Sunday is judgement day noted joint Clare senior hurling manager Gerry O’Connor.
“We will be judged as a management and the players will be judged. Being absolutely honest, we have targeted this day and that brings its own pressures but so be it.
“I remember 1995 in Thurles and ’96 in the Gaelic Grounds and form went out the window on both days. Donal [Moloney] and myself have been involved in a huge amount of U-21 games and form goes out the window. It comes down to the team that is most focussed on the day and best prepared.
“Then there is the Paul Kinnerk and Joe O’Connor factor also. It’s very unusual. We have soldiered long and hard and Donal, Paul and myself have had our greatest memories from Thurles. These guys [Clare players] have grown up performing in Thurles. We expect a top-class display.”
When it was put to him that the public perception is that Clare will win, he replied that “public perception is not reality and doesn’t win games”.
O’Connor is happy with the fitness levels of the players. “We are in good shape from an injury point of view. Pat O’Connor and Conor McGrath have all played in recent weeks following injury,” he said, confirming that the team to start against Limerick will not be announced until later today (Friday).
“That’s the way we have operated. We meet on Friday, do a brief warm-up and go through some tactics and name the team.”
Asked if the challenge games against Galway and Waterford in recent weeks were of benefit, he noted, “It was very obvious that Galway and Waterford were at different stages of their preparations. Waterford are not out for another few weeks. We were not too concerned about the results. We were more concerned about what two or three players going for a particular position did”.
O’Connor said the management team has given 32 or 33 players competitive action through the Munster Senior League and National Hurling League.
“There is a feeling within the camp that all have got a fair crack of the whip,” he added.
“It is difficult to make the final selections. There is the first 15, then the first 20 and the first 26. The key thing is to explain to fellas why they didn’t make the slot and what they have to work on for the next day,” he explained.
At present, the training panel comprises 26, which means that a number of these will not make the match-day squad.
“It doesn’t matter whether this is a quarter or semi-final, as Clare and Limerick have been looking at this as a real opportunity. Both are saying that they can turn the other over. We are preparing to perform to the best of our ability.”
Both have travelled similar journeys in recent years, winning provincial and All-Ireland honours at U-21 level. The management teams that led the counties to these titles are now in charge at senior level.
“While both have transitioned well from U-21 to senior, it will still come down to the team that is mentally and physically prepared. Look at the hurling landscape, there are seven to nine teams that can give a competitive game to each other and each fancy themselves to beat each other on any given day. The team that is mentally and physically best prepared will succeed,” he concluded.
by sports editor Seamus Hayes