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Game On

All roads lead to Thurles

Thursday, 6th July, 2017 8:46am

It’s the first time since 2006 that both Cork seniors and minors are in the Munster Hurling Finals, with Clare providing the opposition in both.

That will surely bring a sell-out crowd to Semple Stadium, especially when you consider that over 8,000 turned up in Pairc Ui Rinn on Monday night.

Senior Final

At the outset of the Munster campaign, Cork were not fancied to be in the final, given the side of the draw they were in. But, on the back of those exciting wins over Tipperary and Waterford, many will see them as favourites.

However, this is a formidable and experienced Clare outfit and, in my view, they are favourites.

It’s a Clare team which has in its ranks several players who featured on the All-Ireland winning 2013 team – ironically the last time they beat Cork in a major game – and have medals at Under 21 level.

By contrast, Cork have had no underage success and apart from the Munster Final win of 2014, trophies have been scarce on Leeside.

How much that will count on Sunday is a moot point, in fact it probably will not even enter the equation. All that matters is what happens between 4-5.30pm.

Clare’s only outing was the semi-final win over Limerick in a very undistinguished encounter but semi-finals are all about winning. No doubt it suits the Clare management that they are coming into this final well under the radar; in contrast, it’s been all about Cork.

It has the makings of yet another intriguing contest where, as seems the norm now, tactics will play a big factor and it will be interesting to see how Clare have evolved under the management that brought the success at under 21.

Of course, former Cork goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack is also a member of the backroom team and this is sure to be a strange afternoon for the Cloyne native.

Clare have a very strong team and Tony Kelly remains a key player for them, although his form has dipped somewhat recently and I wonder if the demands of a long season (remember his club Ballyea were in action right up to St Patrick’s Day) are taking its toll on this classy player.

Kelly makes this Clare side tick, but if contained, how will they react? Brian Murphy was brilliant at man-marking Kelly, will Cork deploy someone in a similar role?

Shane O’Donnell bagged two goals in the win over Limerick and he seems to have recaptured his best form, another player that will need minding. Conor McGrath and John Conlon are also dangerous forwards.

Defensively, Clare can call on Seadna Morey, Conor Cleary and goalkeeper Andrew Fahy in a team that is nicely balanced and poses a huge threat to Cork’s ambitions.

The task facing Cork is can they deliver yet another big display for the third game in-a-row? If they can, it will take a huge effort from Clare to deny them the title.

Cork have been brilliant to-date – the most impressive part of their game, in my opinion, has been their refusal to panic.

Remember the response to the Tipperary goal and a similar attitude when Waterford got their goal? Instant replies on both occasions and a clear sign of a growing maturity within the team.

Anthony Nash has been in fantastic form and his puck-outs have been spot on, in fact they have resulted in several scores.

Damien Cahalane has seen off the best that Tipp and Waterford had to offer, Mark Ellis hasn’t put a foot wrong at centre back, while Mark Coleman defies his youth with solid displays.

Conor Lehane looks set to win his fitness battle which is a huge plus, Bill Cooper’s work rate is key, and Seamus Harnedy is back to his best.

Patrick Horgan’s form is also excellent and while he has been quiet in recent outings Alan Cadogan is due a big game, hopefully Sunday will be the day.

The impact off the bench is also a factor. Michael Cahalane, Dean Brosnan – who was outstanding in the Glen’s win over the ‘Barrs – Lorcan McLoughlin and Luke O’Farrell are all viable options, a nice way to go into any game.

Who will win? Well Cork are the form team but this is a tough one to call.

It will more than likely go the distance, but if Cork can be as consistent as they have in the games to-date, then the title should head to Leeside on Sunday but only after what promises to be yet another famous day in the annals of Munster Hurling.

Cork to win.

Minor Final

The big question going into this game is how will Cork respond to two massive battles in the space of four days, one that went to extra-time.

Clare won their semi-final after extra-time but have had a lot more than Cork in the way of recovery time.

That said, the Cork management have to be commended for the manner in which they had their team primed for Monday night’s game.

In the drawn game, Paddy Cadell was the dominant player, yet he was a peripheral figure in the replay and their fitness levels were spot-on.

The quality of hurling witnessed in the Cork vs Tipperary semi-finals was, I am informed, a much higher standard then that of the Clare vs Limerick clash, but finals take on a life of their own and especially for 18 year old lads.

Cork have not won at this level since 2008 and while a defeat will not end their season, they are assured of a quarter-final spot, the opportunity to end a long wait is a huge incentive.

Clare, of course, have motivation of their own and in Diarmuid Ryan, Cian Minogue and Aidan McCarthy they have a formidable half-back line; while Tiernan Agnew, Gary Cooney, Keith White and Conor Tierney impressed in the semi-final.

This is a very good Cork side and the hurling they produced in ending Tipp’s reign as champions was top class.

Ger Collins, who is maintaining his family’s wonderful tradition of goalkeepers, is star quality; Conor O’Callaghan, Sean O’Leary Hayes – an inspiring captain – and Ger Mellerick are solid and dependable defenders.

Diarmuid Linehan is a hard-working midfielder and Daire Connery is a class hurler and they complement each other perfectly.

There is also a lot of talent in the attack. Brian Turnbull is a handful for any defender and Robert Downey is a towering full forward; while the Na Piarsaigh duo of Evan Sheehan and Craig Hanafin is dangerous and they are players who need watching.

If Cork play as good as they did against Tipp, it’s hard to see Clare being good enough to deny Denis Ring’s charges a much-needed Munster title, to get the day off to a perfect start.



With the senior team already safely into the semi-final, the intermediate team could also secure a place in the knock-out phase when they make the second of three away trips to Leinster opposition on Saturday, against Meath, in Trim at 2.30pm.

Cork are unbeaten and with Keeva McCarthy, Niamh Ni Chaoimh, Lauren Callanan, Sarah Harrington and Jennifer Barry in top form, they look to have enough to see off the challenge that Meath will offer.

See you all in Thurles – up the Rebels!

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