Mentors and players from Clare and Cork are arguing that the upcoming championship clash will not influence how the teams approach Sunday’s league game but it certainly adds some spice to the mix.
Clare go into round three of the Division 1 A League on maximum points, thanks to impressive victories over Tipperary and Kilkenny, whereas Cork, after a good opening round win over Kilkenny, suffered defeat last time out in Wexford.
Another defeat this week would put the Leesiders hovering close to the relegation zone so they are expected to come to Ennis in determined form.
Clare, for their part, will want to keep their winning run going and they know victory this week will ensure their top division status for another year.
They have beaten Cork in the Munster league already this year but they lost in last season’s league and also in the Munster final back in the summer of 2017.
The team for Sunday will not be finalised until later this week but the expectation is it will be along similar lines to that which beat Kilkenny. A number of players – Tony Kelly, David Fitzgerald, Ian Galvin and Conor Cleary – have Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final action this week and all will be keeping their fingers crossed that they come through without injury.
Shooting 18 wides in Nowlan Park is something Clare expressed concern about after the game and all will be looking for an improvement in this area this week.
Conor McGrath, Niall Deasy and Ian Galvin are understood to be pressing for places in the starting line-up. McGrath was replaced at half-time in the win over Tipperary and, surprisingly, didn’t get any run out in Kilkenny, while Deasy and Galvin were introduced in the closing stages of that game.
The defence did well at the weekend and it is likely to be unchanged this week, with Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly expected to continue their midfield partnership.
While goalkeeper Patrick Collins has been quite impressive for Cork in both games to date, it is expected that Anthony Nash will return to the number one position this week. He was unavailable for their games with Kilkenny and Wexford due to his club commitments with Kanturk.
Tim O’Mahony has been impressing at centre-back and is likely to be involved again this week, as is forward Robbie O’Flynn, who has impressed in games to date in 2018.
Christopher Joyce, Eoin Cadogan, Conor O’Sullivan and Darragh Fitzgibbon are all expected to feature, while their forward line is likely to include the experience of Alan Cadogan, Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnady.
Clare will not have forgotton the damage the Leesiders’ attack did in last summer’s Munster final and the Banner men will need to step up on that performance this time out.
While both teams will have a lot more preparation under their belts when they do battle on May 20 in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship, both will be paying particular attention to Sunday’s clash with the championship game in mind.
Clare were not tipped to win any of their two league games to date but they deservingly took the honours. Despite the missed chances, they have showed they have the ability to be strong contenders for honours. With home advantage and on the back of the two wins, they will carry the favourites’ tag into Sunday’s clash
It has the ingredients for a great contest, which should bring an attendance of upwards on 10,000 to Clare headquarters.
If the Banner men can cut down on the missed chances, they have an excellent chance of extending their winning run.
By sports editor Seamus Hayes