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Munster Rivals Draw Swords In Battle For Hurling Success

clarecork

After a summer of drama, entertainment, controversy and joyous hurling we reach the pinnacle of the hurling calendar this weekend with tickets for Sunday’s battle as rare as hen’s teeth.

Few would have predicted it at the start of the year and those who did well there just liars or fortune tellers. Cork and Clare do battle this Sunday at half past three in Croke Park for the honour and privilege of being crowned All-Ireland champions and bringing home the Holy Grail that is the Liam McCarthy cup. Both teams have come this far via the back door / qualifier system but none to argue their worth of a place in Sunday’s showpiece after both teams displayed scintillating performances in their semi-final victories to advance.

Looking at Cork firstly a lot of people’s favourite for the match Sunday, won out in an epic in the semi-final against the Dubs albeit with a little help from Ryan O’Dwyer and this victory was on the back of an impressive victory of reigning champs Kilkenny. They seem to be improving as a team as the year has progressed and with old wise head and GAA legend Jimmy Barry Murphy at the helm, it’s hard to bet against them. Tradition plays a big part in GAA and Cork will hope Sunday will be no different as they look to add to their 26 titles. They make one change to the team that beat Dublin with evergreen stalwart Brian Murphy back from injury and replacing the unfortunate Tom Kenny at half-back. Something tells me Kenny may still have a part to play on Sunday. No doubt this majority of young bunch of hurlers, some who will have their first taste of an All-Ireland final at any level will be excited and nervous at the same time about the game but JBM and Co are experts at managing their players and being from Cork with that undeterred DNA they would lack confidence. Anthony Nash in goal will be pivotal as he has been all year, may it be a long range free or save he’s sure to have an impact but it’s his array and accuracy from puck-outs that separates him from the rest of the keepers in the county, this is a serious weapon Cork will use. Their defence has been outstanding all year , led by all-star in waiting Shane O’Neill and it will be further reinforced by the return of Murphy. Murphy may be deployed onto Clare’s forward star Podge Collins and may well go where he does as he will drift everywhere. Midfield will be a key battle with Kearney and McLaughlin hoping to continue their excellent form. If they edge this area it will go a long way to winning this game as a lot of the game will be played in or around the middle third of the field. Up front is really where Cork need their stars to become heroes and Sunday is their chance. Patrick Horgan is their talisman but will need help come Sunday. Harnady , O Farrell and Lehane have shown glimpses but if Cork are to win one of these will need to star.

Clare enter the game on the back of a convincing win over Limerick in the semi-final. Limerick never coped with their early intensity and movement. Clare like Cork have improved with every game and now come into this game with hopes higher than ever that this young crop of players are ready to claim the top prize. Clare fans will hope the occasion won’t get to them and for them to win this one I believe they need to get ahead early to negate any doubts that may drift in. Manager Davy Fitzgerald has been here before and will have his players ready and primed. The week will have been spent down in Clare priming these players both mentally and physically. They will be ready. Defensively they have been outstanding for most parts of the year with the occasional blip here and there. Unlike Cork they do look suspect to goals at times. In saying that this is an area they have worked tirelessly on and performances of late shows that with David McInerney a cert for an All-Star and ably assisted by Brendan Bugler, Morey and Co. Their job will be to hound and harass the Cork forwards , most notably Horgan and Davy will want every shot a shot under pressure. Midfield duo of Galvin and Ryan will be involved in an enthralling battle with Kearney and McLaughlin but the influence of Tony Kelly dropping back may shade it for them. Up front a lot pivots off the meandering runs and movement of Podge Collins allowing space for the others. It will be Clare’s intention to create as much movement as possible a game plan that’s hardly a secret now. Cork coped with this back in June but Clare has taken large steps in developing this since and will hope to edge it. Expect scenes of craziness and utter madness on the line from Davy against them of calmness personified from JBM another fascinating side-show to Sunday’s main event.

It’s going to be very tight. It’s a very hard game to call. Clare are playing with a huge amount of confidence over the last couple of games they’ve come through. They look like a team that plays to a game plan that has worked very well for them. If Cork don’t do anything to counteract the spare man dropping back in front of the full-back line I think they’ll be in trouble. They have some good subs to come in as well. That might be enough to see them over the line.

I honestly think Clare will win; there is so much discussion about tactics but I think Clare have the best hurlers and Croke Park was made for them. A young team can be oblivious to the occasion or they can get swamped up in it but I fancy Clare. Roll on Sunday.

Also a quick mention goes to both minors teams on Sunday , Galway and especially Waterford in their first minor final in donkeys years that will hopefully be the boost the county needs. I hope a big crowd comes in early to watch what will surely be a great game.

Image courtesy of RTE.ie

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