HERE we go, a big weekend in both Munster and Leinster.
A mouthwatering contest in both provinces. Fantastic rivalry between both sets of teams, rivalries with a good bit of bite, some for different reasons.
In Leinster, it was Kilkenny and Galway on Saturday night,with Cody-Shefflin adding the real spice. That handshake in Galway between the two... people were making a lot out of it, maybe too much.
The real final, as we all believe down here, is the Munster final in Thurles. To understand the rivalry between Clare and Limerick, you have got to be really living amongst it. The closeness of the two counties creates a great atmosphere.
A lot of Limerick people are living and working in Clare, especially in the Shannon area. Same can be said about Clare people, living and working in Limerick. So you see bragging rights are very important here.
It is not like Celtic-Rangers, but not too far off it either! Houses divided as you can imagine, with mothers and fathers from different counties, half the children supporting each one, and maybe falling out for 70 minutes.
There’s a lot of crossborder activity between Clare and Limerick, and even in both management teams. I’m sure the sideline will be very interesting, with some choice words exchanged. And all in the name of the game.
The last time these two teams met in Ennis it was a brilliant contest and the game could have gone either way, but a draw was the right result. I was surprised that John Kiely picked such a strong Limerick team, as they were already in the Munster final and the result didn’t matter really to them.
Of course, it was Clare they were playing and they wanted to lay down a marker and keep that winning mentality. Unusually for John Kiely, he seemed to get very excited on the day and lost his cool with some of the refereeing decisions. Maybe he had a point to some extent but it showed me something else.
Is he feeling the pressure of expectation with this team? Or does he see something that is making him that way? Perhaps a lack of real hunger or is it the loss of Cian Lynch and Peter Casey?
Will Limerick revert back to playing Kyle Hayes as a defender or will they still go with him in the attack?
I believe they will play him as a defender as it adds more balance to their team, and he can do a lot of damage as an attacking defender. Who will play full-back then? Will it be Mike Casey or will they go back to Dan Morrissey?
Big decisions for management. Will young Cathal O’Neill start or will we see Graeme Mulcahy, who the management have great faith in?
David McInerney and Gearoid Hegarty should be some contest again and could have a big bearing on the game.
Clare are the surprise package here. They have been motoring very well and I believe Thurles suits this Clare team. They have good pace all over the field and they will need it this Sunday.
Their hurling is first class and their touch excellent, and this is down to the good coaching of Sean Tracey. Sean is around a while now and is an excellent coach. His record is very good. He is a no-nonsense coach.
Clare’s defence is playing very well. The half-back line of Ryan, Conlan and McInerney, very forceful and giving great ball to their forwards.
And of course, the forward that everyone is talking about is Tony Kelly. While Tony is a top player he has got good back-up from guys like Shane O’Donnell, who is beginning to hit form, and two powerful men in Peter Duggan and David Fitzgerald.
Add in Ryan Taylor and Cathal Malone at midfield, two work horses that will stay going all day, it’s exactly what you want on Munster final day, especially in Thurles.
This will be a savage contest between two very committed teams.
Clare’s need is greater than Limerick and that is why I expect them to get over the line here.
No space to talk about Leinster, but then again it’s all about the Munster final down here, especially in Clare and Limerick!