Banner have depth to make Limerick pay for taking League lightly
Published 23/05/2015 | 02:30
A year ago, Clare went into the Munster campaign as defending All-Ireland champions, having also run a solid League campaign, even if it did end at the semi-final stage.
There was talk of the two-in-a-row and, for those who were prepared to get fully carried away, the theory that Clare had changed hurling as we knew it was also circulating.
Nonsense, of course, but then it's often the case in hurling and football (although we can probably exclude Kilkenny) that the previous year's champions are over-valued going into the following Championship. After all, every year is different.
Clare won no Championship game last year and only one of six League games this spring so, suddenly, the perception of them has altered. There's no talk now about them changing hurling.
That's the daft thing about perceptions in sport. They are formed almost totally by what has gone immediately before, ignoring the longer term, which is far more reliable. Winners get everything right, losers are always wrong.
It's an easy way to assess things, but it's completely bogus.
Clare were deserving champions in 2013, but they weren't anything special. But, just as that was the case then, they haven't been as nearly as bad now as their results of the past 13 months suggest, or as some would have you believe.
The next test centres on whether they can swing the pendulum back towards the form of July-September 2013.
I expect it to sway in that direction tomorrow, although the absence of Colm Galvin, Brendan Bugler and Podge Collins, plus the uncertainty over injuries to others, narrows the gap with Limerick to wafer-thin.
Of all the local derbies in hurling, Clare v Limerick is possibly the most intense of all, certainly in modern times when the players know each other so well from college hurling.
Even when Clare or Limerick are going especially well by comparison with the other, individual players from the so-called weaker side always fancy themselves because of their experiences at third level, where there is so much inter-mingling.
Of course, both Clare and Limerick are genuine All-Ireland contenders now, but the personal dimension between various players still applies. It can make crucial little differences.
On the broader front, tomorrow brings a real test of both sides at so many levels. Clare need to get the fluidity of 2013 back into their game, while Limerick have to prove that an erratic League did no damage.
They will point to the last two years when their Championship performances were miles better than their League efforts, but it can't be taken as a guarantee that it will continue. Anyway, why is that happening?
Limerick were very keen to get out of Division 1B this year but didn't deliver. It's easy to dismiss it on the basis that it's 'only the League', but surely the aim of every team is to achieve season-long consistency.
For proof of why that works, look no further than Kilkenny, who have always lived by that philosophy. It hasn't served them too badly, now has it?
The one certainty about tomorrow's game is that the numbers on players' backs will bear little relation to where they actually play. That will apply more to Clare than Limerick but everyone is at it now. Still, for all the tactics and formations, games are still decided by how players perform on a given day.
Clare finished the League at a higher level than Limerick, for while they were relegated from 1A, they ran Kilkenny to a point in Nowlan Park in what was one of the best games of the season so far.
The absence of some key players, plus the injury worries over others, will test their panel to the limit, but then we're told they have the deepest reservoir of all to fish from at present. Now is the time to prove it.
I think they'll do enough to book a semi-final clash with Tipperary.
In Leinster, tomorrow sees the final round of the round-robin to settle who plays Wexford and Offaly in the quarter-finals. I fancy Laois to beat Westmeath and Carlow to make home advantage count against Antrim.