Cyril Farrell: Time has come for Davy Fitz and Banner to make a statement
THERE comes a time in the development of every squad when they have to make a real statement about themselves as individuals, what they stand for as a group and what the combination of both has done for them.
For Clare hurlers, that day is tomorrow. Coming off a bad run in the Munster championship, another defeat would be just more of the same – out of the provincials in the first round and trying to revive themselves via the qualifiers. That hasn't gone well either in recent years.
Still, the bare statistics don't tell the full story. This, after all, is a new-look squad with a manager who is in his second season in charge. Davy Fitzgerald bears no responsibility for what happened before last year and neither do most of the players, as they weren't aboard then.
However, Fitzy and the team are accountable for how they perform tomorrow. It's a day when Clare have to say to themselves: "Whatever Waterford throw at us, we'll work our way through it; we've got to make a statement this time."
In terms of hitting confidence, defeat would do more damage to Clare than Waterford.
Clare need to make a break, whereas Waterford have a solid record in Munster, so even if they were to lose tomorrow, it wouldn't necessarily disrupt them too much – provided, of course, they didn't draw the hardest route through the qualifiers.
Of course, this is still a very important game for Waterford. They, too, are re-building and have included a lot of young talent, but I don't believe that losing would set them back as far as it would Clare.
Fitzy knows that, so you can expect Clare to play with furious intensity. He has changed their style of play into a possession game with players running off each other into space at pace and this is where their young energetic players can come to the fore.
When it works well, it's most effective, but when it breaks down Clare are susceptible to the counter-attack. The really good teams will exploit that.
Tony Kelly will be a key performer for Clare. He's a great young talent who covers loads of ground in the middle third, often helping himself to excellent long range scorers.
Picked at centre-forward, that would put him up against Michael 'Brick' Walsh, possibly the best centre-back in the game, so I'd expect Kelly to go on his travels rather than get into a one-on-one war. 'Brick' will hold the centre, irrespective of where Kelly goes.
Waterford are mixing the young and the experienced quite nicely too, although some of it has been forced on Michael Ryan by injury and unavailability. He is doing a fine job in a county that's always being written off, but who are never a write-off.
I'd expect them to have a major impact on the season later on through the qualifiers. However, for the sake of Banner sanity, Clare just have to win tomorrow.
Great to see Cody back where he belongs
IT'S good to see Brian Cody back on duty with Kilkenny, even if the opposition might not agree.
The Kilkenny sideline looked empty without him in the league semi-final and final, but, typical of the set-up, the show went on as usual and another title was landed.
Cody's contribution to hurling cannot be overestimated. Kilkenny have broken more hearts during his term in charge than the rest of the hurling world cares to remember, but they have also set new standards.
And while others have found them difficult to reach, new heights are good for any game. Cody has done more than his share to make that happen.