Clare v Kilkenny @ Cusack Park, Ennis, Sunday 2pm (Anthony Stapleton, Laois)
At the beginning of the league, few could have envisaged that after three rounds Clare and Kilkenny would have contrasting records, with Clare sitting at the top of the pile. But it’s been that kind of league, one where every county feels they can beat one another and so it has proved as there are only two points between top and bottom going into the final two rounds. In such a tight division, it’s clear that a pat on the back is only a few vertebrae from a kick in the backside so with everything to play for, no-one is certain of their fate.
Clare, on the back of two successive victories, will be relishing a reunion with the Cats, whom they met in last year’s National League Semi-Final. That day, Clare played reasonably well but their inexperience eventually cost them against a more clinical Kilkenny side who went on to claim both league and All-Ireland championship honours.
The Banner won’t be as naive this time around though as the team has already matured in their first season in the top flight in four years. Kilkenny themselves finally got off the mark on Monday against Waterford but with injuries still plaguing them, they are certainly nowhere near full tilt yet. Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald was in Nowlan Park to watch Brian Cody’s men on Monday and will be expected to go with a similar starting line-up to the sides that beat both Galway and Cork in the last fortnight. Kilkenny should have two-thirds of their All-Ireland winning side back for the weekend showdown that is now a must win for the Leinster side. How far Clare have come will only be known at 4pm on Sunday but with a sizeable home crowd expected for the visit of the All-Ireland champions, they will never get a better chance to take the Cat’s scalp.