Cyril Farrell: Clare must sort out aerial issues to reach for the stars
I was at a function for the Clare Supporters Club last week and because of their abysmal Munster record, I could sense the pressure to get the business done yesterday so there'll be great relief.
They felt they had to win and reckoned there was more to lose than Limerick and this is a massive win for them. There's been a provincial monkey on their back for far too long and they weren't going duck under the tape and have an excuse this time.
Twelve months ago they were saying they were a bit tired and jaded and that there were some injuries but they got all of that out of the way and were just focused on doing the job and they did that. They went the right way about it.
They're in a Munster final now - only Patrick Donnellan of the current squad has played in one - and that's huge for them. There was a nervousness to them with what was at stake and that led to a poor conversion rate.
They were in the positions to be far more dominant but they didn't finish them off, but at worst they are in an All-Ireland quarter-final and that's music to the ears of Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney in their first year at the helm.
There's improvement to come and it's strange to think that 3-17 was hit without Tony Kelly being among the scorers. He was very quiet by his standards, compounded by missing a late penalty, but it's a good sign that they can do that without him. In previous years that would not have been the case.
I'd be amazed if that's the case again the next day but it was great to see Shane O'Donnell back to himself. He scored 2-2 and I can't remember him putting anything like that together since his debut in the 2013 All-Ireland final replay, while Conor McGrath was the usual livewire we have become accustomed to.
There was a lot of talk about Clare going back to their traditional style but the absence of a sweeper aside, Podge Collins and Tony Kelly were still filtering back into midfield and it wasn't all change. The wheel definitely hasn't been reinvented.
Something they do have, however, is a wickedly strong panel. Cian Dillon didn't play, Brendan Bugler was an unused sub too while Cathal McInerney, Aaron Cunningham and a few other are as good as what's starting and that's a luxury that most teams don't have.
They're experienced, they're not rookies, and that could tell as the year drags on. One worry I did see, however, was their inability to win high ball, yet again. You just can't win really big games without winning primary ball, particularly from your own puck-outs.
They aren't world-beaters in that department so Andrew Fahy was trying to ping puck-outs and that's hard to consistently do when the pressure really comes on. They'll have to put in serious work or find more ball winners or some way of counter-acting that.
You can see what they're trying to do - trying to make sure the ball went into space and avoid playing high ball at all costs - but it means the opposition are going to man-mark and back themselves in the aerial battle and it's a weakness they could do without.
They'll be happy to get out with a win while not playing to their usual standards and there's loads of improvement in them which is always a positive. David Reidy and Colm Galvin were excellent in midfield while Jason McCarthy, a fella I'd know well from LIT, came in and excelled and I expect him to start in the near future. The one worrying area is their half-back line and when Limerick ran at them they looked short of legs and that'll have to be rectified.
It was a funny game in the sense that Clare always seemed to be in the driving seat but yet they always left Limerick in the game.
Limerick battled hard and stayed in the gane but it was more down to Clare's inefficiency than anything else, Clare weren't punishing them but they will have learned a lot.
I don't know if they had their best team out and the likes of Pat Ryan and Richie English will make a big push for the Qualifiers and could be included, while the absence of Diarmaid Byrnes was sorely felt.
No one will fancy playing them next and they're going to get better as the summer goes on but it will take time in Limerick. John Kiely is new and they are a side in clear transition with many U-21s stepping up to the senior ranks.
The 'off the cuff' style wasn't evident - it was a lot more structured than they were letting on in the build-up, and Paul Kinnerk would be a big advocate of the short-passing game - but that doesn't work over night. They're just not as far down the road as the likes of Clare but they fought until the end and could yet spring a surprise this summer.
Models shaping up for a classic with cats
We may be five days away from it, but Wexford and Kilkenny has been in the pipeline since the championship draw was made and you can feel the pressure cooker beginning to boil over already.
Tickets are nearly sold out and with the tighter pitch and the fans in on top of the action, it’ll be like fighting in the Coliseum.
Davy Fitz has brought Wexford on leaps and bounds already this year and the sunny south east is buzzing.
Nobody expected them to beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park during the league, particularly in the manner that they did, and that would have been a huge shock to Brian Cody’s system.
They were blown off the road and Cody won’t allow them to be bullied again. Kilkenny will be waiting and there’s talk that Michael Fennelly and Ger Aylward will be back, which would be a huge boost after an indifferent spring.
Be in no doubt that they will be ready for the battle, however, and it’s going to be a humdinger.
It’ll be a physical confrontation with heavy hits and lads in one another’s faces – let’s just say the cameramen will be kept busy.
Kilkenny are red-hot favourites, but I’m not sure if they’re being judged on what they’ve done in the past as opposed to what this side can do now and what we saw during the league campaign.
It’s strange to say it, but it’s hard to know what you’re going to get with Kilkenny right now and for once there are more questions than answers, so it’ll be interesting to see exactly what they bring to the table.
TJ Reid and Richie Hogan will be man-marked and you can be guaranteed there will be a sweeper in place, so if their threat is curbed we’ll see what sting is left in the Cats.
Wexford could edge it, but there’s always the fear that Kilkenny could go wild, and that’s what makes it so intriguing. The weekend can’t come quick enough.
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