Clare to prove tender years no impediment

THIS is less a game than it is tribal warfare tomorrow, two clans heading up the M7 to do battle in Croke Park. From what I’m hearing though, if it comes down to just support Limerick will have the advantage, probably the biggest crowd to ever leave the county for an All-Ireland semi-final.

Clare to prove tender years no impediment

A few months back, the great Brian Lohan said this Clare team was capable of winning an All-Ireland and was castigated a bit at the time, people saying he was putting too much pressure on such a young group of players. Brian knew what he was talking about though. He was involved with a lot of these players at underage and saw the talent.

Brian himself was part of a very young team that made the breakthrough for Clare in 1995. Typical of Lohan at that time, he didn’t worry about his age or lack of experience and he’s not worried about it now either. Clare had three or four U21s that year, Seánie McMahon was only 22, the Lohans around the same age, Anthony Daly a very young captain. The man who got the winning goal in ’95, Eamonn Taaffe, he was a teenager, only 19. None of that mattered and it didn’t either in 1999 when an even younger Cork team, with an average age of 22, ended the run in Munster of that Clare team. It didn’t matter either in 2010 when a Tipperary team with five U21s ended the run of probably the greatest team of all time, Kilkenny. And those five Tipp youngsters were probably the main men in that win.

Age isn’t a factor. If you’re good enough you’re old enough and this Clare team is certainly good enough. In fact I’d nearly go so far as to say that far from youth being an excuse for losing, it should be a reason for winning.

Clare have improved in every championship game this year, players and management. There’s great variation to their game now, definitely playing to a system and a good system. When they can go short they go short, when they have to go long, or when it’s the right thing to do, they go long.

This system suits this team. Contrary to what people are saying also, this is not a physically weak team by any means. Start in the full-back line, work your way all the way up to left-corner forward, those guys can mix it with anyone and I have no doubt, they’ll be able to stand up to Limerick.

The forwards are the ones who have really got people talking. And with good reason. Podge Collins at centre-forward, Darach Honan, Conor McGrath, John Conlon, Tony Kelly, Colin Ryan with his free-taking, they’ve all combined to put huge scores on the board, but the guy who really caught my eye is Colm Galvin in midfield, a massive influence on every game.

That said, I don’t think Clare have met a team like Limerick this year. They’re going to meet a new kind of physicality but they’re also going to meet a team of outstanding hurlers.

Start at the full-back line, Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy and Tom Condon. All strong men but also all fine athletes and all able to hurl. Tom Condon may pick up Conor McGrath – that will be some contest just as the tussle between Honan and McCarthy will be.

The Limerick wing-backs against the Clare wing-forwards will also be interesting, four guys (Colin Ryan and John Conlan, Clare, Paudie O’Brien and Gavin O’Mahony, Limerick) who know each other very well. There’ll be no love lost here though. Brendan Bugler on David Breen. That’s another one, two big strong men and each very influential in his own way for his own team. Then we go to James Ryan, centre-forward for Limerick, on Patrick Donnellan, maybe even on Conor Ryan. Who knows what Clare pull out of the bag for this one?

Busy as it will be the M7 tomorrow though, it’ll be nothing like the traffic that’s going to be around the middle of the field in Croke Park! This is going to be a hugely tactical battle but ultimately I think it will come down to the battles of the inside lines. Limerick have two flyers in the corners, Graeme Mulcahy and Seánie Tobin, Clare will be under pressure to hold them.

A winner? Just like last week’s game I find it very hard to call this. I was talking to an old Limerick warrior, Stephen McDonagh, and he says this is a special Limerick team. They’ve been out of competition though for the last five weeks and, as with Cork against Dublin in a similar situation last week, Clare might just take it.

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