The childish excitement as the team gathers before a bus journey to Thurles, the card game down the back or the quietness in the front of the bus or train.
The buzz of the crowd as you pull in to the town and head over the bridge and see the stadium. The familiarity of some of the faces you see on the way and the usual gang that awaits before you enter the dressing room. But most of all, that feeling when you enter the field and it all hits you that this means something to more than just you.
All of this was missing on what was an unusual start to the Munster championship. And unfortunately, from the couch, it came across like that.
The game was played in fits and starts with Fergal Horgan’s whistle dictating it all too frequently to my dismay. The game tried to ignite a few times in the first half but failed to hit the real physicality of championship hurling throughout.
As I said last week, any team with Tony Kelly in its ranks has a chance and how right I was for a long time in the game. That display had everything you would want from a leader of the team. I have seen it all too often at club level and have often been dumb-founded as to how to curtail him when he is in that form. His ability to find space and score at ease, as he glides across the surface, is top class. I find it difficult to select words to describe him,that have not been said already. It takes some time for a player to fully feel like they are at the peak of their powers physically and mentally in the intercounty game. All I can say is that it will be a pleasure to watch him for years to come, hopefully.
Before anyone puts the knife into the Clare performance, I think we have to remember a few things and have a sense of realism. I feel we came up against serious All Ireland contenders, trained by the best coach in the game and are in the best shape physically. Limerick seem to have an ability to wear teams down and I felt it was only a matter of time before they pulled away. Central to this is their half forward line. From experience, this is the key line. Far too often teams say to pull out the half forwards but then do not use them with short ball, which leaves them like sitting ducks in no mans land. Hegarty and Hayes especially, have the ability to take a ball with their backs to goal and draw out opposition half backs creating a lot of space. If backs hold their position, then they can strike from distance. This tactic is easier said than done, your backs have to be comfortable ball players to find that short pass through the centre of the field and your half forwards have to be phenomenal athletes. Limerick are coached to play this way because they have the key personnel to play that game and boy do they play it well. On top of this, they probably have the best panel in the championship. Their options are frightening and their subs make a real difference every game. Ten different scorers says it all.
Clare on the other hand, had a number of key issues that need attention. Our puck outs caused us a lot of difficulty and we lost 22 of our own, which is very poor return in championship hurling. In fairness to Eibhear, he tried to go short on many occasions but was pulled back by the referee. This in turn allowed Limerick to get numbers back and win a lot of breaking ball. This seemed to become more of an issue as the game unfolded and I am sure it will be discussed this week in analysis. Without John and Peter we need to commit more numbers to the break and also we need more help in the scoring stakes. I feel the game plan last Sunday was to protect our full back and not concede goals and to a certain degree I understand this with the personnel we were missing. It has been a difficult year for Brian with injuries and circumstances. I think Diarmuid Ryan will get better but is he a better back? Would this allow Pat O Connor or Jack to be more of a presence at centre back? I thought Liam Corry did well in league and club championship, would he strengthen our defence? All these questions need to be answered. David McInerney will be disappointed with his game but I can assure you, he will recover and come back stronger.
The qualifiers will allow Clare to try solve some of these issues and salvage the year. The likes of Aaron Cunnigham, Aron Shanagher and maybe Mark Rodgers as a bolter would and could give Clare a lift on the scoring stakes because as good and all as he is, we can’t expect Tony’s heroics every day unfortunately. We wait in anticipation for the draw now after next week but one thing is for sure, Clare should not be fearful as they went toe to toe with the best for long periods and will be the better for it. Lessons will be learned but improvement is needed. Brian has been forced into a lot of transition, but players and management should not accept a sharp fall down the pecking order.