I still expect up the 40,000-plus fans will create a great buzz, not alone on the field, but all around the town of Thurles, with Cork and Clare crowd mixing well. The splash of colour with saffron and blue, and red and white... bars, restaurants and tea rooms, all full from early morning. The craic will be mighty!
What a unique occasion the Munster final is, and what a unique venue Thurles is also.
People call it “the home of hurling”, even if Cork and Kilkenny folk might question that. Still, I think, no one loves going to Thurles better than Cork.
They always bring a lot of excitement with them, as well as the banter, humour and wit. But the one thing they definitely bring is good hurling. They seem to grow taller when they reach Thurles.
Mind you, Clare are very happy that this Munster Final is on in Thurles this year, because, as we all know, if Páirc Uí Chaoimh was ready on time, this match would be on there. While Clare wouldn’t have any objection going there, I’d say, deep down, both players and management are relieved not to be in that cauldron, although it’s a brilliant venue.
At the start of this Munster Championship campaign, and the way the draw worked out, a lot of people wouldn’t have seen this pairing in the Munster final - especially Cork.
Although I fancied Cork to win both games to date, I think I was very much in the minority. Not alone did they manage to, they played very good hurling doing so.
Clare, on the other hand had, you would say, the easier draw, playing Limerick in the semi-final, and they were far from impressive on the day.
But it doesn’t matter how you got there, how well or how badly you played, you are in the final. Sunday is a big day for these two counties.
As I write this, the teams haven’t been named. However, what really stands out for me are the two sets of forwards.
All outstanding players on their day. Match-winners on both sides.
Clare men Conor McGrath, Podge Collins, John Conlan, Shane O’Donnell and for Cork, Conor Lehane, Seamus Harnedy, Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan. I know they are young men, but they are very experienced as well.
People might be surprised that I omitted Tony Kelly from the Clare forwards, but I believe Tony is better suited to a midfield role, along with Colm Galvin. I think Clare play their best when these two are running the show from midfield.
They are capable of doing damage from this area of the field as they are two players who like the freedom of the pitch, and they usually get on the scoreboard as well.
The Cork counterparts, Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon, have a great work-rate in this area also. Cooper with a great physical presence, and of course Fitzgibbon the speed merchant.
I think whoever comes out on top in this area of the field will have a big bearing on this game. I relish the contest!
But I think this game will be decided on both sets of defenders, or whoever defends the best.
Looking at Cork - a big plus for them is Anthony Nash in goals. He is surely in the running for an All-Star for his displays so far this year. His organisation of his defence is excellent. His puck-outs, long and short, usually hit their target, and of course his shot-stopping is top class.
His full-back line, Spillane, Cahalane and McDonnell, are playing as a full-back line should - nothing flashy, tight marking, seen especially against Waterford, where they were ruthless and didn’t stand on ceremony. They will really need to be sharp on against guys like McGrath and Shane O’Donnell who are lethal finishers.
I equally expect the same with the Cork half-back line and the Clare half-forward line, especially between Mark Ellis and Podge Collins. Will Ellis follow Podge around the field or will he hold the centre? Interesting battle! Could have a big bearing on outcome.
But I believe the Clare defence and the Cork attack will definitely decide this game.
Will Clare be able to cope with the pace of the Cork forwards? I think this will all hinge on who Clare will play at centre-back. My candidate would be David McInerney with Cian Dillon at full-back. I believe the battle between McInerney and Lehane would be a fantastic contest, as well as the battle between Dillon and Harnedy, who is back to his best this year.
And if Clare tie up those two forwards, they have only then to worry about the other two outstanding forwards... Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan. Clare could have Oisin O’Brien back and maybe Seanda Morey to pick up these two forwards.
Summing it all up, these two teams produced two great matches in the All-Ireland 2013. They both have lost their way since but they are on a mission now. I think this will be a great Munster final.
I believe Clare got here by playing a poor Limerick team, whereas Cork have had two tough games against Tipp and Waterford. I believe this will stand to them.
I think momentum is with Cork big time, and I believe they will be Munster champions.