SATURDAY: Littlewoods Ireland National League Division 1: Clare v Cork, Clonlara, 2pm.
THE shock of the league over the past number of seasons has been Clare’s defeat of Kilkenny last Sunday.
Very few, if anyone, expected that. Not only did they win but they did it in Nowlan Park, which is a tall order. They shouldn’t get too carried away though as Kilkenny started just eight of their All-Ireland final team and brought Michelle Quilty on with 10 minutes of normal time remaining.
But even so, it’s a surprise and a big scalp for Clare.
Ger O’Connell is in the process of rebuilding Clare after 14 players from last year’s panel stepped away and that victory will spur them on. Clare host Cork this Saturday and they’ll do so with a spring in their step.
Cork can put themselves in the driving seat to reach the league final if they do the business, with Kilkenny having dropped points. Cork too travel with just eight of last year’s semi-final line-up and are without key players, but they have introduced young talent who should match their opponents. Kilkenny’s defeat opens the door in group 2 a bit and makes their visit to Cork on March 8 all the more important.
That becomes a must win game for them. If Clare beat Cork, they’d be fancied to make the final despite a final game against Waterford to play.
To mention league final and Clare in the one breadth hasn’t a familiar ring to it. They haven’t impressed of late. There have been many changes in the off season in the Clare camp. As mentioned, fourteen players left the panel due to personality clashes, so once again Clare are in transition. They never seem to come out of it and really the County Board need to get more serious about competing at the highest level.
Truagh-Clonlara forward Eimear Kelly struck 1-3 in Clare’s opening win against Offaly and 0-7 against the Cats. She’ll need curtailing. Before their victory over Offaly Kelly said that despite the changes, the squad is settling down and the newer members, or those that have re-joined the side, have brought with them plenty of cause for optimism.
Four debutantes featured against Offaly and Kelly believes the side are all the better for them.
“We were almost happier with how we performed overall throughout the game, rather than getting the bare result. Even compared to the things we were doing last year, there is a feel-good factor in the camp after it. Especially with the tough conditions, we were still able to execute what we have been working very hard on in training.
“One of the things that I am happy about is that before maybe we might have made excuses for ourselves. We had gotten the heads right the week before the Offaly game and really worked on that performance.
“You can say that we’re a young team or that we’re a team in transition or whatever, but we’re a team now and that’s the end of it. The younger girls have come in and put pressure on the rest of us.
"There’s a solid team of us there now and so far, the younger girls have laid down a marker and they don’t have any negative connotations about playing Cork or Kilkenny and that has helped us too.”
Expect Clare to be dogged tomorrow.
Amy Lee, Aoife O’Neill, Ciara McCarthy, Cliona Healy, Saoirse McCarthy, Emma Murphy, Siobhan Hutchinson and Hannah O’Leary are some of those that will start or get a run for Cork. Ashling Thompson is out for the game with a groin strain. Lauren Homan hasn’t trained since Cork’s victory over Waterford with a rear knee issue but had a run out on Thursday.
It’s four weeks since Cork’s last competitive outing due to the weather enforced postponement of their second round with Offaly, now rescheduled for March 14.
By Wednesday evening due to flooding in Clare and many pitches under water, a venue for the game still hadn’t been determined before Clonlara was chose on Friday morning.