Clare legend Anthony Daly says the decision to grant Waterford home advantage for their Munster SHC games this summer has blown the provincial championship “wide open”.
The former Clare boss and two-time All-Ireland winning skipper was confident his county could open their Munster campaign with a win over Waterford in a neutral venue, but last week’s confirmation that Walsh Park has been given the green light to host the May 12 clash with Clare, as well as the June 6 visit of Limerick, has according to Daly, “put the cat among the pigeons”.
The ex-Dublin manager said the reality now is that joint Clare managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor would “take the hand off you” if you offered them a top-three finish in Munster.
Daly remains optimistic about Clare’s chances, generally, describing them as “as good, if not better than anybody” from midfield up, but he reckons the recent Walsh Park development was hugely significant.
“I think this whole Waterford thing has put the cat among the pigeons, completely,” said Daly. “With Clare, we’ll go down there, a cauldron, will we get 2,000 tickets? You won’t be heard anyway, because it’s a tough enough place to go to in a league game, never mind in the championship. I think that decision has really blown it wide open.
For Clare, they have Tipp and Cork in the Park (Cusack) and I would have thought then going to Limerick, which is not the worst venue for Clare logistically, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, and then play Waterford in a neutral ground. I would have thought, looking at that, Clare had the best draw, but this is after changing things on its head.
Clare took Galway to an All-Ireland semi-final replay last year and are currently second in Division 1A of the Allianz League after five games, drawing with Limerick last weekend in Ennis, but they have a game extra played than those below them.
Daly said the mood is one of optimism in the county.
“The general chit-chat in the pub — I went for an oul beer on Sunday night there, there were loads in after the match and I slipped down for an oul pint — the general thing was ‘the backs, if we can just establish the backs’. Davy McInerney has a bit of a hamstring issue, but it’s great to see Oisin O’Brien coming on and having such a role, everyone has high hopes for him.
“I think if we could just nail down one or two starters in defence, there’s probably a wing-back slot up for grabs, there’s a debate about whether Davy Mac should go out to wing-back, could Oisin do the job or Jack Browne at full?
“But we would definitely feel from midfield up — with Conlon, Duggan, Kelly, Galvin, the way Shane Golden is going, Shanagher coming back — that we’d be as good if not better than anybody.”
Daly, currently in charge of 2018 Dublin club finalists Kilmacud Crokes, admitted he felt hugely energised watching last weekend’s heavyweight contest in Ennis.
“It’s a long time since I would have said I missed playing, that seems like a dim and distant memory almost, but last Sunday was one of those days when you say, ‘Jeez, I’d love to turn back the clock and be out there’,” said Daly. “There was an edge in the air, there was an edge in the stand and though there was snow falling, the pitch was good.”
Daly described the hurling landscape as “like the 90s”, with many teams capable of bursting through to win the All-Ireland. Yet, two top Munster teams will drop out of the MacCarthy Cup race by mid-June as only three teams go through to the knockout stage.
“Munster, getting into the top three, I’d take it now,” he said. “I think Donal and Gerry would take the hand off you if you offered it, they’d love to win Munster, but they’d take the three today on the 7th of March, they’d say, ‘gimme the three, I’ll take it’. I’d say Liam Sheedy would too, I’d say John Kiely would and I’d say John Meyler and Paraic Fanning would. That’s the reality of it.”
Daly was strongly linked with a return to the Dublin hotseat following Pat Gilroy’s departure last year, but said he stepped back to allow Mattie Kenny, who eventually got the job, to battle Anthony Cunningham for the position.
“The first time I did the job, you kind of just felt it was the right time for both sides, maybe this time... like, with Mattie there, two All-Ireland club wins is incredible with a Dublin club, let’s face it, nobody would have seen that coming, it was an incredible achievement so yeah, I think he was [in line for it],” said Daly. “And Dublin seem to be going well. That was a great win against Waterford they had.”