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Monday 18 December 2017

Roche's Point: Beware of writing off the Banner

Brendan Bugler, Clare, in action against Seamus Harnedy, left, and Patrick Horgan, Cork
Brendan Bugler, Clare, in action against Seamus Harnedy, left, and Patrick Horgan, Cork

DUBLIN sitting pretty on top of the league, despite already facing the "two best teams in Ireland".

Clare mired in the drop zone as the "snipers" take aim at Davy Fitz. The Allianz Hurling League has got off to a strange start, for sure, and already there's a rush to dizzy judgement.

We've a word for this trend: hyperbolics.

However, instead of issuing the standard "it's only February" refrain - or even trying a meteorological warning, ie this column awoke to snow yesterday morning so let's wait until the sliotar is fizzing off freshly cut grass - we will instead refer you to last year's Division 1A table after two rounds.

Here's how it read: every team had two points.

In other words, February isn't even a sorting out period … it's a mish-mash that cannot be trusted.

This year's table has a different look, if only because sandwiching four teams in the middle you have Dublin boasting four points and pointless Clare propping up the rest.

FIZZLED

Is that a surprise? Only partly. We presumed that Davy Fitzgerald would have targetted an early-season response to what happened last summer, when Clare's defence of Liam MacCarthy fizzled out by mid-July.

Instead, he finds himself battling to avoid the pressure-cooker of a relegation play-off - instead of a league quarter-final - and with questions over his stewardship mounting.

So much so that Anthony Daly has leaped to his former teammate's defence, writing in his newspaper column: "Some of the reaction on social media over the weekend was outrageous and way too personal. When Clare won the All-Ireland in 1997, nobody mentioned that we were relegated in the league that year. Clare have had a poor start, but it's ridiculous how some people are getting carried away."

EMBATTLED

Daly, most assuredly, has a point. It's also worth recalling how, back in 2013, Clare and a then-embattled Davy Fitz faced a "crisis" much later in the season - specifically, after their June defeat to Cork - and we all know how that year panned out.

Still, the nature of Saturday night's defeat (also to Cork) must have caused a few frissons of doubt in Bannerland. They led by three after a lively start, but the reaction to Luke O'Farrell's equalising goal was tepid, the full-back line was frequently exposed and could have leaked further goals, and it all petered out to a ten-point defeat.

If you exclude the Waterford Crystal Cup, Clare's last competitive win was a league quarter-final against Laois - 11 months and six games ago, a sequence of five defeats and one draw. Suffice to say, they crave the restorative medicine of victory over Tipperary on Sunday week. But at least that game is at home, plus their next against Dublin. Conclusion: hold fire on the obits.

Speaking of Dublin, Ger Cunningham could not have asked for a more uplifting start. By the same token, as a canny Corkman, he doesn't need reminding that Tipp were pretty insipid nine days ago, and a severely depleted Kilkenny were already vulnerable before the red cards left them ripe for plunder.

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