

Everyone felt it was great to have the county lads driving the thing with their clubs. Back last March when we were in the lockdown, there was a prospect of no games this year at one stage.

The GAA made the right call to play club games before the intercounty return. You couldn’t have a situation when the intercounty games were going ahead over the summer while club players were sitting idly by.

The county players have said they know when they’re going to be playing. Rather than coming back to their clubs in September, tired and carrying knocks, they were able to commit to the clubs. And they have seen the benefit.

They’re not being pulled in different directions, or they’re not trying to serve two or three different masters. And it just gave clarity to the thing.

It looked for so long that club-vs-county was the great conundrum and it couldn’t be solved. But by accident, we may have stumbled upon a solution.

This could very well be the way going forward, that there’s a split season. Whether it’s county first, then club. Or the other way around. But it appears to be a win-win scenario for everybody.

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