Sunday, 25 October 2020, 11.30
In the midst of the second wave, Clare and Limerick will come blinking into the blinding light of the Munster hurling championship. The hurling community, meanwhile, will be champing at the bit for the first real heavyweight match of the year.
With a new goalkeeper in Eibhear Quilligan, and a batch of players either starting for the first time (Stephen O’Halloran, Ryan Taylor) or taking up new positions (Conor Cleary, Pat O’Connor, David Reidy, David Fitzgerald), this will in all probability be a testing and trying day for Clare at the back. As Clare rejig, one worries about the full-back line; David McInerney saddling-up beside Tony Kelly in midfield will add some attacking pep, but Peter is being robbed to pay Paul. Colm Galvin will also be missing (injured) from midfield, probably Clare’s most consistent and important player since 2013.
Image: Shane O'Donnell and Sean Finn.
Up front, without big, injured John Conlon, impish Podge Collins and the marauding Peter Duggan, Clare will start with an almost brand-new set of forwards (in their composition if not in names). Only Diarmuid Ryan and Shane O'Donnell have played in their listed positions, but one assumes Cathal Malone will play in the half-forward line despite wearing 14. O'Donnell is Clare's only gilt-edged forward, but he is not so much the Joe Canning player who can carry the unit, rather he's most effective when playing as a integrated piece of a decent forward line. In the absence of reliable support, he may be drowned out. That said, if he was to play full-forward on Dan Morrisey who isn't very experienced at full-back at the top level, it would make of an interesting duel.
Image: Dan Morrissey.
By comparison, Limerick will be highly familiar -- and daunting. They steam-rolled Clare last summer (by 18 points) without getting out of third gear, and the Clare fans may fear much worse on Sunday. The loss of two-thirds of their full-back line to injury (Mike Casey and Richie English) would gravely weaken most teams, but by shifting Dan Morrissey to full-back and bringing Barry Nash into the corner, the line looks shored-up almost entirely. No weakening of the half-back line either, with the pound-for-pound replacement of Morrissey with Paddy O'Loughlin, who looked comfortable there last summer.
Clare’s subs bench is thin and relatively untested, except from Aaron’s Cunningham and Shanagher, whereas Limerick can spring the likes of Seamus Flanagan, Darragh O'Donovan and Pat Ryan, all of whom were major contributors to the 2018 All-Ireland win.
Clare's notice management team come up against Kiely's seasoned, cutting-edge outfit that have tested and won over the past four years, growing stronger and more refined with time. In Paul Kinnerk, Limerick have arguably the best coach in the game, with an almost-extreme success rate since he got involved with the Clare Minors in 2010 and thereafter the senior team. Moreover, there's an element of "performance coach," so to speak, about Kinnerk as this teams are always not only excellently coached, but also primed and optimised for the next task.
Given the complexity of modern hurling, and the time required for coaching techniques to bed-in for performance on the big day, this Limerick team is certainly at an advanced stage of its development, while Clare under Lohan are surely only finding their feet.
Prediction: Limerick will win in one of two ways: either cantering through and giving Clare an understated beating of 7-10 points, or the floodgates will open and Clare will ship their worst beating in a long time (22+ points and potentially concede 6+ goals). In either instance, Limerick will run their machine, and it’ll hum at a consistent rate right throughout as they dismantle Clare. The extent of the beaten will come down to how far Limerick wish to go.
Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Sean Finn, Dan Morrissey, Barry Nash; Diarmaid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Paddy O'Loughlin; Cian Lynch, Will O'Donoghue; Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, Tom Morrissey; Graeme Mulcahy, Aaron Gillane, Peter Casey.
Subs: Barry Hennessy, Conor Boylan, Jerome Boylan, Adrian Breen, Ronan Connolly, Seamus Flanagan, Robbie Hanley, Darragh O'Donovan, Brian O'Grady, David Reidy, Pat Ryan.
Clare: Eibhear Quilligan; Jack Browne, Conor Cleary, Stephen O’Halloran; Seadna Morey, Patrick O’Connor, Aidan McCarthy; David McInerney, Tony Kelly; Diarmuid Ryan, David Reidy, David Fitzgerald; Ryan Taylor, Cathal Malone, Shane O’Donnell.
Subs: Donal Tuohy, Paidi Fitzpatrick, Rory Hayes, Domhnall McMahon, Aron Shanagher, Aaron Cunningham, Jason McCarthy, Gary Cooney, Colin Guilfoyle, Paul Flanagan.