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Ken Ralph with fellow selector James Moran and manager Brian Lohan. Photograph by John Kelly.

Selector Ralph looks to keep Clare momentum going

Clare selector Ken Ralph wants to build upon the current feel good factor surrounding hurling within the county.

The Clare minors, heartbreakingly denied in the Munster final on Wednesday night, has the county’s supporters excited by the talent emerging.

The U-20s will also feel they could have progressed further after losing winning hands against both Limerick and Cork.

Ralph is keen to give supporters more to shout about against the all conquering Limerick side.

“It’s brilliant that our minors reached the Munster final. It was unfortunate for the U-20s because they could just as easily have beaten both teams. There’s green shoots there and a buzz about the place so we hope that continues. You can see it in the supporters, there’s a buzz there.”

Despite dipping well below their usual standards, John Kiely’s outfit managed to secure a 3-21 to 0-23 triumph against Tipperary as late goals from substitute Conor Boylan and Aaron Gillane put an end to any notions of a shock defeat.

The Clarecastle man is keenly aware of the scale of the challenge that Clare will face this Sunday against a Limerick side who continue to find ways to win.

“Many are touting them to be the best team of all time. It is a daunting challenge but one we are excited to face.”

“No doubt they are beatable. Every team is beatable. The other thing is you could argue Tipp probably had the better of the game for 55 minutes. You could say Limerick only dominated for 15 minutes but look what they did when they were on top. They still got 3-21 so it’s a huge challenge that we are facing in to.”

Clare snuck under the radar heading in to this year’s Championship as despite being the last of the Liam MacCarthy Cup teams to cross the white line, they certainly made a telling impact, demolishing Tipperary before accounting for Cork a week later.

Brian Lohan’s men were expected to finish below Limerick, Waterford and league finalists Cork. However, Clare now stand on the precipice of qualifying for the All-Ireland series after two encouraging Semple Stadium showings.

“Most experts wouldn’t have looked too much at us. We were put as number five in Munster. We definitely didn’t view it like that.

“We are halfway through the round robin so there’s still plenty of hurling to be played. It could have been the same last year. We could have beaten both of those teams (Tipperary and Cork) so that stuck with us a small bit.”

“Tipperary played Waterford and they could have won that game. People were saying after that game that Tipp were tough and good. A week later Clare beat them and then they are no good. After the Limerick game people are back saying Tipp aren’t as bad as we thought so things change quickly.”

“We don’t get bogged down in opinions. As far as we are concerned Tipp are a good team and Cork are a good team. Limerick are an exceptional team and will be our toughest test to date.”

In six Munster games so far this year, the home side has won three games while in Leinster, less than 50 per cent of games (four out of nine) have been claimed by the side enjoying home comforts.

Ralph knows the importance of local support but also believes that players are now more equipped to handle the pressures of playing on away soil.

“I personally don’t think it makes the big difference like it used to. The world is a lot smaller. I don’t think lads mind going to Thurles. It’s great for your own fans when they have less to travel. You hope to get a bigger crowd of your own and the crowd is a big help no doubt about it but I think lads can handle it well.”

So how do Clare go about closing the gap to the reigning All Ireland champions?

“That’s the million dollar question. They (Limerick) have had a couple of high profile games with Waterford. They came close last time so we are trying to figure it out like everyone else. We will try a couple of different things and see how it goes.”

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