Waterford may only have a very slim outside chance of avoiding the Division 1 A relegation play-off but the fact that they have not managed a home win in this season’s competition is sure to be a major driving force, when they entertain Clare in the final group game in this season’s Senior Hurling League, which is scheduled for a 2.30pm start at Walsh Park on Sunday.
After suffering their only defeat in this season’s competition when going down to Wexford on Sunday last, Clare are keen to return to winning ways.
Victory on Sunday will keep them near the top and they could well be top of the table come Sunday evening, depending on other results.
Last week’s cancellation of all fixtures, due to the heavy snowfalls across the country, will have given players a welcome rest at a time of the year when they are particularly busy, especially those who were involved in colleges competitions.
The delay “has helped a little bit, in so far as Jamie Shanahan, Cathal McInerney and Paul Flanagan are closer to returning but this weekend might be too soon for them,” joint manager Donal Moloney told The Clare Champion this week.
“Shane Golden and Rory Hayes are on the road to recovery but they are still a few weeks away from a return to action,” he added.
Midfielder Colm Galvin has not trained since the Wexford game, when he was replaced before half-time, having suffered a back injury. He remains a major doubt for Sunday’s game.
Team captain Pat O’Connor is also a doubt, due to a back injury that saw him miss the game against Wexford.
Asked if he expected a strong performance from Waterford, given that they are unlikely to avoid the relegation play-off, the Clare mentor replied, “From our perspective, Waterford still have a chance.
“I think Waterford performed very well against Cork and will be keen to build on that,” he continued.
Clare are keen to return to winning ways and keep their good run going.
“We want to try and learn something new every day and the only way to do that is to put your best forward. You won’t learn anything by going out half-hearted. Waterford are always exceptionally tough to play against.”
With a quarter-final place secure, Clare may well opt to give game time to some members of the squad who have seen little action to date. Ryan Taylor, Jason McCarthy, Darragh Corry, Gearóid O’Connell, Mikey O’Neill and Diarmuid Ryan all got some time on the field in Wexford.
The Clare management may decide to give these players further opportunity to stake a claim for places in Walsh Park.
Jamie Shanahan was listed amongst the substitutes last week but did not get game time, so it’s likely that he will get an opportunity this week, while Conor McGrath is another who has seen little game time in this campaign and he may well be in the line-up this Sunday.
Tony Kelly and David Fitzgerald, who were rested last time out, following their Fitzgibbon Cup victory with UL the previous day, are likely to be included this week.
Beaten All-Ireland finalists last year, Waterford’s results in this campaign have been very disappointing and they are odds-on to be involved in the relegation play-off tie on Sunday week.
The Déise have some of the leading players in the game at present in Tadhg de Burca, Austin Gleeson, Noel Connors, the Mahony brothers, the experienced Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and their captain, Kevin Moran, to mention a few.
Michael Kearney has sparkled in this league. He has scored some impressive goals and will be keen to continue to impress manager Derek McGrath and his backroom team.
These sides will meet in Round 2 of the new-look Munster championship on May 27, when Clare will have home advantage. It will be Waterford’s first outing in the 2018 championship, as they have a bye when the first round takes place a week earlier.
Indeed, the championship meeting of the teams will mark the first of four successive weeks’ championship action for the Deise outfit.
There is some concern regarding Clare’s conversion rate in this competition, when they have been guilty of some bad wides. This is an area that they will be looking for improvement in.
The league quarter-finals will be on a home-and-away basis. Having had just two games at home so far, Clare will have a home quarter-final, provided their opponents have had more than two games at home.
Should two teams drawn to face each other in the quarter-finals have had the same number of home games to date, the venue will be decided on the toss of a coin.
By sports editor Seamus Hayes