Football life without former captain and talisman Gary Brennan will be a huge challenge for Clare in the 2020 Allianz League, but manager Colm Collins is bullish about the Banner County’s prospects of holding their own in Division 2 for a fourth successive year.
Clare open their campaign on Sunday against newly promoted Westmeath in Cusack Park, Mullingar, where Brennan produced a man-of-the-match performance for Collins’ side in a thrilling 1-13 to 0-15 All-Ireland Qualifier win over Jack Cooney’s charges last June.
“From our point of view it is what it is,” he said ahead of Clare’s first league campaign without Brennan since he made his debut under Páidí Ó Sé’s watch as manager in 2007.
“It’s a huge challenge for us. Gary Brennan was a tremendous servant for Clare football over many years and any player of his calibre will be missed to the team, just as Jamie Malone will be missed. But we will be fine. It’s not all doom and gloom.
“We are lucky in a sense that we have three or four players coming back into the squad that weren’t available to us when we played Meath in the last round of the All-Ireland championship last year.
“Pearse Lillis and Ciaran Russell didn’t play against Meath, neither did Keelan Sexton, while Dermot Coughlan was only coming back after a serious injury and is now fully fit.
“It’s great to have these players back to compensate for the losses we’ve had. We have two very promising young players in Cillian Rouine and Emmett McMahon brought in and we will see where that goes. We’re happy enough that we’re in a good place.”
The departing Brennan acted as captain throughout Collins’ rein as manager, having being given the job on a permanent basis by Mick O’Dwyer for the 2013 campaign, with the baton now passing to Eoin Cleary of back-to-back county senior champions St Joseph’s Miltown.
“It’s a big challenge going up to Mullingar,” continued Collins, “and we know all about that from last year’s game.
“The division is very competitive, but preparations have gone well and we are looking forward to getting started. It’s a matter of taking each game as it comes and get the most you can out of each game. It is the only way to approach it. We don’t be looking too far ahead of ourselves, up or down.”
It will be Collins’ seventh National League campaign in charge of Clare, a longevity that now makes him inter-county football’s second longest-serving boss currently involved in management after Tyrone’s Mickey Harte.