YOU’RE always nervous about a Munster championship match, no matter who you are playing. I was definitely more nervous as a manager than when I was a player, but there were always some nerves.
Funnily enough the worst would be the early rounds, the first matches, not the finals usually, because by reaching the Munster final it meant things were going well and there was less to be nervous about. First round matches though, there would always be an element of uncertainty about how a team, usually with a few new players, would go. In those days the league was no guide whatsoever to championship.
I well remember 1994 and the Munster semi-final against Kerry. We had beaten Tipperary a few weeks before and that was one of the most important games we’ve ever won. Tipp had destroyed us in the Munster final the year before and we lost John Moroney that winter. Of all the games I have ever played with Clare, that was one we just could not lose. We couldn’t. And we didn’t thank God.
That put us through to a semi-final with Kerry in Tralee, a team that everyone was writing off. I was as nervous before that match. And with good reason. We won but they made us work for it. We’ll forget about what came after that!
But the point about nerves should not be lost. I’ve been involved with a lot of teams, playing and on the sideline, it is a very rare day that you run out on the field absolutely certain about the performance your team will give. You can do the best of preparation, look great in challenge matches and feel the mood is good in the camp, then bang, from nowhere, a flat performance. Or worse, run into a team that clicks from the off and you never get out of the gates. That’s hurling and that happens.
That’s why the start we get on Sunday will be crucial. The sooner we settle, the sooner we start playing our game, the better we will be.
I believe in this team. I know the talent we have in the squad and I would be very confident the future of Clare hurling is as bright as everyone says it is. Deciding the day all of that happens is not an exact science however.
Right, that’s the health warning out of the way. I think we’ll win!
We played Clare in their last challenge match in Boherlahan, outside Cashel last Thursday night. Or was it Fermoy, or Silvermines? I heard it was on in at least four different venues! Anyway it was a good game played behind closed doors, there was a spark to it and I was impressed with how Clare were shaping up. We both took a lot out of it.
With the National League for Dublin this year, I hadn’t seen that much of Clare up close but I saw plenty of them last Thursday night. I definitely think we’re a better team than last year. The extra year has helped.
I spoke to him afterwards on Thursday night and we were both happy enough with how things are going. I know him a long time, he had that championship look to him!
Waiting for us are Waterford and they’re a team you could only have massive respect for. They’ve had our number too for the last few years. Losing a player the quality of John Mullane, they didn’t bat an eyelid in the league and were the only team safe from relegation with a game to go. Stephen Molumphy (he’s as big a loss as Mullane) and young Daniels are also gone from them and they’re losses too, but you’d have to be impressed by the way they have gone about their business since.
Brick Walsh is their most important player and very few teams find a way to nullify him. Kevin Moran is another championship performer and Seamus Prendergast is the other experienced head in their line-up. Those three are rocks we have perished on before, we need to deal with them before we can think about winning the match.
We have the players equipped for the job. In Tony Kelly, John Conlon and Colm Galvin I expect that trio to be prominent in the middle third of the field and that’s where we have to get on top.
I’m happy with how we are defensively. Young David McInerney is some addition and from our goalie Pat Kelly out to Bugs, Pat Donnellan and Pat O’Connor, I think we’ll do well. Up front young Shane O’Donnell is another player that could explode in the championship, hard to believe he isn’t 19 for another few weeks. The same is true of Peter Duggan, a player to look out for. We also have Conor McGrath and Darach Honan around the inside line and fully fit, they are a handful for any full backline. In fact looking at what I think will start on Sunday, we have speed and hurling everywhere. There’s no better place to bring a team with those tools than to Thurles.
It’s hard to get away from the expectation surrounding Clare. Everywhere I go in the country I’m being asked about them. No matter how hard I try, I end up talking them up.
It’s hard for that not to seep through to these players just a little bit. It’s probably a little bit of extra pressure they don’t need, but there’s another way of looking at that too.
These lads have won Munster minor and U-21 All-Irelands and have serious achievement behind them. They are used to winning. They’re also a good bunch of lads with feet firmly on the ground. They mind themselves and they take their hurling seriously. Most of the pressure you play with is self inflicted. It’s a bit like the nerves. I think these lads, twelve months down the road from losing to the same opposition, will cope admirably.
I’m nervous about Sunday but in a good way. I think we’ll do it.

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