As I write, the anticipation of the new Covid restrictions hangs over the nation.
The distraction of GAA this past weekend has been a God send. I hope with the introduction of rapid testing, like in Wexford last week, and GAA being ultra-cautious with all its match day protocols, that we will see more. Over the coming months, with the days getting shorter and evenings darker the discussion of games around the country will be a welcome change from the constant doom and gloom. Now, more than ever, the GAA will have to play an important role, even it is does feel strange heading into a Winter championship.
In the year that was in it, I am extremely grateful that club got the opportunity to come first. I will honestly say I have watched more club games this year than any other. I am firmly of the opinion that hurling should never take over your life but I did feel a void this year when it was suddenly taken away. I was a lamb out on fresh grass when we got the go ahead again. The aches and pains disappeared all of a sudden and the joy was rekindled.
The one thing which I found was evident was the standard of club hurling around the country and how far behind Clare is in this respect. The standard of hurling in the Tipperary final was something we could only hope for currently in the Clare championship. We have some exceptional players in Clare and a raft of teams that could all beat each other on any given day, but on balance the standard of hurling is behind others. The crispness of striking, ability to take a point and overall speed of hurling was something to behold. That standard of hurling has to stand to inter county teams this year above any. Evidence of this is seen clearly in our lack of ability to really make a mark on Munster club consistently, apart obviously from Ballyea’s run to Croke Park.
This brings us to the game this weekend. I find it very hard this year to really predict anything as there are so many external factors to take into consideration. A top player at late notice could be ruled out, as even with the utmost of caution, the amateur status of the games means no protective “bubbles” and entering the working environment each day. The facts don’t look good for Clare though even from early in the year. I felt the loss of Peter Duggan was a massive blow but manageable, but when John Conlon was ruled out with injury it was a different story. Peter’s ball winning ability could have been replaced by a creative puck out strategy and Tony Kelly or David Reidy are able lieutenants for the free taking job. With John ruled out, Clare lost probably the most consistent performer in the last five years and a leader of the highest regard. He is somebody who takes twice the attention freeing up space for others to thrive in recent years and that is going to have to be replaced, which is easier said than done. With Colm Galvin and Podge Collins both unavailable this year, it means more leaders and senior players are going to have to step up.
On a positive note, the team needed a shake up this year and some of Brian’s switches earlier in the year are welcome. I always felt David McInerney was too good a hurler for full back and could be instrumental out the field as he is a real driving force. Jack Browne, I feel, can more than hold his own in the full back line and can be switched with Conor Cleary if needed also. Aidan McCarthy is also improving having seen him first hand this year, but it remains to be seen if he will recover from that hand injury in time.
Looking at Limerick, you have to say that Na Pairsigh looked very impressive in steam rolling Doon to win the Limerick championship. A lot of those players would have got John Kiely’s attention, especially Conor Boylan who looked impressive. Aaron Gillane and Graeme Mulcahy also lit up that championship which bodes well for them but there are obvious question marks regarding their full back line with injuries to Richie English and Mike Casey. Of course Sean Finn could man the full back spot but it still feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
All in all, I feel Clare will have too much ground to make up and too many leaders to replace to turn over this experienced and seasoned Limerick side. In saying that, any team with Tony Kelly in its ranks has a chance. I know one thing for certain, win or lose I will welcome the banter that comes with it Monday morning in the classroom over the border.