‘It’s very positive’ – Clare’s football supremo provides continuity as a sixth season beckons in 2019

IT FITS THAT the three longest-serving Gaelic football managers at the outset of the 2019 season are a trio that journeyed deep into the heart of this year’s championship.

Mickey Harte brought his Tyrone side back to the grandeur of All-Ireland final day and is set to be in charge for a 17th campaign. Jim Gavin from the champions Dublin and Malachy O’Rourke, who steered Monaghan to a notable semi-final showing, match each other with a seventh year in charge beckoning after starting out in 2013.

The boss who ranks fourth on that list bowed out this summer on 30 June but that exit at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh can not detract from the body of work Colm Collins has compiled in Clare.

On Tuesday night the Clare county board confirmed what had been on the cards – the Kilmihil native would take the Banner reins for a sixth campaign.

“He took a bit of time to think after the championship,” outlines Clare’s midfield stalwart Gary Brennan.

“Once he knew that the group was committed to working for another year and trying to build on what has been done already, then I think he was happy to give it another go. It’s very positive for Clare football. The team has been on an upward trajectory throughout his tenure so hopefully that’ll continue now next year.”

Clare manager Colm Collins.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Brennan is a long-standing pillar of Clare football now since first joining the senior ranks in 2007. He began with Páidí Ó Sé in charge of him, then had Frank Doherty and Míchéal McDermott supervising before Mick O’Dwyer was at the helm in 2013.

Collins took over that winter, setting out in the 2014 league and has been around ever since. The turnover rate is high in the area of inter-county management as the demands and expectations are ratcheted up. The longevity of Collins is something the Clare camp welcome and appreciate.

“That continuity is great,” admits Brennan.

“We know the setup now and we know what we’re working towards. Colm knows the county well and knows the players within the county and spends a lot of time looking at underage games, looking at players that he can bring in from a young age to try and develop them and get them into the habits I suppose of the inter-county lifestyle.

“He works very hard at it and we’ve seen some good results. But Colm’s very determined equally that it’s not going to plateau at this point. He wants to continue to drive Clare football forward. It’s great he’s been given the chance to do that and that he’s willing and happy to continue to do it.

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“I’m sure it probably has a big impact on his personal life. Inter-county playing is hugely time demanding, inter-county management is probably more on top of that again. We’re fortunate I suppose that he’s in a position to be able to continue to do it. It’s a sign of how successful he’s been and how positive an impact he has had that he’s stayed in it for the number of years that he’s had.”

If there is one trend that captures the progress Collins has made, then it is the improved league standing of Clare. In his debut spring campaign they climbed out of Division 4, in the most recent spring campaign they finished third in Division 2.

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Gary Brennan celebrates Clare’s 2016 Division 3 league final win.

The challenges will rise next season with teams of the stature of Donegal and Kildare dropping down from the top tier, while there is a sense of frustration in Clare at how they signed off on the 2018 championship.

“The reason we have wanted to get up the divisions is to play the best teams that we can play against,” says Brennan.

“It’ll be a good test again of us and our squad. The thing Colm has been focusing on the last few years is to try and bring through younger guys and freshen up the squad so it’ll be a good test and experience next spring.

“I don’t think we ever really hit the heights in the championship that we were capable of this year. I don’t think we hit the standards that we’d like to have got to. Up in Armagh we had put ourselves in a very strong position and allowed Armagh to come back into it, to beat us and take it.

A dejected Keelan Sexton after Clare’s loss to Armagh in the qualifiers this year.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Credit to Armagh but it was one that we’d have felt we left behind. Any year you finish like that it’s unfinished business. In terms of titles, we don’t have a whole pile to our name so we’d like to add a bit to that. Colm is very determined to drive Clare football forward and get the best players playing for the county.”

Retaining those who are working alongside Collins is another boost with Galway’s 2013 All-Ireland U21 winning manager Alan Flynn set to continue his coaching role with Clare.

“The management team is staying on as far as I’m aware, that’s what was ratified at the county board meeting anyway,” states Brennan.

“For a young coach, he’s very experienced. He’s a lot of very good ideas on the game and has worked very well with the squad and has done an awful lot of work in developing those younger players that we have coming into the squad.

Former Galway U21 boss Alan Flynn.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“You can see the influence a lot of those guys are starting to have now. A lot of that is down to Alan’s coaching. When the whole setup is staying on, it gives you an opportunity to build from year to year rather than restarting again and trying to get things in place.”

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