Nine weeks after tentatively embarking on their Munster campaign under lights in Semple Stadium, it’s fitting that the wheel has turned full circle for Clare who prepare for their eighth championship tie this evening.
That experience has already proven invaluable as Clare’s rollercoaster ride has gone from the pinnacle of dethroning All-Ireland champions Cork in their own patch to the flooring deflation of an agonising penalty shoot-out in the Munster Final against Tipperary.
It understandably took time for the players to fully purge themselves of the residual scars of that battle but there were encouraging signs that the Banner’s swagger was on the way back against Laois last time out.
Offaly also dealt comfortably with Laois in their first provincial victory since 2000 so while Clare have the momentum of eight matches in nine weeks, the Faithful County’s five week break since the Leinster Final is offset by a confidence of five successive victories that will be difficult for Clare to break.
Chief marksman Adam Screeney is undoubtedly Offaly’s talismanic figure, with his diminutive frame making him likely shadowing material for Eoghan Gunning as Clare will hope to pose more of a collective threat at the other end.
This will be Clare’s seventh different opponent and so far outside of fellow semi-finalists Tipperary and Galway, Brian O’Connell and his management team have been able to get the better of their opposite number.
The thing is that with Limerick native Leo O’Connor at the helm in Offaly, his inside knowledge of Clare, working for The Clare Champion, will be greater than any previous Leinster opponents.
After all, this is only the seventh time that Clare have faced Leinster opposition at minor championship level, with their latest victory coming in the semi-final of 2010, the last time the Banner qualified for an All-Ireland Minor decider.
Offaly’s final famine stretches back 33 years when overcoming Clare in the 1989 All-Ireland decider. It will take their Cork best and more for Clare to exact revenge and renew acquaintances with either Tipperary and Galway in the decider when no additional motivation will be required.
All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship Semi-Final (Extra-Time if Necessary)
Clare v Offaly
at FBD Semple Stadium Thurles, Friday 7.30pm
(Kevin Jordan, Tipperary)