'I fancied this Cork team to do well last year when they had their doubters and I still fancy them to deliver this season'

'I fancied this Cork team to do well last year when they had their doubters and I still fancy them to deliver this season'
Cork's Christopher Joyce and Peter Duggan of Clare don't hold back in the league game. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

AT last, the hurling championship is up and running.

What a feast of hurling we are going to have for the next number of weeks. It started with the Leinster Championship last week, a non-event between Galway and Offaly, a game I was at. Not a contest, Galway were in cruise control. They could have won by anything they liked.

Next day, Dubin and Kilkenny. Poor first half, but a very very entertaining second half, with Kilkenny just about surviving the contest. I’d say the Cats used up several of their nine lives on Sunday, but haven’t they been doing that for years?

This week we start with the Munster championship, and the Munster finalists of last year, Clare and Cork. The question I want to ask here is, where has the Clare team gone in the last five years?

Apart from getting to the Munster final last year, their record since their All-Ireland win in 2013 has been deplorable. I would say that it is the worst record of any All-Ireland winning team in recent years. Winning one Munster Championship game in five years proves that.

What is the reason for that? Is it lack of commitment from players or is it management’s fault or is it the board?

Or was it because the All-Ireland series of 2013 was a poor season, especially when Clare didn’t have to beat Tipp or Kilkenny that year?

Were the players too young and didn’t really appreciate what it would take to continue winning?

Did it go to their head a bit in the wrong way? Getting carried away by the success of it all?

As a famous manager said one time “There’s only six inches between a slap on the back and a kick up the arse.”

Maybe these players didn’t get enough of the latter.

There was no doubting the talent that was in this team, and is probably still there, but sometimes it takes a lot more that talent to really be successful, and sometimes it takes very strong management to keep a team level headed and grounded and put that ruthless streak into them as all great managers can do.

What this Clare team needs is a bit of tough love, and more importantly some of their top players to get that form back. I’m thinking here of players like Conor McGrath, David McInerney, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly, and Shane O’Donnell.

David McInerney gets away from Luke Meade. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David McInerney gets away from Luke Meade. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

These are players who need to lead Clare now as they were the form players of a number of years ago. Clare need all these guys playing at the top of their game, not alone on Sunday but for the rest of the series.

I know Clare have lost some big players through retirements and injuries in the last year or two, but that happens every county team, and is no excuse.

What about Cork?

At least they have won two Munster title since 2013’s All-Ireland defeat and have been competitive, but as we know Cork always look at more than winning Munsters.

With their tradition, you are judged more on winning All-Irelands and by a very demanding hurling public in Cork.

I fancied this Cork team to do well last year when there was a lot of doubters. I still fancy them to do well this year. Surely they should have gained a lot of experience from the run they had last year, especially their young players.

I don’t know either team’s line-up at the time of writing, but I’m sure there won’t be any great changes from last year as both teams know one another very well.

Clare's Cathal Malone and Sean O’Donoghue. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Clare's Cathal Malone and Sean O’Donoghue. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

I expect to see Sean O’Donoghue at corner-back for Cork his year, with Eoin Cadogan and Colm Spillane beside him, and I expect the Clare full-forward line to be Conor McGrath, Peter Duggan, and Shane O’Donnell.

I think the contest here will have a big bearing on the game. Especially the one between the two big men, Cadogan and Duggan, a real physical battle is anticipated here, bumper to bumper stuff like the good old days. Clare will need a big return from this line.

Further out the field, the battle between Tony Kelly and Darragh Figzgibbon should be very interesting, two very good mobile midfielders. The the Bill Cooper-Colm Galvin contest should be good too. Cooper showed great form the last day against Waterford in the league.

Also, I think the battle between Conor Lehane and Conor Cleary, who I think will be centre-back for Clare, could be key. Lehane was brilliant last year for Cork until he picked up an injury, and I don’t think he was fully fit going into the All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford. He is over those injuries now.

I think the Cork full-forward line and the Clare full-back line will have a big bearing on the result. Pat O’Connor, Cian Dillon and especially David McInerney, who I think Clare will play in the full-back line. They need him there because this is where Clare had all their problems during the league, and in last year’s Munster final against Cork.

They will be faced by Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan, if he is passed fit. What a contest this should be. Cadogan always seems to play well against Clare. He gave this full-back line a torrid time last year. Clare will need to be at their best here. They need to suffocate these forwards and give them no room whatsoever, as any half chance they get will be punished.

It’s difficult to beat Cork anywhere, but it is next to impossible to beat them in their own backyard. I hope this Clare team go back to some of the form they showed a few years ago, but I have my doubts. That form could be gone.

Taking all that into consideration, I think Cork should win this by a few points. Lets hope it starts the Munster championship with a cracker!

It will be very interesting to see what the attendance will be, especially from Clare, because 70 miles up the road there is another Munster Championship game between Limerick and Tipperary.

A huge game for both counties. But, I think, a bigger game for Tipp. They can’t afford to lose this one.

You can be sure of a big attendance at this game. I expect Tipperary to win this game and with a few points to spare.

Munster needs a good Championship this year especially with this new format. Here’s hoping.

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