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Clare selector Ken Ralph during the warm up ahead of their Munster championship quarter final against Limerick at Thurles. Photograph by John Kelly

‘Clare have the hunger to find way past Waterford’

Champion Chatter

Following league wins over Dublin and Kilkenny, selector Ken Ralph told Ronan Judge the Clare camp is in a good position ahead of their Munster Championship opener with Waterford on Sunday.

CLARE selector Ken Ralph is in upbeat mood as he assesses Clare’s prospects against Waterford in Sunday’s Munster Hurling Championship opener.
And the Clarecastle club man says the form among players and management is of a similar vein after Clare closed out their league campaign with high scoring victories over Dublin and Kilkenny.
The winning end to what was a sprint of a league came after early defeats to Antrim and Wexford.
Ralph says there was never a sense of panic in those early weeks. Rather, management were happy with what they were seeing. Performance levels and effort were going in the right direction. The feeling was the results would follow.
“I suppose looking back at the league, we’re happy enough at how things went. You’re never totally happy. You’re always looking to improve but overall I would say we’re happy enough at how things went,” Ralph says.
“I would say in the end, the league worked out pretty well for us. We had two really good, tough games to finish off and our performances in those games were good. Obviously we started with that loss to Antrim but we were not getting too concerned about that.
“We we’re happy enough with our performance that day and against Wexford.
“We were disappointed with the result against Antrim but performance wise we were happy enough. We had talked about developing the panel. We had to give lads a chance.
“Developing a panel was a big thing for us during the league and I think we did that from start to finish. We wanted to have a look at lads and give lads the opportunity to come in an put their hands up.
“Against Wexford, we hurled really well. I thought we were good that day but obviously we were disappointed to lose. Laois, we won comfortably.
“The Dublin game was in the melting pot all the way through but I thought we were resolute and got the job done and played some really good stuff.
“The Kilkenny game? You might think you are doing well but you don’t really know until you run into Kilkenny. We were very happy not only with the result but with the performance. The panel really dug us out that day. So confidence is good at the moment.
“Things are shaping up nicely. But obviously the big question is next weekend and we’ll know a lot more after Sunday.”
Part of the plan ahead of the championship was squad development.
Ralph feels that goal of expanding the options available to management was achieved during a condensed league.
“We used, I think 32 or 33 players in the league which is going to be important going forward. We still have injuries and we will continue to have injuries as the summer goes on so having a strong panel is massive,” he says
All that preparation will be put to the test on Sunday in Thurles. Last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists look primed and ready.
Waterford knocked Clare out of the 2020 All-Ireland championship.
Ralph believes Liam Cahill’s men have improved and represent a huge challenge.
“I have a fear that they have improved from last year. They look more mature, more balanced and like a bunch of lads who really have the bit between their teeth,” he says,
“I’ve been impressed by them and I think they have improved from last year and will continue to improve the longer they are in the championship. Liam Cahill’s teams generally improve as the championship goes on and you can see that’s a hallmark of Waterford.
“Watching them against Tipp, they were really good. They could have three more goals. They were really, really moving. They have a lot of pace, power and guys who are scoring well. So yeah, it’s going to be a massive challenge. But the Munster championship always is.
“Does the game last year matter? I’m not sure that it does to be honest. You could play a team today and the following week and it could be two totally different games. Games start and they take on a life of their own.”
If Clare are to overcome Waterford, then getting maximum return from the talent that exists within the squad will be key.
Management’s faith in the players’s potential and capacity to compete with the best teams in the country is strong.
A performance packed with effort married to the kind of free scoring style that marked the final league games will be the template.
Accumulating north of 30 points is almost a pre-requisite to win against big guns in hurling’ free scoring era
Ralph has no doubt Clare have the ability and hunger to find a way.
“Brian has mentioned it a few times this year about the talent we have in Clare and what he believes the players are capable of. We have undoubtedly really, really talented players and on our day we are a match for anyone.
“The trick now is putting it all together and being ready for what is going to be a really touch challenge against Waterford,” he says,
“Every game we go out, we talk about scoring goals and not conceding goals. Some days it works out, others it doesn’t.
“We got four against Kilkenny and that is pleasing. We conceded one so the work goes on, there will always something to work on,” he added.
Clare have a number of injury worries ahead of Sunday. Aaron Fitzgerald is unlikely to be available for selection after suffering a rib injury against Kilkenny.
Ralph said David McInerney is “under pressure” to be available after being forced of early against Kilkenny in what was his comeback game. There are also doubts over Shane O’Donnell after he was injured in training.
Ralph said management are “hopeful” but “not sure” the Éire Óg man be ready to face Waterford.

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