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Clare boss Colm Collins talks to his players

Delayed opener raises stakes for Clare footballers

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Eoin Brennan previews today’s McGrath Cup clash between Clare and Cork

After two false starts, the Clare Senior Footballers will be eager to make it third time lucky on Saturday as they finally look to kickstart their 2022 season.

A combination of Covid-19 cases and injuries prevented Waterford from fielding against the Banner last Sunday while the prevalence of the Omicron variant in the Cork squad also delayed this tie from proceeding as initially planned on Thursday evening.

It’s a scenario that will be commonplace in the first quarter of 2022 it seems as squads’ strength-in-depth will be tested. However, craving some competitive action before the commencement of the National League at home to Offaly in three week’s time, it’s important that Clare can finally get the opportunity to blow off the cobwebs on Saturday.

With little time to rearrange the Waterford tie, this will more than likely make Saturday’s latest showdown with Cork a winners-takes-all tie for a place in the McGrath Cup Final eight days later and therefore there is arguably a necessity to balance experimentation and experience.

Victory is certainly the only focus for new Cork manager Keith Ricken who will be gunning to impress the demanding Rebel public in what is his first competitive game in charge of his native county.

Having overseen two provincial and of course an All-Ireland Under 20 title (2019) in what turned out to be a hugely successful season that also included an All-Ireland Minor equivalent, this is a big step up for the St Vincent’s (Cork City) clubman.

In the opposition trench is Colm Collins who is beginning a record ninth year as manager of Clare and after back-to-back final round dalliances with Division 1, will view this year’s National League as of paramount importance to setting their stall out for the entire year.

While Clare did beat Cork in their last visit to Miltown Malbay in the McGrath Cup in 2019, the Banner need an early boost after all three championship sides (Minor, Under 20 and Senior) ended their season’s prematurely at the first hurdle in 2021.

Last year’s National League showdown saw Cork edge the battle by 0-22 to 1-18 in Cusack Park but Clare ultimately won the war as they were the ones to edge through to the Division 2 Semi-Final on score difference.

With a National League rematch to come in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in less than a months time (Saturday, February 5, at 7pm), it’s important for both sides to lay down an early marker of their intent for 2022. However, where the spoils go depends on player availability as well as how these keen rivals ultimately approach this opening evaluation.

Venue: Hennessy Memorial Park Miltown Malbay, Saturday 2pm (referee, Seamus Mulvihill, Kerry)

McGrath Cup Football
(Top team from each group to contest final)

Group 1 
Waterford v Clare (Postponed)
Clare v Cork at Hennessy Memorial Park, Miltown Malbay, Saturday 2pm
Cork v Waterford at Páirc Uí Rinn (Tuesday, January 11) 7pm

Group 2
Kerry 2-23 Limerick 0-06 at Austin Stack Park, Tralee
Limerick v Tipperary at Mick Neville Park, Rathkeale (Sunday, January 9) 2pm
Tipperary v Kerry at Dr Morris Park, Thurles (Wednesday, January 12) 7pm
 
Final (Saturday, January 15)

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