Gerry O’Connor sizing up Clare's fortress Cusack

Clare joint-manager Gerry O’Connor has claimed the pitch in Cusack Park is bigger in size than Thurles and Croke Park.

On the fourth Sunday of this month, the Clare hurlers will play their first Munster Championship game at the Ennis venue in 21 years.

O’Connor accepts there are several preconceptions surrounding Cusack Park, but does not agree with the suggestion that it is a tight pitch.

“It’s actually bigger than Thurles and Croke Park — it’s just that the ground is so down on top of you that it feels like a smaller pitch,” the joint-manager said. “But we love playing there. And we’re used to playing there.”

Clare have not lost a championship qualifier at Cusack Park since the 2009 defeat to Galway.

And management are determined to make life similarly difficult for Waterford and Limerick in the Munster round-robin this month and next. “We deliberately targeted our two home league matches against Cork and Tipperary this spring. We wanted to turn Cusack Park into a fortress. We were very vocal in saying that to the media and players. And the players responded and the Clare supporters came out.

“We felt we played really well in those games. The old failing, though, is that we tend to flit in and out of games. The Kilkenny game was a typical example of that. We played really well for the first 25 minutes. We then went out of the game for 10 minutes and allowed Kilkenny back into it.

“If we can get that level of consistency across 75 minutes, we will be in pretty good shape. You have to target your two home games.”

Such is the close nature of the five teams in Munster, O’Connor expects the top three places to be decided either by score difference or head-to-head.

In Division 1A of this year’s league, the top four teams — Tipperary, Kilkenny, Wexford, and Clare — were separated by score difference.

“I can see a scenario developing where an awful lot of teams will be winning one and losing one. A lot of maths will have to be done at the end of the four games. Why would we think that it’s going to be straightforward in the Munster championship when it wasn’t in the National League?”

On the injury front, Oisin O’Brien has returned to his club after picking up a knee injury, while a hamstring problem will sideline Paul Flanagan for a lot of their Munster campaign.

“Oisin has a meniscus issue with his ligament. He is able to play club hurling but he would require eight weeks of rehab and a scope to actually sort him to train with us. So he’s decided to park that for the foreseeable future and concentrate on the club.”

O’Connor did confirm that forward Shane O’Donnell would be available to the Banner for the 2019 championship. The 23-year-old, having received a Fullbright Scholarship, will begin studying at Harvard University this September. He’ll return home in March of next year.

“Cian Dillon went travelling from September to March and he’s in our championship panel. These guys have banked a level of fitness and conditioning over the past number of years that they actually carry that.

“It’s not like in my day where you wintered well and you had to get into the gym to get the pounds off. These guys constantly keep their conditioning in check so that there is no real fall-back at all.”

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