Kilkenny must match Clare’s hunger

MENTION May 16, 2004 to Anthony Daly and he cringes.

Twelve months on, the Clare hurling manager is haunted by the memory of their capitulation to Waterford in the Munster SHC, a week after the Decies flopped in the League final. He calls it his "worst day" in hurling.

This afternoon, Clare met Kilkenny in the Allianz NHL Final in Thurles, yet Daly, like his team, have eyes on the horizon and a Munster SHC semi-final with either Tipperary or Limerick. But today offers an ideal preparation for the summer and a league title hasn't headed to Clare in almost 30 years. There is a certain irony in the fact that it was Justin McCarthy who inspired Waterford's championship win last May. He was the Clare coach with current selector Fr Harry Bohan the manager when the Banner won consecutive League titles in 1977 and 1978, to add to their only other success in 1946.

"Losing that game to Waterford was a nightmare, the hardest thing that ever happened me in hurling," Daly recounts. "There was so much expectation and it obviously got to the players. Looking back we as a management made mistakes, but we did try our best to warn fellows of a Waterford backlash. I got a look at one of the Waterford papers where they got a savaging. What way were they going to react to playing Clare? We had got passes for the players for the League final (in Limerick). The talk from people coming out after the game was that 'Clare wouldn't have much to fear'. That talk seeped in despite our best efforts. On the day of the game I remember looking at the parade and seeing the faces of the Waterford fellows. I could see that they were 'wired' for it. I said to (trainer) Johnny Glynn, 'we could be in trouble here.' "

En route to tomorrow's final, Clare scored a valuable win over the Decies in Dungarvan, a week after they defeated Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.

Brian Cody says he didn't learn much from their most recent meeting with Clare not that he is concerned.

"I know the reality of Clare, I know the reality of Kilkenny,'' he says. "I know the quality of both teams and there is nothing between us. We met in the quarter-final of the championship last year and both teams were flat out trying to win. It was a draw the first day and there very little in it in the replay,'' he recalled.

Daly has stressed the importance of Tony Griffin to the team on several occasions recently and is certainly glad that his studies in Canada have come to an end.

The Clare manager reserves special praise for Niall Gilligan, describing him as a "top-class forward", a view all hurling judges would readily concur with.

Clare's only hiccup was against Galway which was the week before they played Kilkenny and put things right. In turn, Kilkenny got their act together, inflicting an embarrassing 30 points defeat on Wexford (the biggest margin in 25 years of League competition) and achieving greater consistency in the second phase.

Eoin Larkin, one of the stars of James Stephens' All-Ireland club final success, has been an interesting addition to the attack and ex-minor star Richie Power is also on the panel.

More interestingly, perhaps, Tommy Walsh has been restored to the half-forward line.

It has the makings of a super game of hurling. Kilkenny and Cork may be seen as the strongest contenders for the championship, but nobody can rule out Clare, Waterford, Galway or Tipperary.

Jamesie O'Connor and Ollie Baker may have slipped into retirement, but there is an enduring strength in the side, supplied by the old guard of Davy Fitzgerald, the two Lohans, Sean McMahon, Colin Lynch (as good as ever) and the like of Gilligan and Alan Markham. And, it seems that the younger players, like Griffin and midfield star Brian O'Connell, are starting to make their marks.

Daly is every bit as driven a manager as Loughnane and if, as he states, Clare are really serious about winning, then we can expect a huge performance from them.

Potentially, Kilkenny have more to offer in attack, but it will require them to perform to the maximum of their ability and match Clare's hunger.

There's no guarantee that they will, but I have a slight preference for them.

KILKENNY: J. McGarry, J. Ryall, N. Hickey, J. Tyrell, R. Mullally, P. Barry, J.J. Delaney, B. Barry, D. Lyng, M. Comeford, E. Larkin, T. Walsh, R. Power, DJ Carey, H. Shefflin.

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