Cyril Farrell: Rebels' new-found momentum can take them to Munster peak
It wasn't in the pre-championship script but the rejuvenation of Cork has provided one of the major talking points so far in this year's fascinating race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Where has the surge in form that drove them into the Munster final come from? Will it last? Will they get better? Will they win the All-Ireland?
Okay, so that's galloping too far ahead but, at the same time, any team that beats Tipperary and Waterford has to be considered serious All-Ireland contenders.
So too must a Clare squad that won the title four years ago at a stage of their development when it was generally assumed there was a lot more to come. It didn't work out like that, certainly not up to now anyway, but they are right back in the mix and shaping up for another major effort.
It all adds up to what promises to be a fascinating Munster final between teams with contrasting styles.
Cork are playing along fairly traditional lines, although like all teams nowadays they adapt to what's put in front of them, whereas Clare haven't changed all that fundamentally from the Davy Fitzgerald days.
They may not play with a full sweeper all the time but they're not short of cover either. Lads like Podge Collins and Tony Kelly go deep quite a lot and once Clare get possession, they break in numbers. Kelly didn't have a good day against Limerick but Clare shouldn't worry about that.
He has more hurling in one finger than most lads have in their two hands so it will come right for him sooner rather than later. Besides, he's a proven big-day operator who will relish tomorrow's atmosphere.
Clare didn't get all that much credit for the win over Limerick, possibly because they were favourites and expected to come through.
It was far from the perfect performance but there were a lot of positives too, including the return to goalscoring form of Shane O'Donnell and the constant danger posed by Conor McGrath.
I'm really looking forward to seeing how they do against a Cork defence which has exceeded expectations. It was a problem area for Cork over the last few years and while they had some dodgy moments against Tipperary, they were much improved in the semi-final. Waterford's approach made it that bit easier for them but, nonetheless, you would have to be impressed by the manner they protected Anthony Nash.
The arrival of Colm Spillane and Mark Coleman on the left wing this year has certainly tightened things up.
The same goes for the left side of the attack where newcomers, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade have impressed, as has a fifth rookie, Darragh Fitzgibbon at midfield.
It has all fed into a new dynamic for Cork, who are playing with real confidence. None more so than Conor Lehane, who was outstanding against Tipp and Waterford.
Clare will have noted that and made special arrangements to ensure that he isn't afforded the same amount of time and space he got in those games.
Cork's capacity to grow quickly is well-known and no one can dispute that they are an immeasurably better side than this time last year. They might have surprised Tipperary to some degree, but Waterford knew what was coming, yet they couldn't counteract it.
Cork do the simple things well. Their ability to create space for each other is down to pure hurling craft and instinct. In actual fact, it's their wristwork and agility that makes the space, with crisp, smart deliveries which are hard for the opposition to read. Quick, accurate passing will beat any system.
Nash's puck-outs have also been very important. He hits the running target most of the time so if Clare are to limit its impact they will need to be quicker off the mark than Tipperary or Waterford were. They allowed Cork's runners to gallop into space and take possession under no great pressure.
Apart from trying to win the Munster title for the first time in 19 years, it's a massive test for the Clare squad on another front. Davy Fitz took a lot of the blame when they lost over the last few years, which absolved the players to a large degree.
There are no escape chutes now. They're under new management and will know that if they don't end the season higher than in recent years, the finger will point towards them as indeed it should. Responsibility is for everyone, not just the manager.
Kieran Kingston has done well in his second season as Cork manager. The addition of the vastly experienced John Meyler has been important too in making Cork the force they are. I have a slight fancy for them to keep the run going.
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