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Manager Brian Lohan and selector Ken Ralph compare notes as players conduct fitness trials at Lees Road, Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly

Banner headed north on league fact finding mission

Allianz Hurling League
Division 1 Group B Round 1
Antrim v Clare at Corrigan Park Belfast, Sunday 1pm
(Liam Gordon, Galway)

Already established as the secondary inter-county competition, this year’s Allianz Hurling League takes a even more diminishing backseat in light of the truncated season on offer over the next 14 weeks.
Instead, finding your feet, form, formation and force take precedence over results in a bid to peak for championship at the end of June.
Five matches in six weeks provide a far more beneficial lead-in to championship than in 2020 when an eight month absence from competitive action left counties scrambling to gain crumbs from an often misleading challenge match circuit once returning from the club championships.
Without scope to conclude with any business end, this year’s Division 1 is a league in its purest sense as the top team from each group are crowned joint-winners unless they subsequently clash in the championship.
Similar to Clare and Limerick’s Munster Championship meeting last October, the match would then double up as a National League Final.
The carrot for Clare over the next six weeks is to fully assess their championship options and therefore their grouping with Antrim, Dublin, Laois, Kilkenny and Wexford provide a good variety of opposition standard to be able to test themselves as well as dip into their panel options.
Experimentation certainly aided the Banner’s passage to the last six in the championship last November. And with the likes of Eibhear Quilligan, Rory Hayes, Stephen O’Halloran, Ryan Taylor, Aidan McCarthy, Colin Guilfoyle and Jason McCarthy now established regulars and the return of Colm Galvin and captain John Conlon, Clare’s pack is certainly deeper ahead of this weekend’s lift-off.
One could argue that being in Group A and facing Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, Galway and Westmeath would be a more accurate barometer of where the current squad rank. However, with squad rotation simply a prerequisite for Clare to unearth their best 15, such an expected bearpit may not be conducive to building confidence.
Even the order of fixtures appear to be favourable as the long journey aside, facing newcomers Antrim, who haven’t competed in Division 12 since 2008, this Sunday provides a worthy reintroduction to action before welcoming Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford to Cusack Park.
Subsequently, away ties in Laois and Dublin sandwich a rest weekend at the end of May before finishing with the ultimate litmus test of Brian Cody’s Kilkenny at home in the final round in Mid-June, a fortnight ahead of their revenge mission against Waterford in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship Quarter-Final.
While results won’t ultimately matter, performances will as making the most of the next six weeks could well dictate their entire season.
Darren Gleeson’s Antrim are buoyant after near perfect 2020 but how steep the step up to Division 1 and the Liam McCarthy Cup races actually are will quickly be realised this weekend as it’s survival mode first and foremost for the Ulster kingpins.

Verdict: Clare

Clare Panel (38):
John Conlon (Clonlara) (Captain); Jack Browne (Ballyea), Conor Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown), Gary Cooney (O’Callaghan’s Mills), Liam Corry (Éire Óg), Paddy Donnellan (Broadford), Aaron Fitzgerald (Éire Óg), David Fitzgerald (Inagh-Kilnamona), Paidi Fitzpatrick (Sixmilebridge), Paul Flanagan (Ballyea), Éamonn Foudy (Inagh-Kilnamona), Cian Galvin (Clarecastle), Colm Galvin (Clonlara), Ian Galvin (Clonlara), Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge), Colin Guilfoyle (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones), Ross Hayes (Crusheen), Tony Kelly (Ballyea), Darragh Lohan (Wolfe Tones), Cathal Malone (Sixmilebridge), Aidan McCarthy (Inagh-Kilnamona), Jason McCarthy (Inagh-Kilnamona), David McInerney (Tulla), Domhnall McMahon (Tubber), Stiofan McMahon (Broadford), Shane Meehan (Banner), Cian Nolan (Smith O’Brien’s), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber), Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg), Stephen O’Halloran (Clarecastle), Eibhear Quilligan (Feakle), David Reidy (Éire Óg), Mark Rodgers (Scariff), Diarmuid Ryan (Cratloe) Aron Shanagher (Wolfe Tones), Ryan Taylor (Clooney-Quin), Donal Tuohy (Crusheen)

Brian Lohan (Manager), Ken Ralph, James Moran, Sean Treacy (Hurling Coach), Shane Hassett (Sports Scientist and Strength & Conditioning Coach), Trevor Slattery (S&C Coach), Mike Carmody (Athletic Development Coach)

by Eoin Brennan

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