ALL-IRELAND finals can be strange matches. Very often much of the pre-match hype on tactics, match-ups and the focus on certain players doesn’t come to pass. All-Ireland finals are often pockmarked by previously unheralded players. The hurler known as a provider suddenly becomes scorer in chief, the corner back or wing back suddenly becomes the dominant player on the field and as is very common, a lad having a quiet year explodes onto the scene on All-Ireland final day.
It is the way of things, don’t be surprised if it happens on Sunday.
Looking at Sunday it is only natural to become wrapped up in what Cork might or might not do. They will be doing the same about us but much of this will be wasted energy. Sunday is all about getting to play our game, inflicting that game on Cork and then letting the chips fall where they may.
Every pub counter in both counties will be talking about sweepers and systems, will Clare utilise it again, will and how can Cork counter-act it? This will be vexing both managers and supporters alike.
Clare will probably employ a similar type tactic and why shouldn’t they? It has worked like a dream against Galway and Limerick. Cork will think they have a solution and that will probably involve someone ensuring Pat Donnellan is not left to his own devices in the Clare backline. Or they could simply allow him that freedom in exchange for their own free man out the field, where they are very capable of picking off scores.
All these possible outcomes will not change where games are always won and that is all over the field where backs must mark and forwards must make hay. If four forwards get the better of their men, scores ensue, vice versa at the other end of the field, add it all up and the team with the most players on top wins. A little simplistic but with a rich vein of truth – the best team rarely loses in hurling. So talk gameplans long into the night all you want, if we don’t beat our men on Sunday we don’t win.
Since losing to Cork back in June in the Gaelic Grounds both teams have improved hugely and there is a strong case to be made that Clare’s progression is the most impressive. We have been the best team by far in our subsequent outings against Laois, Wexford, Galway and Limerick. With the momentum of four consecutive championship wins has come a confidence that is visibly surging through the squad and a Munster U-21 title in the middle of all that has only added to to the positive vibe.
Cork left Limerick that June afternoon on a high. Having been underdogs against us, they felt they had a point to prove that afternoon with what was described as a depleted squad. They did perform that blustery day on the Ennis Road and they ran out comfortable winners on a day when Clare could legitimately claim to have missed five clear cut goal chances.
The Clare management came in for a lot of criticism in the wake of that game and much of this was down to (then) unrealistic expectations that built up around the squad. Much of it was harsh at the time, but lovers of hindsight will now say – look at Clare, in an All-Ireland final, we told you so!
It’s a little bit more complex than that. This team was made for the back door. This year anyway. Far too may of them were light on championship experience and six games this summer has clearly brought them on in leaps and bounds because these young men thrive on hurling. Our graph has risen in every match, the display against Galway exceeded in Croke Park when this team making its first appearance in senior championship at the venue, won comfortably by seven points. Few would have believed this improvement was possible walking out of the Gaelic Grounds on June 23rd.
But the management knew. They believed and they deserve huge credit for sticking with players and their belief in how they should and could play. To others that’s called a system, but to Davy, Louis Mulqueen and Mike Deegan it is logic. We recognise our strengths, we play to them.
The team will probably be the one that started against Limerick and Galway, John Conlon having recovered fully from his latest injury. Conlon is my idea of a man who could put his stamp on the final, having been very unfortunate with injuries this summer. Finals are days of the brave, the Clonlara man is certainly one of those.
Elsewhere we can be thoroughly happy with our team gong into Sunday. So many are in the form of their lives, so many belong in Croke Park on All-Ireland senior Sunday.
Cork will feel the same. Brian Murphy, one of their real performers on June 23rd is fit again but he will find it hard to regain his place in a team that has increased in increments similar to Clare. Rumours of a fit again Paidi O’Sullivan playing a part may be wide of the mark because it is a huge ask of a player to play no part in a championship but then appear late in an All-Ireland final, (unless your name if Eamon Taffe!).
Luckily for us Cork come into Sunday on the back of a superb All-Ireland semi-final win also. They didn’t leave Croke Park with many question marks over their team. They beat a Dublin side that hurled brilliantly, they did it by taking the chances and breaks that came their way. Poor teams don’t make All-Ireland finals so their quality is not in doubt.
Like us against Limerick, they missed very little and shot some electric points from all angles and distances. They are a point scoring team and we’ll need to make sure that every shot at goal comes with some pressure attached. We also must be at our sharpest when Anthony Nash has the ball in his hand.
If Cork are to win, Nash will be their key man. Forgetting his primary job of preventing goals, at which he excels, Nash is the most dangerous Cork player when it comes to distribution. Statistically we have issues when it comes to winning puckouts and rest assured it is something we will have worked assiduously on since the semi-final.
Nash has the ability to look at one player short while then delivering to another player a little deeper out the field. This pass could almost be a described as a fake out, drawing an opposing player to what he thinks is Nash’s intended target, freeing up a man behind. It is that man Nash can instantly feed.
It buys his team space, it allows them to then transfer the ball, usually crossfield, to a player that is expecting the ball. Cork can score with one or two clinical passes and our defensive efforts must start when Nash is reaching for his pucking out stick.
We can have some confidence that Clare will have their homework done here, for every obvious frailty throughout this year has been subsequently addressed. Much was made of the sloppiness of the two goals that were conceded against Galway, sure enough we saw none of that on show the next day against Limerick. Contesting puckouts and winning those crucial breaks will be an area we can and will improve on. Once we have the ball, we must make it count.
We will look to Podge, Tony Kelly, David McInerney, Pat Donnellan, Colin Ryan, Cian Dillon, Bugs and Colm Galvin. Those are the lads we’ve come to rely on, but look also at Pat Kelly, Domhnal O’Donovan, Conor Ryan, John Conlon, Patrick O’Connor, Conor McGrath and Darach Honan for in there lie our match winners.
Off the bench we have serious options too in all areas. Cathal McInerney, Peter Duggan, Seadna Morey, Nicky O’Connell, Shane O’Donnell, Fergal Lynch, Jonathan Clancy, Paul Flanagan and Conor Cooney are just nine proven talents, all willing and able if needed. Some will.
We are a different team from the one that had Cork on the rack in Limerick but couldn’t pull the trigger. We have found the trigger since. We are a better team. We can beat Cork. We can do it playing smart hurling, we can do it playing our game. We will do it.

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Emmet Moloney has previously worked with The Kerryman and Irish Farmers' Journal. He joined The Clare People in November 2010. Contact Emmet on [email protected]

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