CLARE and Cork go into their Round 2 league clash in Páirc Uí Rinn on this Saturday evening (7pm throw-in) in the knowledge that defeat for either will leave them rooted to the bottom of the Division 1 table and facing relegation.
They last played in the league two years ago at the Cork venue and, on that occasion, Clare turned in a powerful second half to record a 1-22 to 1-16 victory.
The Leesiders led by five points at half-time in that game and could have been further in front at that stage. The Banner side had 10 wides in the first half.
Goalkeeper, Patrick Kelly was one of the heroes on that occasion
Clare’s half-backs had struggled in the opening half but, after the break, Brendan Bugler, Patrick O’Connor and Pat Donnellan were superb.
The dominance of this trio, allied to excellent play from Conor Ryan at midfield, John Conlon in the half-forward line, and the continued brilliance of Colin Ryan from placed balls, turned the game in Clare’s favour in 2013.
The Leesiders fielded a strong side for last Saturday’s opener against Kilkenny. They were hotly fancied to get off to a winning start but were more comprehensively beaten by the defending champions, Kilkenny, than the final scoreline suggested.
A strong response is likely this week for what is expected to be a largely unchanged team that will feature Anthony Nash, Christopher Joyce, Aidan Walsh, Daniel Kearney, Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan.
Clare won’t know until nearer match time whether or not David McInerney and Tony Kelly will be fit to play. Both missed last week’s outing due to hamstring injuries. They, together with Jack Browne, Conor Cleary, Bobby Duggan and David Reidy from last week’s line-up, were due to play Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final ties this week and, no doubt, the management team were keeping their fingers crossed that no further injuries were picked up.
Most of those who started against Galway are expected to be retained for Saturday’s game, while it will be a surprise if Conor McGrath isn’t in the line-up from throw-in. Aaron Cunningham and Seadna Morey are also expected to get a greater amount of game time this week.
The Banner side’s defence endured a number of anxious moments against Galway and this may lead to some positional switches for Saturday’s game. Brendan Bugler may be asked to return to defensive duties from the throw-in, while Colm Galvin may well switch to his more regular midfield role.
Prior to the opening games last week, it was expected that there will be little between the teams in this campaign. With the exception of Dublin’s 10-point win over Tipperary, that proved to be the case and more close contests are expected this week.
The most recent meeting of Clare and Cork was in the semi-final of the Waterford Crystal competition in Mallow a few weeks ago, when Cork emerged with a comfortable 2-21 to 0-18 victory. Luke O’Farrell scored both Cork goals on that occasion, while Cian McCarthy at centre-forward also did well and both could start this week, having been introduced as substitutes against Kilkenny.
While Cork will enjoy home advantage, I believe that Clare can get their first points of the campaign.
By Seamus Hayes, sports editor