IT’S an indication of the standing enjoyed by the teams involved that Sunday’s National Hurling League relegation play-off between Clare and Kilkenny is to be televised live by TG4 ahead of a number of quarter-final games and ahead of a number of attractive football league ties.
Prior to the commencement of the league, few would have thought that the All-Ireland champions of the past two years, Clare and Kilkenny would now be preparing to do battle to decide who will remain in Division 1A for next season.
Kilkenny will carry the favourites’ tag. They will welcome back a number of their leading lights, who missed last week’s game due to injuries and the fact that management decided to rest some players ahead of the crucial play-off.
They were boosted on Monday when they won the toss for venue, which means that Clare must make the journey to the Marble City for the second time in seven days.
While the Noresiders can look to the return of stars such as Ritchie Hogan, Michael and Colin Fennelly, Cillian Buckley and TJ Reid, Clare are awaiting fitness reports on a number of their key players, such as Cian Dillon (vice-captain), Pat O’Connor, Colm Galvin and Conor McGrath, all of whom are troubled by injury.
They will be without Brendan Bugler, who is under suspension. The Whitegate man was sent off in the match against Dublin and as this was his second red card offence inside 12 months, he was handed a two-match ban.
O’Connor suffered a shoulder injury in that game and missed last week’s match. He is not expected to be back in action for a few more weeks. Both Galvin and McGrath were replaced late in last Sunday’s game due to hamstring injuries. Their chances of playing this week aren’t great, with Galvin’s injury thought to be more serious.
While Dillon finished last week’s tie, he is understood to be struggling to reach full fitness in time for this week’s outing.
To face Kilkenny at any time is a somewhat daunting task but to face them without some or all of those players would surely be a massive challenge.
Clare experienced defensive difficulties last week and will need to tighten up considerably in this area if they are to have a chance of springing a surprise victory.
Without so many first-choice players last week, Brian Cody’s side showed that their back-up is quite strong and players like Kevin and Mark Kelly and Jonjo Farrell are expected to push strongly for inclusion again this week.
The All-Ireland champions may well have to plan without the experienced Jackie Tyrrell, who hobbled off the field late in the game.
Davy Fitzgerald and his management team may well opt to revert to the full-back line that did so well on the way to All-Ireland glory in 2013. In fact, Domhnaill O’Donovan, David McInerney and Cian Dillon finished last week’s game as the full-back trio.
Darach Honan and David Reidy impressed when introduced last week and are also likely to press for inclusion from the start this week, while Bobby Duggan and Conor Cleary are also expected to be in contention.
Clare supporters can expect their side to put in a strong challenge. However, the strength of Paul Murphy, Kieran Joyce, the Fennellys, TJ Reid and Ritchie Hogan is expected to prove too much and send Clare down to Division 1B for next season.
The game will throw in at 2pm.