'It's important for us to be in a Munster final' - Podge
Across a glorious underage career, Podge Collins got used to picking up Munster medals.
Clare were rampant for much of his formative years. He won provincial medals at minor and U-21 level. It wasn't unreasonable if he expected them to go close at senior level too.
But things have panned out quite the opposite for Collins and this talented generation of Clare hurlers. Since he made his championship debut in 2012, Clare have contested six games in the Munster, winning just one.
That victory came against Waterford the quarter-final in 2013 but they'd lose next time out to Cork. And though they'd take ultimate glory later that season by turning the Rebels over, success on the home front continued to be beyond them. In the three years after their All-Ireland win, they lost consecutive Munster Championship matches to Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
It was with that poor record in mind that Clare went into this summer. The draw handed them a semi-final clash against Limerick and Collins admits there was pressure on them to arrest their poor form in the province in that game.
"There probably was a bit of pressure, we hadn't won a Munster game in so long and none of us had played in a Munster final at senior level. It goes back to '08 when we played Tipperary when we got hammered in the Gaelic Grounds for the last Munster final so it has been a long time coming. It's good to get the monkey off the back, there was a lot of pressure on the players to get over the line. So job done."
Collins went to the 2008 Munster final defeat to Tipperary and remembers only the misery of defeat. Since then Clare have struggled for traction and Collins agrees his side have something to prove when it comes to the province.
"It holds a massive significance really, it's gone so poor for us over the years and its something we are always trying to get ourselves up for so it will be a massive occasion and (one) as players we always wanted to get to.
"I'm 25 now and playing senior the last five or six years and I never got close, not even a game where we lost by a point or two. We were well beaten and knocked out of Munster so it is important for us to be in a Munster final."
Much of the Clare team have annexed a league title and an All-Ireland and Sunday's clash with Cork represents a chance for those players to complete the set of medals. And if Clare were expected to contest Sunday's final, Cork's progress to this point was much less certain.
They saw off All-Ireland champions Tipperary in their first game and followed that up with a victory over last year's All-Ireland semi-finalists Waterford to return to the Munster final for the first time in three years. But Collins insisted he isn't overly surprised by the progress they have made.
"They gave us a nice trimming in the league down in Páirc Uí Rinn and I was very impressed with their puck-outs, Anthony Nash's puck-outs were unbelievable that day. Two steps and bang its gone 80 yards into someone's hand. I got a feel for their younger lads that day Mark Coleman and (Shane) Kingston and they were flying that day and they have brought in more than that now.
"I was very impressed with them and I followed them through the league to see if we can continue that form but they have really showed it in championship."
The former dual star admitted it was difficult to watch the Clare footballers, managed by his father Colm, miss out on a chance to record a famous win over Kerry last month. However, he is happy with his decision to concentrate solely on hurling.
"Even the mental state. Do you know, no matter what you do the inter-county scene now like it's going to be five days a week, maybe four some weeks, maybe six other weeks. When you are splitting your time between the two you are not with the panel the whole time.
"You are losing that kind of a bond with the players, whether you like it or not, it's a natural thing, you are not there the whole time, and that makes it that bit tougher. When you are with the team 100pc it makes it that bit easier, just being around the lads. I find that side of it easier. I don't worry, 'Oh no, I am missing this or that', so from that side of things I am happier."
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