CHAMPIONS Clare begin the first defence of their Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21HC crown in tonight’s Munster semi-final against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds and manager John Minogue is hoping his charges can lift hurling in the county after the senior side’s disappointing All-Ireland championship exit last Saturday.
“It was disappointing for the lads we had involved in that game, but at least we have a clean bill of health. There’s a couple of bruises, but nothing too serious. Our preparation hasn’t gone too bad even though our lads went training away with the seniors. We have five or six of last year’s team, and a few of the subs as well, so we’re hoping that experience will help us now.”
Limerick boss Leo O’Connor has included six of the team that featured against Offaly in last weekend’s All-Ireland SHC qualifier in his U21 starting side. In defence Cian Hayes is at left corner-back with Nicky Quaid outside him at left half-back, while Thomas O’Brien and Paul Browne start at midfield.
Minogue feels their players will benefit from the exposure to senior hurling this summer.
“The Limerick guys would’ve played a good bit of top-level hurling this summer that they might not have expected. They were very impressive against Offaly last weekend. There’ll be nothing between the teams.”
Clare stalwarts from last season like John Conlon, Caimin Morey, Darach Honan and Nicky O’Connell will be to the fore and their experience should get them over the line.
Meanwhile, Cork manager Ger Fitzgerald admits his side face a stiff task against a multi-talented Tipperary side in tonight’s other provincial U21 last four clash at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“Tipperary are an established team with lots of senior panellists. They even have a couple of All Stars so we know they are going to be very strong and that we need to perform very well. They do have senior experience and there’s no substitute for that. But I feel our players have had plenty serious hard hurling as well.
“Sometime it can be difficult to slip back to your own grade and when you analyse the results, the U21 grade can be hard to figure out. I’d actually have preferred to have had some of our lads involved with the seniors on Sunday as I feel regular games bring them on.
“But we had a good win over Waterford in the quarter-final. It wasn’t the test we had expected and I would’ve preferred a closer match. But we were very happy overall and we’re looking forward to this game now.”
The likes of William Egan, Lorcan McLoughlin, Conor O’Sullivan and Ryan Clifford were all in sparkling form for Cork against Waterford, and they’ll require a similar output here. The sense is though that Tipperary have the edge in strong defenders Padraig Maher and Michael Cahill, powerful midfielders Noel McGrath and Seamus Hennessy, and great scoring potential in Patrick Maher, John O’Dwyer and Michael Heffernan.
CLARE U21H: D Tuohy; D Nash, C Chaplin, J Gunning; N O'Connell, C Morey, P O'Connor; S Golden, P Vaughan; S Collins, J Conlon, K Heagney; D Honan, F Kennedy, C McGrath.
LIMERICK U21H: B Hennessy; B Cleary, P Begley, C Hayes; P O’Brien, P O’Loughlin, N Quaid; T O’Brien, P Browne; J O’Brien, C Madden, D Hannon; M Kiely, S Tobin, G Mulcahy.
CORK U21H: D McCarthy; S McDonnell, E Keane, C O’Sullivan; J Nagle, W Egan, L McLoughlin; S O’Farrell, D Kearney; M Collins, D Roche, M Bowles; R White, L O’Farrell, R Clifford.
TIPPERARY U21H: J Logue; K O’Gorman, J Coghlan, M Cahill; J Barry, Padraig Maher, B Maher; S Hennessy, N McGrath; D Maher, Patrick Maher, P Murphy; A Ryan, J O’Dwyer, M Heffernan.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved