IN what will be the counties’ 40th Munster championship meeting, Clare will be looking for their 24th win over Limerick on Sunday when the teams meet for the third year-in-a-row.
If Clare win, it will be their fourth successive championship win over Limerick, who operated in Division 4 of the National Football League this season, while Clare played in Division 2.
While the Banner County retained their league status, one issue encountered was lack of impact from the bench. Clare made 31 substitutions during the league but none of them managed a score in any of the seven games. At times, Clare were without some key players, which weakened their options on the bench.
The fact they have a full panel to pick from this weekend should mean that Clare will have players who can come in and impact the game in the closing 20 minutes.
Although Clare were the only county in the entire league to score a goal in every game, one aspect they will have addressed is the fact that opposition half-backs scored a combined 2-13 from play. In contrast, Clare half-backs scored just 0-3 from open play.
The half-forwards generally drift back and try to defend in numbers, when their opponents have possession. However this has allowed opposition half-backs to take advantage of the space afforded to them. A balance will have to be found between drifting back and, at the same time, meeting overlapping players much earlier.
Limerick have no major injury concerns but they are without Cian Sheehan, Cillian Fahy and Brian Donovan, who were part of their league panel. Five of Limerick’s panel are U-21 but just 15 of their 33-man squad has started a championship match.
That said, Limerick have quality forwards in Ger Collins, who returned to the panel this year, Ian Ryan and Seanie Buckley, while captain Iain Corbett, Peter Nash, Seamus O’Carroll and Danny Neville are also good footballers. Defender Johnny McCarthy is in his 13th season playing for Limerick.
At this juncture, Clare are a very experienced team who are unlikely to feature any full débutantes from the throw-in. The experience of players like Joe Hayes, Martin McMahon, Gordon Kelly, Gary Brennan, Cathal O’Connor, Seán Collins and David Tubridy is invaluable, as long as they retain the desire for these days. The fact that these players spent so many years playing Division 4 football should ensure that they will never take these days for granted.
Add in the quality and incision of players like Eoin Cleary, Jamie Malone and Keelan Sexton and Clare have a decent balance. The fact that John Hayes, Ciaran Russell, Liam Markham and Shane Brennan returned to the panel this year is very important. This is underlined by the fact that all four played central roles in the league campaign and are very likely to be handed starting spots on Sunday. With Enda Coughlan, Podge Collins, Shane Hickey, Shane McGrath and Pat Burke no longer part of the panel, the return of those four players was imperative. They were badly needed.
Limerick will not fear Clare. In fact, they will sense opportunity. Clare will have to be completely focused from the second they enter the Cusack Park dressing room. On the assumption that they will be, they will have enough to beat Limerick and move on to preparing for Kerry on June 10 or 11 in Cusack Park. They played six championship games last year for the first time ever. A win this weekend should set them up for another extended summer.
Clare v Limerick will throw-in at 3.30pm in Cusack Park, with Cormac Reilly (Meath) as referee.
By Peter O’Connell