John Horgan on the Clare threat faced by the Cork hurlers in the qualifiers

The Banner are on a roll this summer: Rebels beware
John Horgan on the Clare threat faced by the Cork hurlers in the qualifiers

Sean O' Donoghue of Cork is tackled by Ryan Taylor of Clare. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

SO it all comes down to 70 minutes against Clare for the Cork hurlers in the make-or-break All-Ireland qualifier tomorrow, 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports.

Victory can be the spark that ignites the season while conversely a defeat will pose many questions and it will ensure that a worrying famine is extended by another year.

Maybe, given their injury concerns and the continuing absence of a number of key players, Waterford might have been a better option but you have to take what you get and the challenge that Clare are likely to pose will be massive.

You could not say that they are on a roll yet but they have momentum behind them now after taking out a Wexford team that had been involved in one of the best games of the season up to last weekend against Kilkenny.

They have also got three championship games under their belt, two victories and a somewhat controversial loss to Tipperary when a mind-boggling penalty decision was awarded against them, an incident that changed the course of the entire game.

Last Saturday they mixed the very good with the indifferent in seeing off Wexford, constructing an 11-point advantage before the Leinster team whittled it back to three.

Of course, a big lead in a game of hurling these days can be wiped out very quickly as we saw in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday.

Clare, of course, lost the initiative against Waterford in the opening game in Munster too, leading by nine points at one stage before making things uncomfortable for themselves thereafter but getting the job eventually done.

Brian Lohan has certainly worked the oracle in the Banner after a disastrous opening to their national league campaign which saw them lose to Antrim.

There were too many newspaper headlines about matters at county board level, criticism of training facilities and the picture for a while certainly did not seem too bright. But the team looks to be quite settled right now with plenty of options too coming in from the bench.

Against Wexford, Mark Rodgers really made his presence felt when he was introduced and his brace of points were important at the time.

Aidan McCarthy, Ryan Taylor and David Reidy contributed handsomely to the win last weekend and while Tony Kelly did not hit the heights that he is capable of, we all saw what he is capable of when he tore Waterford apart in their championship opener.

The decision to play him at full-forward that day was a masterstroke and it had a hugely unsettling effect on Waterford. In many respects, Clare and Cork are similar insofar as they are not consistent enough over the 70 minutes.

Of course, at the top level of intercounty hurling it is very difficult to drive on for that length of time and no matter how much one team dominates for a long while, the opposition is bound to find some sort of rhythm and get themselves back into contention.

Aron Shanagher of Clare shoots to score his side's fourth goal past Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy in the league. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Aron Shanagher of Clare shoots to score his side's fourth goal past Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy in the league. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Clare have found themselves in that situation against Waterford and Wexford but they managed each time to ride out the storm and reinvent themselves again.

It seems like an age since Cork lost out to Limerick in the Munster semi-final and tomorrow they will certainly have to be a lot better and whatever team is selected must play better as a unit.

The forward unit did not function to the desired standard that day but, in fairness, in other areas, defensively and in the middle, the return was admirable. The expectation is that there will be changes to the Cork attack and it appears that the time has come to give starting berths to Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly.

There won’t be wholesale changes because of the importance of the game and a decision must be made too on how best to counteract the threat that Kelly is likely to pose.

Looking at the Munster final last Sunday and the intensity that Tipp produced in the opening half and Limerick thereafter, Cork seem to be well off that standard. But, right now, it’s all about Clare and a win on Saturday could make all the difference. This is a very big championship game of hurling and big things could follow with a victory.

The question must be posed too on how much last weekend’s game took out of Clare. They have that bit of momentum but playing so soon again could take its toll, all the more so given the prevailing conditions.

Cork just have to get things right here, be far more consistent over the course of the game, be a lot better and more aggressive in attack and get their marking duties right from the outset.

Cork manager Kieran Kingston and selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cork manager Kieran Kingston and selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Lohan has now put together a very formidable unit with a strong spine down the middle.

They have a quality keeper in Eibhear Quilligan fronted by Conor Cleary at full-back with John Conlon outside and the likes of Rory Hayes, Cathal Malone, Aidan McCarthy in top form and, of course, Kelly’s capabilities. Simply put, Cork will have to get everything right from the throw-in to get the result.

Verdict: Cork

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