CLARE captain Pat O’Connor says he wasn’t surprised to see the Cork hurlers back in the mix for silverware this season.
The Banner are very familiar with the Rebels’ strengths and weaknesses, having faced them three times in the 2013 championship – including two epic All-Ireland finals – and again in 2014 and 2015. Cork got the better of Clare in this year’s league opener as well.
“We’re all watching hurling long enough to know there’s no such thing as a bad Cork hurling team,” said O’Connor ahead of Sunday’s Munster final in Thurles, 4pm.
“They’re all very skillful and dedicated. They play the game hard and fast and this Cork team is no different. It’s clicking this year so far and they’re favourites for the Munster final on merit given who they’ve taken out.
"They play hurling the way it should be played, direct. They seem to be all backing each other up and you see that on the sideline as well.
"They’re a united bunch and that’s mirrored on the field. When a team is like that, with momentum behind, and the way the Cork crowd have gotten behind this team… it poses a big challenge.”
Like Cork captain Stephen McDonnell, O’Connor is a graduate of CIT, which means one of their former students is guaranteed to lift the Munster title this weekend.
He featured in the Fitzgibbon for CIT and the 2011 SHC final against Carrigtwohill.
“I lost the Cork county final by a point. I’d still be friendly with a cohort from that team and guys I got to know through them.
“They’re a massive hurling county and as I keep being reminded they’re a county Clare haven’t beaten too often. Whatever history is there is irrelevant because they’re two different teams to a few years ago."
This is Clare’s first senior Munster final appearance since 2008, and they haven’t been provincial champions since 1998, despite reaching the 2002 All-Ireland and winning it in 2013.
“We can’t wait to go out to tackle them. We’ve never been preparing for a Munster senior hurling final so we’re delighted to be facing Cork.
"I can already picture the sea of red when we go out. It was two to one Cork supporters against Waterford and it could even be more than that in the final, so it poses a massive challenge.
"I can’t wait to get out there. We were all raised on packed houses and Munster finals so that’s definitely the route we wanted to take this time.”