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Crucial opener in Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Wednesday, 16th May, 2018 4:27pm

It was an interesting start to the hurling championship in Leinster last weekend - as expected Galway won easily in Tullamore, and Kilkenny did what Kilkenny always do - get a result in Parnell Park.

The focus switches to Munster this weekend, and in particular Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which hosts a first Munster Championship match in the new stadium and a first ever Cork vs Clare clash on Leeside.

In the last 13 Championship meetings between the teams, Cork have won 11, while the other 2 were the draw and replay of the 2013 All-Ireland Final - an amazing stat.

Given the format, it's essential teams make the most of home advantage and that could be an important factor as this championship evolves over the next five weeks.

Waterford, of course, are the big losers with no home game because Walsh Park is not up to the required standard, how will that impact on them?

Cork manager John Meyler made that point recently: “We really need the Cork support to get behind the team, just like they did last season, that is crucial.”

Equally Clare boss Gerry O’Connor thinks, or at least hopes, playing at home might not suit Cork: “There is extra pressure to win your home games, and going to Páirc Uí Chaoimh might just suit us, as Cork will be fancied to win.”

Both managers did stress though that the format presents huge challenges.

Meyler said: “It challenges everyone, players, selectors, county board, and most importantly strength and conditioning, as it’s week on week, getting the players ready for the schedule of matches.”

Clare’s O’Connor acknowledged that during the league, which had a similar format, that they tried varying degrees of recovery. “We'd go for pool session on Monday or Tuesday and then tailored our training accordingly, the only difference will be the weather, winter hurling against summer hurling, time will tell if we got it right.”

That said, both managers are really looking forward to what should be a compelling championship, with any one of the five counties capable of winning, as Cork proved last year, when no one really expected them to triumph.

Meyler was also pleased with how the league campaign finished, although he would have liked more games. “It was good and bad; we found a few players but I really would have liked another game or two, but overall happy and pleased to retain our Division 1A status and we're going into this game on the back of a win.”

The sides last met in the league and Clare were comfortable winners, based on an excellent first half display. Cork were much better in the second period and could have won had they been a bit more clinical in front of goal.

The other lesson from that game is that Cork must not allow Clare build any momentum as they are difficult to reel in.

There is a lot of quality in this Clare side but they have not really kicked on since their All-Ireland win in 2013.

Goalkeeper Donal Touhy is a competent player as are defenders Conor Cleary and David McInerney. Tony Kelly seems to have recaptured his form that previously made him hurler of the year and he will need to be curbed as he makes this team tick, and is well able to score, with assistance in midfield from Colm Galvin.

Clare’s attack centres around their key players in Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell and John Conlon; these three can be very effective if not closely marked.

Cork, of course, enter this game as defending Munster champions, injury rules out Tim O’Mahoney and almost certainly Alan Cadogan, and the latter’s absence from the attack will please Clare as on his day he is extremely difficult to contain.

Captain Seamus Harnedy is ready for the challenge and the competitive nature of the Munster Championship. “It’s a great championship and every game is vital, especially the first one, you need to get off to the best possible start and build momentum for the remaining matches.”

The St Ita’s clubman is delighted that the players showed good form with their clubs in the County Championship. “It was great really, everyone seemed to play well which means that when the selectors sit down to pick the team there will be competition for places which is the way it should be.”

Harnedy, like all, is relishing playing in front of home support: “It’s great to be playing at home and hopefully, and I know they will, the crowd will get behind us, it would be a big help.”

The composition of the Cork team will see little change from last year, apart from the guys that are not available for a variety of reasons, and the only debutant looks likely to be Inniscarra’s Sean O’Donoghue who had a solid league campaign.

Anthony Nash will be fronted by, among others, Colm Spillane, Mark Ellis, Damien Cahalane and Mark Coleman, while the anticipated midfield pairing will be Darragh Fitzgibbon and Bill Cooper.

Certain to be included in attack are Harnedy, Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Luke Meade with Dean Brosnan, Michael Cahalane, Robbie O’Flynn, Daniel Kearney and Shane Kingston all contenders for the remaining places.

There would appear to be a nice balance to the Cork 15, but a concentrated and consistent 70 minutes will be required, and if, as I expect they will, the defence cope with the Clare attack, there is enough firepower in the Cork forwards to garner the scores needed for victory.

Midfield will also be key and Cork will need to contain Tony Kelly, and of course, Clare’s style of play is well documented and Cork will have planned accordingly.

It’s a huge game in terms of the group and the importance of winning will not be lost on players and management of both sides, and with Tipperary in Thurles for Cork a week later, the home sides need might be greater and that should help get them over the line.

Finally, what has been interesting is the low-key build up, and I understand it’s the same in Clare, and the attendance on Sunday will be a clear indication whether the round-robin appeals to the supporters or would they prefer the more traditional knockout format?

Whatever the format, or the attendance, Cork to win.

The curtain raiser is also Cork vs Clare in the Minor Championship, and with this being played in the same format as the Senior Championship, it will also prove testing for all involved and Cork are favourites to get their campaign off to a winning start.

Both games are live on C103.

 

Elsewhere

There is a host of games in the first round of the Under 21 Championship and a couple of standout matches including the clash of Bishopstown and Castlehaven, St Finbarrs vs Éire Óg, and Carrigaline vs Carbery Rangers.

In the Intermediate Hurling Championship, Dungourney play Milford on Saturday, venue to be confirmed later.

Cork play Kerry in the Munster Junior Camogie Final which is being played in Kilmallock on Sunday at 5.30pm, which I find extraordinary with the Cork hurlers playing, surely those charged with making this fixture would have had the foresight to avoid a clash.

The second game in the Munster Senior Championship sees Tipperary and Limerick meeting in the Gaelic Grounds at 2pm and this is just as intriguing a contest as the game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

They met in the league semi-final, which Tipp won after extra-time, before going under to Kilkenny in the final and have always found Limerick difficult opposition, especially in the Gaelic Grounds.

Limerick are putting a lot of faith in the bulk of their All-Ireland Under 21 winning team and could shock Michael Ryan’s men.

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