Anthony Daly: The Clare lads will feel they have nothing to fear
THE die is cast. The battle lines have been drawn, the tactics planned and now it's up to the players of Cork and Clare to shape the All-Ireland final into a great game of hurling.
It is a match that I would love to have been involved in as Dublin manager, even if that would have meant facing my beloved home county and my old team-mate Davy Fitzgerald.
Fate and the sending-off of Ryan O'Dwyer in our semi-final against Cork decided otherwise. That's sport. Nothing we can do about it now.
Apart from home allegiance, as a hurling man and as a manager I look forward to a fascinating battle of wits between Davy Fitz and Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
Davy has given Cork a lot to ponder as they assess this match, because he has shown he can alter his system, and the Rebels will have noticed quite a few changes since the teams met in the Munster semi-final last June.
For a start, Patrick Donnellan stuck rigidly to his sweeper role against Galway, which was really the game that jump-started Clare in the championship. Patrick hardly moved beyond the 20-metre line in that match, whereas he played further forward against Limerick.
There's also a change in directness from Clare, and there's more fast ball being played up the field.
Full-back David McInerney and the corner-backs are not afraid to sweep out and clear the ball down 80 yards. That wasn't happening early in the year.
Then you look at the goal chances Clare failed to take against Cork the last time they met. Darach Honan in particular had three big chances – one into the side netting, one over the bar and one Anthony Nash saved, but he struck it from further out than he probably should have.
The Clare management will have assessed all that and I can envisage them telling Honan that if he gets chances like that this time, to go right in with them and give Nash no chance.
My tip, for what it's worth, is to put a few bob on Honan to score the first goal of the match. Beyond that, I feel Clare's basic recipe will be to crowd the middle, leave the space for Honan and Conor McGrath, and work the fast ball up to them.
How will Cork adapt? It remains to be seen. Brian Murphy's return will definitely help them, but I'm surprised that Tom Kenny is not playing. I thought if Cork were going to use a sweeper, then Kenny was tailor-made for the job.
He is heading towards the end of a fantastic career but he has loads of experience and could do a really good job as a sweeper.
Christopher Joyce is a good young lad, but it's early in his career and he struggled against O'Dwyer in the semi-final.
Cork did quite well against Dublin in getting some good scores off breaking ball by Patrick Cronin, and then Lorcan McLoughlin and Daniel Kearney steaming through from midfield.
Will they get away with that this time? Will Davy position his sweeper to stop that kind of thing happening?
There are so many fascinating aspects to this game, but it's a funny thing about All-Ireland finals – it often happens that the big names don't have a starring role and the unsung hero steps up to the plate.
I'm thinking of the likes of Fergie Tuohy, who popped up with four crucial points for Clare in 1995; Aidan Fogarty came good for Kilkenny in 2006 and got man of the match; Mark O'Leary for Tipp in 2001 and Walter Walsh for Kilkenny last year.
In short, anything can happen. Both teams have come into the final with plenty of momentum and through the back door, so it's all up for grabs.
Cork have the winning tradition with 30 titles, but most of the Clare lads have beaten Cork at minor and U-21 level and they will feel there's nothing to fear at Croke Park.
Incidentally, I feel it's to Clare's advantage that they will sleep in their own beds tonight and travel up to Dublin tomorrow.
Cork will be in the Burlington hotel as is their tradition, but when I was in Clare teams playing in semi-finals and finals, we always went up on the day and that worked well for us.
Brian Gavin is the referee. He's probably the best in the game and does the job using common sense.
Like any player or any manager, Brian hasn't always had the perfect match, but he's a cool character. I don't think the ref will sway the game.