Sport Hurling

Monday 19 March 2018

Banner ready to seize the day

Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald

Cyril Farrell

We're heading for a Clare day. As someone who suffered twice at the hands of Cork in All-Ireland finals, I'm well aware of how risky it is to tip against them, but I believe that on this occasion they may just come up short.

Cork beat Clare by eight points in the Munster semi-final in June, but circumstances are different now. Clare have improved considerably since then, tweaking their system into the impressive force that it now is. If Clare get a good start and impose themselves on Cork, they have the capacity to win the game from the front, as they did against Limerick.

If Cork get ahead, then Clare will be facing a new test and, with a young team, you can't be sure how they will respond.

Unusually for Cork, only one player (Brian Murphy) has experience of playing in an All-Ireland senior final, so they have no advantage in that area, even if their average age is higher than Clare's. There's serious momentum behind the teams and with both able to call on strong subs' benches, the margins will be very tight.

The most important margin of all – the final result – could swing Clare's way.

Still learning the inter-county goalkeeping trade to some degree, but has the master tutor in his manager, who knows all the tricks of the trade. Clare's defensive system doesn't allow the opposition many clean close-in strikes on goal, but when it happens, Kelly is reliable.

He plays from the front, dashing out in front of his man all the time. Once he gets possession, he'll travel, lay off the ball and re-set himself for the next attack. Cork will try to trouble him by playing the ball over the top and making him turn.

Advantage: Clare

A serious candidate for Young Hurler of the Year, he is very good on the ball. He has plenty of experience of playing further out the field, giving him a good appreciation of how play will develop as he analyses it from further in. Cork may try to test him in the air to see if there's any joy there.

Troubled by a hip injury early in the year, his return had solidified the defence. He wears No 4, but like many of the Clare players, he is comfortable in a variety of positions. A steady, sensible performer, he has blossomed in this campaign.

Advantage: Clare

The All Star right half-back last year, he has blossomed under Davy Fitzgerald. A strong, forceful character, he is one of the team's leaders, a rallying point during heavy pressure phases. Imposes himself on games and loves a really tough war.

Advantage: Clare

Davy's choice as captain and a good one too, as he plays intelligently. Operating in the 'sweeper' role is not as easy as it looks as it involves shrewd reading of the game as well as making clever deliveries to set up attacks. He's good at both.

Advantage: Clare

The bloodline is good as he comes from the famous O'Connor hurling clan from Tubber. One of the new brigade (he's still only 22-years-old), he's playing with a huge sense of awareness and confidence in a defence which has grown in stature all year.

Still only 20 years of age, he's another of the Clonlara brigade who have made such a big impact. He patrols the middle third, snapping on to breaking ball everywhere and is usually good for a point or two, often at a crucial time.

Advantage: Clare

He is the defensive midfielder, dropping back towards the half-back line to add to the security rating. He is very effective in that role, but can vary his game well as the occasion demands. Good in the air, Cork will try to avoid him with their puck-outs.

Concussed against Cork in the Munster semi-final, he has been unfortunate with injuries, which have prevented him being as effective as his talents deserve. At full power, he has the range of talents to be a match winner.

Advantage: Clare

He is having an outstanding season. Quick, busy and always drawn to the action, he runs on his toes, giving him the power to accelerate from pursuers. Equally comfortable off left or right, he is always a scoring threat.

Advantage: Clare

Very few teams have ever won an All-Ireland without a reliable free-taker, but Clare need have no worries on that front while Ryan is around. His accuracy from frees has been backed up with some vital points from open play too. At home anywhere from midfield up.

Started the campaign as a sub, but forced his way into the starting 15 and has been a revelation. He has scored 0-15 from open play, so he will have figured heavily in Jimmy Barry-Murphy's team talks in recent weeks.

Advantage: Clare

Clare's game plan leaves him with a heavy workload, often largely on his own, but he relishes the challenge. His height gives him an aerial advantage over most opponents but, if anything, he's better in the ground exchanges. Still to light up the championship, but the potential to do it is there.

Recovered from injury to make a big impact on Clare's run to the final. He has scored 2-7 so far and might have hit more if he didn't sacrifice his own game for the good of the team. He typifies Clare's unity in pursuit of the common aim.

Advantage: ClareHow do Cork keep producing such excellent 'keepers? Nash is the latest, growing in stature. His accuracy with long range missiles is a massive bonus as it leaves opponents edgy about conceding frees even deep inside Cork's defensive half.

Advantage: Cork

Lost his form for a period last year, but has done better this term, although he struggled at times against Clare in the Munster semi-final. His confidence has been restored since. Clare will try to turn him rather than allow the big Glen Rovers man to drive out with the ball.

One of the best and most experienced defenders for quite a few seasons, he has it all. Good in the air and on the ground, he is also adept at dispossessing opponents.

Advantage: Cork

A slick, wristy performer, he is also the defender JBM uses as the spare man if opposition tactics leave Cork with extra cover. It's a role that doesn't suit everybody, but O'Sullivan does it well, reading play intelligently to fill the various channels.

His return after injury is a big boost for Cork, although disappointing for Tom Kenny, who loses out. Murphy will track Tony Kelly in the hope that he will be as effective as in the Munster semi-final where he did an excellent job on the young Clare flyer.

He has blossomed under increased responsibility and is now the real deal as a centre-back. His clubmates John Gardiner and Sean Og o hAilpin are no longer on the panel, but since Joyce is only 21, Na Piarsaigh look likely to be represented on the Cork panel for a long time.

Like many modern-day players he is comfortable in a number of positions. His game has expanded in line with his growing confidence since he became a regular. He is especially effective going forward.

Advantage: Cork

Outstanding against Dublin when his three points in the first quarter were important in settling Cork into a high tempo, he covers a lot of ground, usually in the attacking half. His all-go style is based on the philosophy that it's up to the opposition to worry about him, rather than the other way around.

Like McLoughlin, he applies his high-powered engine to cover a lot of ground in an attempt to set a tough agenda for the opposition. McLoughlin and Kearney are a good double act, with their running game providing a lot of energy.

Advantage: Cork

One of the finds of the season, he has made a dramatic impact in the Cork attack He has certainly put the St Ita's club on the map. It's new to the club to have a star like him, so, hopefully, for his and Cork's sake, there haven't been too many distractions.

The captain can play in a variety of positions, but wherever his travels take him, his first priority will be to use his strength in the air to good effect. Cork don't have many aerial ball winners, so it's vital for Cronin to win as much ball as possible. He has done it well so far.

A big name since he first arrived on the senior scene two years ago, his skills are sublime as he showed with that point against Dublin when he killed the ball and hit it over the bar in one movement. Expect to see him all over the Clare half.

Advantage: Cork

Cork have scored only one goal (Patrick Horgan v Dublin) so far, but O'Farrell is one of those players who could improve the strike rate. Fast and direct, he will take on the Clare defence at every opportunity.

Cork's main man in attack, he is both their reliable free-taker and top scorer from open play. His absence in the second half of the Munster final played a big part in Cork's defeat by Limerick. He's capable of delivering to maximum effect.

Advantage: Cork

A play-anywhere type, he can expect a physical battle up front. He will try to take the point of action into as many open spaces as possible in an attempt to turn the Clare defence and pressurise them as they face their own goal.

Irish Independent

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