Thursday 20 July 2017

Banner to begin fightback in battle of Munster underachievers

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Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Tipperary 7; Cork 5; Waterford 4; Limerick 1, Clare 0. However, they attempt to camouflage it, the spread of Munster titles since the turn of the Millennium has been depressing for Limerick and utterly dismal for Clare.

And while winning the 2013 All-Ireland more than compensated for Clare's provincial drought, it doesn't solve the puzzle of why their relationship with the Munster Championship has been so icy since they last won the title in 1998.

Incredibly, Clare have won only five Munster games in the last 18 seasons, a period in which no fewer than seven managers, Ger Loughnane, Cyril Lyons, Anthony Daly, Tony Considine, Mike McNamara, Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin and Davy Fitzgerald, presided in succession.

That's the background for joint-managers Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney as they head into their first summer campaign against a Limerick team which is also under new management (John Kiely).

It wasn't supposed to be like this for Clare, whose 2013 All-Ireland win came in the middle of a U-21 treble. There was talk of empire-building and a much higher yield than the two All-Irelands won in three seasons in 1995-'97 but it didn't happen.

It's not too late, of course, since this is still a young Clare squad. Now the big question is whether the O'Connor/Moloney axis can unlock the full potential.

consistent Those who wanted rid of Davy Fitzgerald believe they can but it may not be that simple. What if 2013 was a one-off, a campaign which took on a mind of its own with little regard for what had gone before? Frankly, that may well have been the case since none of the four semi-finalists (Clare, Cork, Limerick, Dublin) have been consistent since then.

If Clare's failure to build on 2013 has left supporters bewildered, the same applies in Limerick. They won the 2013 Munster title, only to implode against Clare in the semi-final.

A year later, they recovered from losing the Munster final to push Kilkenny to the edge of breaking point in the All-Ireland semi-final before losing by two points. It was Limerick at their defiant best in a performance which raised genuine hopes of good days ahead. Three years on, they are still in 1B and seventh favourites (16/1) for the All-Ireland.

Like Clare, they have enjoyed U-21 success, winning the 2015 All-Ireland with a team that looked likely to feed a steady stream into the senior ranks.

It's a fresh beginning then for both squads under new management and a backlog of expectations. Former Limerick star Stephen McDonogh said during the week that he believed Clare had targeted tomorrow's game from the night the draw was made last October and that may have been in factor in a league campaign where a relegation play-off win over Dublin was needed to survive in 1A.

Limerick's attempt to escape from 1B came up well short, losing to Wexford and Galway in the group games, and while they raised hopes with a quarter-final win over Cork, they were well beaten by Galway in the semi-final.

"The challenge is to put in successive performances. That would be bit easier with a more mature bunch of players but it is a challenge at the moment for this particular group," said Kiely afterwards.

How much progress he and the squad have made in the intervening seven weeks remains to be seen. It will need to be quite a lot if they are to avoid defeat tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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