I was in Mangan’s Cash & Carry during the week to pick up some stuff for the pub and it took me an age to get out of there. There’s a great scatter of GAA lads working there because it used to be run by Tom Downes from Kilmihil, and is now being managed by Johnny McMahon, a former Kilmaley hurler.
As I was going up and down the place filling my trolley with stuff, every time I turned into a different aisle I was met with a different face but the same question. “Well Dalo, what are our chances Saturday?”
I was talking so much hurling that I nearly forgot what I was there for in the first place.
When I got home, my daughter Orlaith was behind the bar and she asked me to bring in the Lucozade to stock up the shelves. It was on my list but the list went out the window with all the talk about Clare and Cork. Crates of Lucozade wasn’t the only thing I forgot. I was just lucky the Mangan’s van was passing the door the following day to drop in the stuff I’d forgot to bring with me.
The buzz is certainly back. I was swimming in the pollocks holes in Kilkee later in the week and every second person I met back there only wanted to talk about the game. The flags have gone back up, especially back here in west Clare. There’s always a carnival-type atmosphere back here anyway when the weather is this good and the coastline is flooded with people but the whole county is always rocking when the hurlers are going well. If we could win on Saturday and roll into another week where Clare would be just one more win away from an All-Ireland semi-final, the place would go bananas.
It has been a difficult few weeks up here with the minors getting annihilated by Cork, and the U20s getting well beaten by Limerick last Monday, but the seniors have really lifted everyone’s spirits, especially now as people are a little worried about a potential fourth wave of Covid-19.
Clare look to be in a great place. It’s harder to know where Cork are really at when they haven’t played in three weeks but I’m sure they used that time well and they will be fresh and sharp and ready to rock.
Clare have momentum. The players are in good form but it’s difficult to know how much last Saturday’s game will have taken out of Clare. Apart from the ferocious heat, Clare invested so much emotional energy in the match because of all the hype surrounding the Brian Lohan-Davy Fitz dynamic, and how Wexford handled the Covid outbreak after the sides league meeting in April.
There was still a lot of hurt in the squad after that incident and, along with the players’ intense loyalty to their manager, Clare felt it was a game they simply could not afford to lose.
Anytime you experience that kind of a high after victory, you have to come down again, before then having to get yourself psychologically right back up for another match within the space of a couple of days. You can say all you want about championship hurling providing all the motivation any player should need but getting that psychological balance right within the space of seven days is much trickier than it seems. Because if you’re a couple of percent off at this level, and the other crowd are right at it, the difference can be absolutely massive.
Cork didn’t exactly set the place on fire against Limerick but it was a solid performance and the mood has been steadily rising in the county since the U20s recent All-Ireland final win, which lifted an underage weight that had been sitting on Cork’s shoulders for 23 years.
The minors should rattle an All-Ireland too while the U20s had another brilliant win on Tuesday night against Tipp.
The young players on the Cork panel from that U20 All-Ireland win, especially Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett, should really profit from that experience but you don’t always need All-Ireland medals to harness the potential of good young players. One of the most pleasing aspects of Clare’s championship so far is how well some of their young players have done — Aidan McCarthy, Diarmuid Ryan, Ryan Taylor, Mark Rodgers, and Gary Cooney, fellas which would have never even won a single championship match at U20.
The way in which those guys are playing with such little fear and with so much abandon is a real tribute to Lohan and his management.
From my own experience, one of the hardest things to do as an inter-county manager is to convince fellas — especially guys who haven’t been successful at underage — that they are good enough to cut it at the top.
Another one of the most impressive aspects of how Lohan has put this team together is that players like Eibhear Quilligan, Paudie Fitzpatrick, and Aaron Fitzgerald have all been handed their debuts when they were in their mid to late 20s. Paul Flanagan, who captained the Clare minors to the 2009 All-Ireland final, has also finally nailed down a place under Lohan.
It’s even more credit to Lohan the way Flanagan is hurling alongside Rory Hayes — who has been outstanding — in the full-back line.
Clare’s sense of liberation has been even more heartening considering all the sideshows and distractions Lohan had to deal with earlier in the season. Cork have been steady under Kieran Kingston but the county always want more and the pressure is really on now with Cork on the verge of going their longest period in history without an All-Ireland.
Cork have only played four championship games in the last two years but they’ve only won one and another defeat won’t be accepted if they lose again this weekend.
Cork have made progress. Kieran has redeveloped a relatively young panel but there will be trouble if there isn’t a kick-on now.
This is a huge game for both counties but it is now make-or-break stuff for Cork. Clare have been flying out of the traps but if Cork get a good start and are five or six points up at the first water break they will go on and win.
But if Clare are ahead at half-time, I think the doubts may resurface with Cork and Clare’s recent momentum may drive them over the line.
If the going gets really tough, and Clare ask the hard questions of Cork, I’d fancy Clare to win.
The defining theme of the Galway-Waterford clash in Thurles is hurt. Both sides went into this championship with huge ambitions and intentions, with Waterford looking to build on last year’s run to the All-Ireland final, and Galway looking to pick up from where they left off last November when giving Limerick their fill of it in an All-Ireland semi-final.
The manner of how both teams bombed in their opening championship game this year was surprising but you can only imagine how much soul-searching has been done in the meantime. And this is all the more intriguing again when you’re expecting a backlash to come from both sides.
When the sides met in the league in June, the game reflected the carnival atmosphere on the nearby sun-splashed beach in Salthill, with Galway winning a high-scoring epic. It certainly won’t be as entertaining here — it can’t be with so much at stake — but you’d still expect both teams to be far more expressive and expansive from how stunted and blunted they were in those opening championship games. Both sides will be pragmatic but they still have to go for it.
I’m certainly not going to tell Shane O’Neill what to do but I’ve struggled to understand why he and his management have taken Daithí Burke out of full-back and switched him with Gearóid McInerney.
If Gearóid is good enough to play at No. 6, play him there.
If he’s not, leave him on the bench. I can understand why Galway would want Daithí driving forward from centre-back but I don’t understand why you would want that from a guy who has won a bag of All-Stars at full-back.
I’d expect Joe Canning to perform much better than he did against Dublin but he’ll have to do much more than score the 0-6 to break Henry Shefflin’s record and go top of the all-time scoring charts.
Galway will probably start Joe at full-forward and let him roam across the half-forward line.
Both teams will expect so much more from their big guns because this is an absolute monstrosity of a match for both counties — and for both managers. Waterford will benefit from last week’s game against Laois, and the additional game-time for Conor Prunty, and especially Jamie Barron, who came on in the last quarter. Waterford are a different team with Barron going well.
Liam Cahill will have Waterford hyped to the gills but I expect there to be a bigger kick in Galway — and more whip in that backlash — and for them to march on to next weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-finals.