Since Clare made the breakthrough in winning their first provincial U-21 hurling title in 2009, Banner teams have dominated the championship. They have won four of the last eight titles, including three-in-a-row in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Next Wednesday’s semi-final tie between Clare and Shannonside rivals Limerick will take place at the Gaelic Grounds, the first meeting of the counties at this level since the final of 2015, when Limerick were victorious.
This year’s manager, John Carmody, is happy that there is no pressure heading into next week’s game.
“A number of the players involved this year were in the team that suffered a big defeat in Waterford last year and they will want to atone for that. We are playing the All-Ireland favorites in their own back yard and we are confident that the players will perform and express themselves on the evening,” commented the Kilmaley man.
“There is a huge rivalry between the counties and form goes out the window when they meet. Last week, Limerick were favourites to win at minor level but Clare came out on top. It comes down to who wants it more. It we can stay with them in the first quarter, we will have a fighting chance of victory.”
“We have four players involved with the seniors, David Fitzgerald, Jason McCarthy, Aron Shanagher and Ian Galvin and we will wait until after the senior final before naming our team,” Carmody said.
The goalkeeping position rests between Daniel Vaughan from Tulla and Killian Nugent from O’Callaghan’s Mills. Vaughan filled the number one position for the recent Munster U-25 semi-final against the same opposition, while Carmody and his selectors were also in charge. Clare were well beaten on that occasion, when they fielded a largely U-21 team. Following that performance, some changes are likely this week.
Chasing places in the full-back line are Saran Cooley (O’Callaghan’s Mills), Dara Walsh and Conor O’Halloran (Éire Óg), Ronan Monahan (Tubber) and Evan McMahon (Feakle).
Liam O’Connor (Newmarket) has been struggling with injury and while he is showing improvement, Wednesday’s game may come a bit too soon.
Rory Hayes, Ben O’Gorman (Wolfe Tones), Michael Moloney (Éire Óg), David Fitzgerald (Inagh-Kilnamona) and Con Smith are competing for places in the half-back line.
Jason McCarthy (Inagh-Kilnamona) is likely to be at midfield, while team captain Michael O’Malley (Kilmaley), Cathal Noonan (Killanena), David Fitzgerald and Michael Moloney are also challenging for positions in this sector.
Ian Galvin and Padraic O’Loughlin (Clonlara), Colin Corbett (Tulla) and Brian Cahill (Kilmaley) are challenging for inclusion in the half-forward line, while Michael O’Malley could also be in this sector.
Martin Daly (Feakle) suffered a knee injury in a challenge game against Waterford last Friday and there are growing fears that he will be ruled out of Wednesday’s tie because of this. Clare lost that game by two points, 2-13 to 1-14.
Players competing for places in the full-forward line include Aron Shanagher (Wolfe Tones), Billy Connors (Cratloe), Mikey O’Shea (Smith O’Brien’s), Corbett and O’Loughlin.
“We have been training for this since January 1 and we are happy with the response we have got from the players. I could not have asked for any more from them. They have given a huge commitment,” according to the manager, acknowledging that this is “the only knock-out championship remaining”.
“There is a huge prize at stake. The minors and seniors have already qualified for the Munster final and it would be great to follow their lead. However, we are well aware of the task we face. I saw Limerick account for Tipperary in the first round and I was very imperessed.
“They are the favourites for the All-Ireland and they have a number of the players that have contested All-Ireland minor finals in the past few years, such as Peter Casey, Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes, who are part of their senior team at this time,” he added.
Clare will hold a light workout on this evening (Monday), after which is is expected the team to line-out against Limerick will be announced.
By Seamus Hayes sports editor