July 22nd signals the start of the business end of the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. The quest for Liam McCarthy starts in earnest as four teams this weekend will be whittled down to two. Clare and reigning All Ireland champions Tipperary do battle in the opening quarter final at the new look Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.
This time last year, Clare were staring down the barrel of a quarter final championship exit. It was bad enough to get knocked out but to be dumped out by near neighbors Galway left a bad taste in the mouth. After a promising NHL season, something had to give and Davy Fitzgerald fell on his sword after a couple of weeks of rumor of player unrest. Player power won according to some quarters.
Fast forward twelve months on and this Clare playing panel face a defining game in their playing careers. Dual managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have arrived to the fold but the team’s performance have being a mixed bag truth be told. Yes, they did beat a Limerick side in the Munster semi-final who were their own worse enemy.
The Cork loss was one that Clare will rue; it was a game that they could have and should have won. They nullified the puck-out threat in the Cork half-forward line but their shot selection and wide count saw that Cork were always able to stave off any significant pressure during the final.
Clare management perhaps will need to carry the can on some game time selections. Oisin O’Brien was left high and dry against Alan Cadogan. The promising Clare player has had an injury plagued season and the decision to thrust him into action in such a high stakes game back fired. Cadogan had a pivotal role in the Cork victory. O’Brien will bounce back from the disappointment but it looks like his Munster final cameo has cost him a place in this week’s starting lineup.
News of the injury to David McInerney is a potential fatal blow for Clare. The Tulla man has had an excellent season. He has filled the position with poise and his ability to come forward with the sliothar and hit scores has being evident this season. Cian Dillon apparently comes into the starting lineup; a reliable replacement but Tipperary full forward line will look to move the Crusheen man around the park.
For Clare to win this contest, it will require four Clare players to be on top form. Conor Cleary needs to provide a platform for Clare defensively; set the tone early with aerial dominance. Colm Galvin in midfield needs to ask questions of Tipperary midfielder with intelligent runs off the ball to score a couple of scores. Tony Kelly needs to be a pivotal figure in open play; he has shown glimpses of his potential in the championship this year roving around the park, but he needs to consistently ask questions of the Tipperary midfield and half-back line whether to stick with him and create space inside or retreat defensively allowing for scoring opportunity to present themselves. Conor McGrath in the full forward line needs to take the mantle of chief goalscorer. His goal against Cork in the Munster SHC final was a superb effort; goals win games and McGrath must deliver.
A loss for the Clare team and the incrimination will start within the county on the merits of ousting Davy Fitzgerald last season. The new management team have a pass this season; the result this weekend is all down to the players.
Can this group of players regroup and deliver a performance to win and play in Croke Park next month; the first time potentially they will have played at headquarters since their All Ireland Hurling success of 2013. A county waits with baited breathe.
Let us be brutally honest. No disrespect to the gutsy Westmeath or shambolic Dublin but this weekend represents the first significant test for Tipperary in the championship since their early Munster exit to the hands of Cork. Little was learned in the previous two championship outings but there was signs of an upturn in fortunes.
The full back line has had a revamp. Tomas Hamill at full back is a huge call from Tipperary management which has resulted in current All Star James Barry to move to the corner back position. Donagh Maher has done little wrong in his cameos so far but this unit will be put under the cosh with the Clare full forward line containing Cunningham, McGrath and O’Donnell. An intriguing battle in this unit. Questions for the new look Tipperary full back line to answer on Saturday.
The half-back line has familiarity with Padraic and Ronan Maher filling two of the positions. Ronan Maher at half-back has produced efficient performance and Padraic Maher at wing back has provided Tipperary an attacking platform with some lovely scores in recent weeks. The other wing back role is to be confirmed. Joe O’Dwyer or Seamus Kennedy will fill the slot. Their role presumably to nullify the threat of one Tony Kelly, pressure on either player and again more questions to be answered for Tipperary defensively.
The midfield area will see Brendan Maher and Michael Breen attempt to wrestle control of the 50/50 exchanges. Maher will look to game manage and intelligently distribute. Breen will look to test Clare’s midfield defensive mindset with some lung bursting runs. His ability to score has being evident again this season, scoring heavily against Cork and Dublin in championship outings. Who from the Clare midfield will track those runs? It remains to be seen.
The half-forward line is all about Patrick Bonnar Maher. If Bonnar is on, the Tipperary forward line will be not far behind. The Lorrha Doorha clubman was excellent in his cameo against Dublin. His work rate set the tone and others followed. His unselfish nature in passing to colleagues in better positions is exemplary. His absence was keenly felt against Cork earlier in the season. Ellis had the proverbial field day; doubt if he would have had that if Maher was in opposition.
McCormack and O’Dwyer also need to provide an attacking platform for Tipperary. McCormack has to be an aerial threat for the Premier County and his work rate as well has being an asset to the side. O’Dwyer’s skillset is outrageous and if he can get time and space, the Killenaule player will destroy Clare with long range scoring. An exciting half forward line and one where Clare defensively will be tested to the maximum.
The full forward line has potency written all over. It will be interesting to see who starts at the weekend. Callanan at full forward was at his destructive best against Dublin scoring three goals. John McGrath also got in on the act and his scoring threat provides additional pressure on a Clare full back line which is unsettled to say the least. Noel McGrath will provide nous and game awareness to create scoring opportunities.
This Tipperary side have massive potential in the forward and midfield lines but questions are in the defensive side. New personnel changes have bedded in well but will they pass the test provided by Clare this weekend?
I am siding with the reigning All Ireland champions on this one. Tipperary’s confidence has increased while Clare’s has taken a knock since the Munster final loss, a game which on another day could have gone their way (Pa Horgan incident, wide count).
Clare for me need to be on top form to win this contest. They will need to score goals to win this contest and just wondering if they have the goal threat to hit two or three goals past this Tipperary outfit. I have my doubts. Clare defensively also have issues. If McInerney is out, a massive void needs to be filled. Tipperary full forward line will relish his absence. Tipperary by four points but the performance will be far from perfect.