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Kilkenny's Eoin Larkin celebrates his goal against Clare during the 2005 National Hurling League Division 1 Final in Semple Stadium, Thurles. Photograph by John Kelly

Both Clare and Cats have points to prove says legend Larkin


Former Kilkenny hurler Eoin Larkin feels both his native county and Clare have something to prove as the race for Liam MacCarthy has come down to the final four.

Larkin, who certainly knows about winning in Croke Park, having claimed eight All Ireland titles with his county, feels that Kilkenny will be keen to show that their defeats to Galway and Wexford in the round robin series were only momentary blips.

Meanwhile, he also believes that Clare will want to confirm that their performance for the first 60 minutes against Wexford was simply a hangover from the Munster final.

The James Stephens clubman argues this is the more unpredictable of the two semi finals as both sides lie just 70 minutes away from an All Ireland decider.

“It probably is the more unpredictable semi final. Clare produced a performance in the Munster final. What Clare will turn up in Croke Park though? Kilkenny are in the same boat because they were below par in Galway and lost to Wexford. It will be a cracker of a game if both teams turn up.”

“Clare have to prove that they are at that level they showed in the Munster final and that it wasn’t just a one off performance. Only time will tell but we all hope both teams will show up.”

The six time National League champion admits he has been surprised by Clare’s progression in this year’s Championship.

With Brian Lohan’s men written off by many before the Munster Championship, Larkin feels that Clare’s consistency in the provincial series can give them confidence heading to Croke Park.

“I was actually quite surprised by Clare. I didn’t see Clare going this well before the Championship. They were outstanding throughout Munster. I didn’t expect them to overturn Limerick but they pushed them right down to the wire.”

“I think the only thing that got Limerick over the line was their panel. The experience Clare got from this year’s Munster final is huge for them. They are a formidable outfit. A lot of lads will have gained huge experience from that game. They have the panel so time will tell if they can get to the levels that they did in the Munster final.”

One of the talking points from Clare’s win over Wexford was whether the cynical foul rule should have been used when Cian Nolan hauled down Lee Chin as the Wexford forward bore down on goal in the closing moments of the game.

Nolan received a yellow card for the pull down as Wexford were awarded a free in. The decision was highlighted on The Sunday Game with focus coming on the cynical foul rule.

Under this rule, a cynical foul which denies a goal scoring opportunity inside the 20-metre line and 25 metres in from either sideline should result in a penalty and black card.

Larkin feels that both camps will need to be aware that the fallout from this incident could lead referees to be placed under greater pressure to implement the rule this weekend.

“It is highly possible that it was mentioned to referees about the rule. It’s not been used in a little while. I’d say everyone nearly forgot about it. The fact that it was highlighted means it will be in the referees’ head a little more. Both sets of managers will be having that discussion over it. They will be trying to guard against it because it’s in the public eye now.”

One of the big questions heading in to Saturday’s showdown is where Kilkenny will utilise TJ Reid? With the Ballyhale Shamrocks club man usually lining out at centre forward, there are calls for him to play on the edge of the square after Clare’s defence struggled under the high ball in the opening stages against Wexford.

The former Hurler of the Year believes that there is a clear answer to where Reid should line out.

“I’ve been fairly clear on where I think TJ should be. He’s 34 years of age. I don’t think he has the legs that he used to. I think full forward is the ideal spot for him. He still has a very good hand. Him in there can cause a bit of panic. I think it’s the only place to play him.”

“Who goes centre forward then? I don’t know. I think that’s why Brian persists with TJ at centre forward. There are stages where you will definitely see TJ closer to goal so I think Brian might move him in and out of full forward.”

By the time Brian Cody’s side take to the field on Saturday evening, it will be one month since their last Championship encounter. After securing a third Leinster crown in a row the Cats have had to sit back and watch Clare line out two weeks ago.

This will be Brian Cody’s 22nd All Ireland semi final as manager with his side having won 16 of their previous 21. However, Kilkenny have lost at this stage in 2020 and ’21 after winning the Leinster Championship.

Despite seeing Clare get an extra game under their belt before heading to Croke Park, Larkin doesn’t feel the lengthy gap in between games will be a major factor in the outcome of this encounter. He also contends that Kilkenny didn’t possess the necessary strength in depth during their previous two semi final showdowns.

“I don’t think it will have a big impact. Previously it was a five week break and now it’s four weeks. That extra week can be a huge difference. It’s down to the attitude of the players on the day.”

“I know they lost the last two semi finals but was the panel good enough? I don’t think so. Hopefully this year is different. I don’t think there will be any excuses if they lose. Brian won’t have any excuses anyway.”

So, what are Larkin’s predictions for Saturday’s showdown?

“My heart is saying Kilkenny but my head is saying Clare. I’m hoping against hope that Kilkenny can find their best performance of the year. If Clare get near the level they showed in the Munster final then they could win by a couple of points. I’m still hoping Kilkenny surprise me.”

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