Clann have the firepower to secure county final place
For some club and county teams, handling the weight of expectation is a fact of life. For others, they tend to crumble underneath it.
Given their incredible history of success, a Clann na nGael player unable to handle expectation and pressure wouldn’t be of much use to the club, but even in their heyday back in the 1980s and 1990s, there can’t have been too many senior championship semi-finals where the Johnstown club were considered to be ‘past the post’ before the ball has been thrown in. That’s the lie of the land this week, as they prepare for a semi-final clash with Roscommon Gaels where it’s almost impossible to find anyone who suspects that a close game is in store.
Based on results so far, it’s easy to see why. Discount their Western Gaels game, where Liam Kearns rested as many players as he could without dipping into the intermediate panel, and his team has scored 0-14 against Pádraig Pearses in a game where they were far more dominant than the scoreboard suggested, 1-15 against a very good Strokestown team, and 0-25 against Michael Glavey's.
Roscommon Gaels have played four matches, scoring 0-13, 1-9, 3-4 and 2-7. It’s consistent, but unless conditions are almost apocalyptic on Sunday afternoon, that kind of tally simply won’t be enough. Perhaps Peter Gillooly’s likely return might raise their ceiling a bit, but equally, that’s a lot of expectation to put on the shoulders of a 20-year old player who hasn’t kicked a ball for the club yet this year.
Clann’s result against Michael Glavey's is being dismissed by some on the basis that Glaveys tend to struggle against that standard of opposition.
But that discounts the fact that the same Glaveys team lost to Roscommon Gaels by just two points, 3-4 to 1-8, missing countless chances over the course of the game.
Oran too had a dreadful day in front of the posts against the Gaels and perhaps that’s a sign that the town side are not being given enough credit for their ability to discommode opposition attackers, but it also could be a sign that they’re riding their luck to get this far. Chances are, it’s a little of both.
Those who discount Clann’s win over Glavey's are ignoring the sheer quality that was involved however. That day, Liam Kearns side were outstanding in every facet of play. Their control of kickouts, from both goals, was superb. Defensively they were disciplined yet ferocious, led by Jack Connaughton, who appears to be on a crusade to make a starting Roscommon jersey his own in 2022. Their fitness, conditioning and mobility was second to none, and up front they took 17 shots on goal in the first half and put 16 of them over the bar. Shot selection, timing, execution, it was all flawless.
So the question ceases to be which is the better team, and instead shifts to the question of what can Roscommon Gaels do to upset Clann’s game and to knock them off their stride?
Despite putting in a very good shift last time out, Graham Pettit and Dylan Sumner are quite likely to be seen as vulnerable by Declan Hoare and the Roscommon Gaels management. These two men are good to fight for a traditional bombed kickout, and they’re in good physical shape, but they wouldn’t possess the acceleration of a player like Kieran Kilcline, who was central to the Gaels’ win against Oran. Roscommon Gaels were outstanding at half-back list time out too, and they’ll try and use this as a platform to attack, and also just to keep the ball away from Clann for long spells.
Up front, the Gaels’ approach tends to centre on getting the ball to Mark Healy early and often, and letting the former Longford intercounty player control the play around him. They are conscious of where they take risks with possession, ensuring that they if they do cough it up, they aren’t vulnerable to counter attack.
Control possession, play low risk football up front, and try to starve Clann of the simple and quick scoring chances that would quickly move the winning total up to a level that is higher than the Gaels could hope to match. That will be the theory.
In practice? Too much has to go right, and from Clann’s point of view, they’d have to struggle to deal with the pressure of a county, and indeed their own supporters, expecting a comfortable win. This observer expects it too, frankly.