THERE are two things very pleasing about this week.
One is the beautiful weather we are getting (I don’t remember a week so warm leading up to the Munster final) and two, the fact that it's a ‘sell out’ game in Thurles on Sunday, and I believe, rightly so.
This new format deserves that.
We have had some outstanding games, great entertainment value, and all we need now is a good Munster final to really cap it all off.
I think this is one of the reasons why it’s a sell out on Sunday. Supporters have really bought into this new format. Let's hope the game is as hot as the weather!
We always knew the Cork supporters would turn up in force, as they always do, but Clare have been slow to follow their team, and there was a reason for that. Now they would bite the hand off you for a ticket, and they are really getting behind this team this year (although they didn’t travel to Cork for the first game).
Remember, after that defeat, if it was under the old system, Clare would be gone out of the Munster Championship.
But after beating Waterford, they followed their team wholeheartedly and more especially when they defeated Tipperary in Thurles, and the manner in which they won that game, showing the fight and the spirit and above all the character they possessed to beat Tipp in their own backyard.
That is the reason why your hand could be bitten off for a ticket this week. Clare are coming up against a county that has all those characteristics too and a bit more even!
Clare people don’t need reminding how often Cork has caused so so much heartbreak, even to great Clare teams in Munster finals.
I remember many of them myself, even highly rated Clare teams, but still Cork always found a way, even though in the only All-Ireland final they met, Clare came out on top, after a replay and a great struggle. Cork are always difficult for any team to beat.
And here we are again, new format or old, for the second year running, Cork and Clare, the best two teams in Munster. It has all the ingredients for a cracker of a game.
Clare have been an improving team since that first game, but I believe they will have to improve more for Sunday. I do not have either team at the time of writing, but I don’t see too many changes from when they last met.
There are questions over both sets of defences.
Will Mark Ellis be fit for Cork? Or will Eoin Cadogan take his place?
I think, if he does, Eoin will pick up Clare’s danger man, Peter Duggan.
I think he would have the physical presence and experience to do just that, even if his hurling was a bit off against Waterford, he could be a big game player.
Christopher Joyce, I believe, will start at centre back - Christopher is a great man to get possession, in the air or on the ground, and always seems to play well against Clare, but he needs to cut out the mistakes he makes when he has the ball, especially with guys like Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell and John Conlan around. He can’t afford mistakes here.
Mark Coleman needs to go back to the hurling he played last year, which he is well able to do.
I think the Cork full-back line has been playing very solid and they seem settled as a unit - all covering for one another which is a good sign, and that understanding is very important in that area of the field, especially with a top class goalkeeper behind you.
The battle at midfield will be very interesting. Galvin and Kelly should be midfield for Clare - I think Clare are a better team when these two are in that position, but they will have some battle on their hands against Fitzgibbon and the most improved player on the Cork team, Bill Cooper.
He was always honest and very fit and mobile, and now he can score a few points as well. I’m sure all his teammates really value him. He is a real dog in the middle of the field, always biting at you and helping everyone around him. Clare will need to match that.
The Clare defence especially the two central defenders, Conor Cleary at centre-back and David McInerney at full-back.
These two will have to close everything down here.
They have to show strong leadership and I’m sure Cork will be targeting Cleary for his perceived lack of pace. He doesn’t lack pace going forward, but can be caught on the turn.
This is where David McInerney will have to be very careful, because with Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston and Darragh Fitzgibbons cutting through the centre, this is where Cork can cause problems for Clare, with the pace of these guys, creating room for Patrick Horgan inside, and he is the one man you don’t need hovering around the square, as any half chance will see either a white or a green flag raised.
I think this is a very difficult game to call, or at least it should be anyway. After all, it is a Munster final.
I like Clare’s attitude in the last few games, and its about time that came right, because it's been missing for a few years. I think it gives them a great chance on Sunday, but Cork have proven themselves over the last number of years against Clare.
I believe this Cork team have, apart from their hurling, and the one thing that Clare fear most, and that is their serious pace.
This will be crucial on Sunday, but they will need every bit, and more, to get them over the line.
Thurles should be buzzing, if not frying, on Sunday.