Mind games beginning as Clare prepare for Shannonside derby

I was at Limerick minor training on Tuesday night when the banter began. Our strength and conditioning coach, Mikey Kiely, was involved with Limerick IT’s Fitzgibbon team and he had the story that Clare could only name 23 names for the programme early in the week. Between injury and illness, Clare reportedly couldn’t even muster a 24th body. I laughed to myself. ‘That smacks of Davy beginning the mind games early’, I said to Mikey.
Mind games beginning as Clare prepare for Shannonside derby

Tomorrow’s game is massive but both counties have always been trying to get one over on the other before a ball is even pucked. In my time, we didn’t know the Limerick players. The only time we ran into them was when we crossed swords on the pitch but the scene is so different now, with social media, and so many players going to college together. It means the mystery is harder to conceal. Still, the desperate search for any edge adds even more intrigue to a rivalry this intense.

Clare won’t have any trouble getting enough able bodies on the field but there is so much young talent in both counties now that they could both field second teams against one another and it would be a dinger of a match. Barry Nash, Richie English and Tom Morrissey have really stepped up this spring for Limerick. Conor Cleary has got an extended run with Clare while Oisín O’Brien’s form with LIT has been so impressive that he has come from nowhere into the team. He didn’t even start for the Clare U21s last year. Clare have had their difficulties in the full-back line and a springer like O’Brien could be just what they need.

Limerick would have even more options if the Na Piarsaigh players were available. TJ Ryan hasn’t ruled out the involvement of some of their players but I’d be very surprised to see any of them starting, or even having much of a role tomorrow.

Mikey Kiely’s claim does have some substance. It’s not just a complete fabrication by Davy because they are down a lot of bodies, most noticeably Tony Kelly, who is still out with an ankle injury. Jack Browne is also out. The word is that Darach Honan is injured again. Podge Collins came on last week against Kerry but it was an ideal game for Davy to give him game time. Tomorrow will be a whole different ball game and I don’t see Podge featuring.

The Park will be electric. From day one, this fixture was burned into the psyche of all Clare and Limerick supporters as the one which was going to decide the division.

You cannot underestimate the Cusack Park factor. There is no place like it for atmosphere when the Clare crowd find their voice. I know both sides of that coin. It drove us over the line so often with Clare. When Dublin lost to Clare in the 2012 qualifiers, some of the Dublin players were taken aback by the noise and surge of energy created by the Clare supporters.

Form is almost irrelevant in a game as big as this. It will be played at near championship pace. The Park will be dry, the grass cut to the bone, the ball zipping around the surface. They’re not meeting in the early stages in Munster so there will be no shadow boxing. Everything is on the line. It will be desperately tight but I think the home advantage might swing it for Clare.

With Cork already in the relegation final, I wonder will Kieran Kingston just let this game off tomorrow against Tipperary? I know that might sound counter-productive after such a positive display last week against Kilkenny but resting up some of his big players ahead of a relegation final might just be the smarter move than going all out for a result that is irrelevant.

We did that with Dublin in 2012. We were already in the relegation final and we used our last game against Waterford to try out a batch of new players who we felt might make a contribution later in the year. There was no shame in adopting that approach. We didn’t owe Galway anything by beating Waterford and having to play them again instead of the Tribesmen in the relegation final. You are where you are in the league at this stage and you don’t expect favours from anyone. In any case, whatever Kingston and Cork decide to do, and whatever level of performance they deliver, I still see Tipp reaching a higher level to guarantee them the win and that last quarter-final spot.

Derek McGrath will have been disappointed to lose to Dublin last week but he won’t have been too shocked either. They were going at a manic pace and had to lose sometime. Dublin are playing well too but Waterford won’t want to lose two games in a row now. Derek also fully appreciates that coming first or second in the group more than likely grants a quarter-final match with either Wexford or Offaly. Coming third or fourth puts you on a collision course with either Clare or Limerick.

I expect Waterford to win against a Galway side which will probably still feel deflated after failing to close out the game against Tipp six days ago. A win would have secured their safety with the head-to-head against Tipp, where their inferior points difference (-14) puts them in a very precarious position even if they do win.

Galway had a home match last week to save themselves and they couldn’t take it. It is even more disappointing given that Tipp were without Seamus Callanan, James Barry, Jason Forde, while ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer didn’t start. They have just left themselves with too much to do and are probably already mentally preparing themselves for the toss for home/away advantage for the relegation final.

The only dead-rubber tomorrow is Dublin-Kilkenny. You’d have got some odds on that after Round 1 when Dublin were trounced by Tipp but Ger Cunningham will be thrilled by the response he has got since. The younger players have really stepped up to the plate. Qualification allows Ger to experiment tomorrow with more peripheral players because Kilkenny in Nowlan Park is the ideal yardstick to see if guys are up to the job. It would be a massive boost for Dublin to win in Kilkenny but the performance is just as important in the circumstances of getting ready for a quarter-final. Kilkenny will take care of the result.

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