Clare back in the hunt
THE Banner are back and, man, is it good to see.
They bring a dash of colour to the summer. Passionate fans. Fast, strong hurling. They're never going to bring the same excitement – not to mention controversy – they brought in their 90s pomp, but in a game badly lacking real contenders, badly lacking a new story to tell, Clare's re-emergence is well worth cheering.
They bring to the table two of the most promising young defenders in the game in Brendan Bugler and David McInerney. They bring to the table some of the most exciting young forwards in the game in Tony Kelly and Darach Honan. They bring to the table a volatile manager with a distinctive way of playing the game – not to everybody's liking. They bring to the table all that underage success.
They're primed for the future, yet they needed desperately to win last Sunday. A team can only be a coming force for so long. Sooner rather than later they have to start stepping up to the plate and delivering.
Remember the great Limerick side of the noughies? The Limerick side the used three All Ireland Under 21 successes in-a-row (2000, 2001, 2002) to dominate Munster hurling and pick up a couple of victories on the first Sunday in September?
That Limerick team that-never-was is, surely, proof that nothing, absolutely nothing, can be taken for granted. Waterford took four Munster titles in the noughties without as much as a minor title in the late nineties / early noughies to sustain them. Limerick, with all their underage silverware, won nothing. That's the last thing Clare want to happen to them. Davy Fitzgeald has been very clear on that. They're a work in progress and the only way to maintain that progress is through discipline and hard work.
The favourites tag didn't burden them unduly against the Deise with that blistering start. Their dip in form following Jake Dillon's goal spoke to their inexperience. Their reaction to that in the second half spoke to their vast potential. A Munster title isn't out the question for them this year. They'll face Cork in the semi-final knowing, from the relegation play-off, that they are the better team, the finer hurlers.
With a first Munster championship victory in five years under their belts – the first ever for a significant proportion of this side – they should be in a good place for that game. It'll be another huge test of their resolve. It'll be a chance for them to qualify for a Munster final with Tipperary (assuming they defeat Limerick on Sunday) and we all know what a Clare team, with its blood up, can do to the Premier.