Gary Brennan: Pairc Esler can be a home from home for Clare against Armagh
IT may be neutral territory for Armagh but Clare captain Gary Brennan insists the Banner will feel right at home when they travel to Newry for Sunday’s Division Two clash with the Orchard County.
Kieran McGeeney's men have been forced to play their first home game of the League at a neutral venue after flouting a pre-Championship training ban last year, with nearby Pairc Esler nominated to host the fixture.
Yet while Armagh would rather forget their last competitive outing in Newry, a 2017 Ulster Championship defeat to their neighbours, Clare have only good memories after defeating the Mournemen there last year.
Forward Eoin Cleary produced a masterclass that day, scoring six frees - including some from outrageous angles - as Colm Collins’s men bagged a vital away win.
A hand injury rules Cleary out of Sunday’s game but Brennan remains hopeful that their return to Newry can reap a similar reward.
“We’ve good experience of it - ironically enough we actually stayed in Armagh the night before that game,” said the 2016 Allstar nominee.
“Armagh maybe were victims of their own honesty there [regarding the training ban sanction], I don’t know how fair it is on them but it’s on in Newry and we’ll there be there in Newry, ready to go.
“Any day you go away like that it’s a tough battle to try and get the two points. It was a nice feeling coming back up the road and hopefully it’s the same this weekend.”
The Bannermen – who lost their opening League game at home to Donegal - have some recent history with Armagh too.
Last summer they were sent spiralling out through the All-Ireland Championship back door by the Orchardmen following an enthralling, end to end clash last summer.
On a baking hot day at the Athletic Grounds, a David Tubridy goal put Clare four ahead three minutes from time, only for late goals from Andrew Murnin and Joe McElroy to snatch a dramatic victory for Armagh.
And Brennan admits it was a tough defeat to take.
He added: “It was great for the neutral but when you’re on the losing side it’s not so hot.
“We were in a very good position in the second half and things started to go against us, we didn’t really stem the tide and we allowed Armagh to come back into it and take over really.
“In the earlier part of that game Armagh had a number of opportunities so they had maybe done the same in terms of letting us get control of the game for a while when they possibly shouldn’t have.
“They timed it right, finished the stronger and came away with the win, which was a real kick in the teeth to us. It just shows at that level no team is ever gone.”
Armagh’s direct style caused Clare problems that day, especially in the latter stages.
And, with the forward power of men like Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell since added to their ranks, Brennan expects them to try and utilise the ‘offensive mark’ where possible.
“They’re very, very good kickers and the mark rule might suit them.
“They’ve got a lot of big, strong, athletic guys and they’re well able to give good quality ball into them, as we found out last year.
“They break fast and they’ve got the ball players all over the field to be able to play that type of game so they’re a threat for anyone.”