Tonight the legendary Clare full-back takes his county’s minor side to Fraher Field in Dungarvan for the Munster MHC quarter-final tie at 6:30pm, and is eagerly awaiting the start of championship action.
“I’m looking forward to it now. We’ve had a good long preparation into it and it’s great to be beginning the championship. It has been difficult getting the lads together as traditionally the U-21 championship starts here in Clare on March 17. That’s hampered preparations with all the players involved with clubs.
“It’s been difficult but we’re still hopeful enough. It’s been a boost that St Caimin’s were involved for so long in the Dr Harty Cup as it’s a good level to be involved in. We don’t really know too much about Waterford but they have a pretty good record in challenge matches.”
Waterford have five survivors from last year’s side with goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe, centre-back Martin O’Neill, midfielder Phillip Mahony and attacking duo Brian O’Halloran and Paudric Mahony. Both Mahony’s and O’Keeffe were key members of De La Salle’s huge successes at colleges level in recent years, along with talented corner-forward Jake Dillon. Home advantage may be enough to shade this for Waterford.
The other quarter-final tie tonight takes place in the Gaelic Grounds between Tipperary and Limerick. The theme of former senior stars patrolling the sidelines also applies here with 2001 All-Ireland winner Mark O’Leary taking the Tipperary managerial reins.
“It’s been an interesting experience. I tried to pick up on the things when I was playing myself and put them to use. I was involved with my club Kilruane/McDonagh for a few years with a reasonable amount of success. I learned a lot over those years. Damian Young has been doing most of the coaching, he’s highly qualified and we’re delighted with the way the players have responded.”
Tipperary have four survivors from last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny with Liam Butler captaining the side from full-back, John O’Dwyer playing at centre-forward, Ruairí Gleeson featuring on the wing and Thomas Butler lining out at full-forward. In addition they can all on the services of some of the heroes from the Thurles CBS All-Ireland winning side, with keeper Paul Ryan, strong centre-back Denis Maher and sharpshooter Michael O’Brien at corner-forward.
The Ger Hegarty coached Limerick side can call upon the services of defender Brian Cleary, midfielder Niall Kennedy and forwards Kevin Downes and Cathal McNamara from last year’s team. Goalkeeper Aaron Murphy and centre-back Declan Hannon are other key figures, but Patrickswell’s Sean O’Brien is a major loss as he is ruled out with a broken hand.
It’s a difficult game to call with no form guides available but if last year’s stars and their Thurles players can shine, then Tipperary should advance.
LIMERICK (MH v Tipperary): A Murphy (Hospital-Herbertstown); B Cleary (Knockainey), N Foley (Patrickswell), N Buckley (Na Piarsaigh); P Ahern (Kilteely-Dromkeen), D Hannon (Adare), T O’Callaghan (Monagea); N Kennedy (Granagh-Ballingarry), L O’Shea (Knockainey); J Fitzgibbon (Adare), K Downes (Na Piarsaigh), B Mullins (St. Patrick’s); M Ryan (Murroe-Boher), C McNamara (Doon), W Griffin (Kildimo).
WATERFORD (MH v Clare): S O’Keeffe (Ballygunner); L Egan (Dungarvan), T Costello (Dunhill), C Looby (Cappoquin); J Dee (Portlaw), M O’Neill (Mount Sion), D Fives (Tourin); Phillip Mahony (Ballygunner), M Wyse (Passage); J Prendergast (Lismore), B O’Halloran (Clashmore), Paudric Mahony (Ballygunner); E Murphy (Dunhill), K Moore (Dungarvan), J Dillon (De La Salle)
CLARE (MH v Waterford): R Taaffe; N Purcell, K Ryan, T Purcell; C McGuane (C), P O’Connor, C Mcinerney; S O’Connor, S Golden; D Keane, E Hanrahan, G Guilfoyle; D O’Halloran, A Considine, C Mcgrath.
Subs: P Walsh, D Liddy, B Hehir, E Boyce, S O’Halloran, K O’Connell, C Ryan, C O’Donnell, P Flanagan, K Lynch, P Sheehan, K Stritch, P Collins.