WITH Clare and Limerick due to meet in the last round of the new-look Munster Hurling Championship in June, it will add an “extra bit of interest” to Sunday’s National Hurling League quarter-final encounter, according to selector, Jimmy Browne.
The Clonlara man is well familiar with Limerick, as he is vice-president of Corporate Services and Capital Development at LIT and has spent a number of years as team manager with Monaleen. He has also been involved with the coaching of Harty Cup squads at Ard Scoil Rís and amongst his backroom team was Limerick man Liam Cronin, who is now part of the Clare backroom.
Ahead of the Shannonside derby, Browne acknowledges there are huge connections between the sides.
“Joe [O’Connor] and Paul [Kinnerk] have been heavily involved with a lot of the Clare players. I have been involved for the past five or six years in Limerick. While with Monaleen, Brian Geary was a key figure in the side and he is now a Limerick selector. A big chunk of the Limerick panel have played Fitzgibbon Cup with us here in LIT. Liam [Cronin] and myself have been involved with a number of the Limerick team during their time with Ard Scoil Rís. It’s brilliant and it’s a big part of the GAA but it will not impact on Sunday, because all are professional enough to know we have a job to do and that is one of the strengths of the GAA. It gives us an insight to them and it gives them an insight to us. It adds another layer to making Sunday’s game very interesting.”
This year’s league has been “very important to us in building confidence and getting performances under our belt” he added.
“The second half performances in our last two games against Wexford and Waterford were not what we wanted, or what we would have liked but the other performances showed resilience and what we are capable of. We will need a big performance on Sunday against Limerick, after what they showed against Galway in Salthill,” added Browne.
“In the context of the different championship format this year, elements of the league have been particularly important, like the management of games in relation to recovery ahead of the next outing,” he noted, adding that from a supporter’s point of view this is, “a mouth-watering tie”.
“We have used the league to learn. We have used quite a lot of players. We have modified our type of play and we set out to do that because of the new championship. There is a short time to focus on Sunday games.
“Performance is still the thing as, ultimately, performances and wins build confidence. There were certain things we were not happy with after the Wexford game and we particularly worked on those before last week’s trip to Waterford. It’s the same this week, there were aspects we know were not at the standard we need and that is the focus this week,” he said.
Whether the game is played in Ennis or Limerick isn’t an issue he believes.
“They are both superb pitches. Limerick is on our doorstep and we will get the support we need. Support was a very important component of our wins in Ennis in this campaign and we are confident we will have the support we need in Limerick on Sunday,” he added.
Clare will not finalise the starting line-up until later this week. The main concern is the fitness of midfielder Colm Galvin, who missed last week’s clash with Waterford due to a whiplash injury, which he sustained against Wexford two weeks later. That injury has kept him out of training for almost two weeks and while he did some strength and conditioning work last Thursday, joint manager Gerry O’Connor said “he was very sore after that and wasn’t named in the panel for the Waterford game”.
When the teams last clashed in the final of the Munster league in mid-January, Limerick’s superior physical strength was a key factor in their 0-16 to 0-10 win.
Reversing that result and the fact the sides will meet again on June 17, means there will be no shortage of appetite for Clare to win.
However, Limerick are unbeaten this season in both the Munster and national leagues, and will want to keep that winning run going. They put in a powerful second half performance against the All-Ireland and league champions Galway, coming from nine points in arrears to win by two and secure promotion to Division 1 A last Sunday. That win will have boosted their confidence considerably.
Limerick has achieved all their wins so far without the Na Piarsaigh contingent, due to their involvement in the All-Ireland final, which takes place on Saturday.
Sunday’s team is set to include Nickie Quaid, Declan Hannon, Diarmaid Byrnes, Dan Morrissey, Paul Browne (who captained the Munster league-winning team), Cian Lynch (who has been very influential in their games so far), Seamus Flanagan (who has been in sparkling form) and Aaron Guillane, who has been their chief scorer in this campaign.
The Clare line-up is expected to be similar to that which played Waterford. Colm Galvin, if fit, is expected to come back into the starting 15 but, otherwise, little change is expected.
Having struggled against more physical opposition in recent weeks, Clare face a big test this week. With the championship fast approaching, a third successive defeat is not something the Clare management will want.
This has all the makings of a cracking contest and the game, which throws in at 4pm, will be broadcast live on TG4.
By sports editor Seamus Hayes