Former Kilkenny great Eddie Brennan has suggested that off-field distractions, and a failure to deal with the pressure that comes with being All-Ireland champions, accounted for Clare’s disappointing championship campaign.
The Banner County exited the championship after losing their round one qualifier replay against Wexford on Saturday.
The loss brought to an end a disappointing season in which last year’s All-Ireland winners also lost a provincial semi-final to Cork.
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald has also been involved in a number of controversies during the championship.
Fitzgerald mentioned “other reasons” for Clare’s loss to Cork, believed to be a reference to a club versus county row in Clare; and had an argument with a local journalist after the drawn game against Wexford.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport, Brennan suggested that Clare would have benefited from a smother championship campaign, with fewer distractions and aggravations.
He appeared to allude to the alleged altercation between Fitzgerald and the journalist, and said incidents like this, and the club versus county row can be “mentally draining” and can take players’ focus.
“You need things running smoothly,” Brennan said. “If you have an argument, that just drains the players. It creates side-shows, it creates talking points that they don’t need to waste their energy on.”
Brennan said that Clare had benefited from a lack of fuss and argument in the championship-winning run last year.
“They came in under the radar a little bit. It was to their benefit; maybe teams took them for granted a little bit, and they weren’t with a cross-hair on their back like they were this year.”
Brennan said that Clare would take lessons from this season’s lack of success, and suggested they might reflect on the contrast with their All-Ireland-winning season in 2013.
“Last year, they probably got a lot of the 50-50 refereeing decisions [...] I think a lot of Clare people were aggrieved with maybe the way they were refereed this year.
“There were certainly incidents, particularly Saturday, I counted three or four in the first half, where they should have got frees.
"Conor Ryan was cleaned out [...] and he was tackled a second time, and his arm was pulled, and it ended up in a Wexford point. These are the little things that change the course of a match.”
Brennan suggested that this came with the territory of defending an All-Ireland crown, but that Clare had failed to overcome this hurdle.
"It you have an argument, that just drains the players. It creates side-shows, it creates talking points that they don’t need"
“That’s what happens when you’re All-Ireland champions: you tend not to get those 50-50 refereeing decisions [...] the opposition tend to get away with a little bit more in the physical stakes.
“I’m not condoning that or saying it’s right, it’s just the nature of the beast, and it’s how you deal with that.
“Ultimately, you can’t control a referee, so you have to get yourself to a level where you go beyond that.
“You can’t always depend on refereeing decisions. They were little things that we would have spoken about when we were there.
"You have to accept that maybe you’re not going to get the rub of the green with referees, so therefore you have to be first to the ball.
“And I’d have to say, that the day against Cork, in particular, when Clare got pinged a lot for frees, they weren’t first to the ball.”