Clare v Waterford
@ Cusack Park, Ennis,
Saturday 7pm

IF it was a thing that the only goals Clare set at the start of the season was to secure National League promotion and win the first round of the championship then they’re already half way there.
Now to finish the circle, get the better of Waterford over 70 minutes in Cusack Park and then take whatever the season brings afterwards head on, safe in the knowledge that barring a Qualifier draw that pits them against a Division 4 side they’ll be serious underdogs from there on.
Clare will be firm favourites here, on the back of what they produced in Division 4 this year, but also thanks to having home advantage that should be the platform for them to win, comfortably even.
It’s because of what has been achieved so far and in such a short space of time that gives rise to the confidence around Clare going into this game.
Yes, it’s true that promotion wasn’t an overnight thing and instead was five years in the making, but the extra push that was required to get them over the line was a giant leap for the team.
There’s been a real purpose and focus about Clare all year – it goes all the way back to November (officially December 1) – when they started building for the year ahead. Key to the whole thing has been has been everyone knowing their role.
Chris de Looze on the physical training as well as strength and conditioning; Paudie Kissane at coaching; Colm Collins managing the whole thing, with Ger Keane as his sidekick.
It all translates into a cohesive team, something that has permeated out onto the field among the players.
The results have followed, with the only reverses coming against Tipperary on two occasions during the eight-match league campaign – the fourth round game in Thurles when a mix of defensive naivity and frailty cost them dear and then in the final when it was Tipperary’s better bench that tipped the balance in their favour.
Waterford are not Tipperary though, not by a long stretch and that’s why a Clare side that will be much the stronger for the availability of both Padraic and Sean Collins should have too much firepower for the Deise.
The Clare side that will be selected as late as Friday will show a number of championship debutants, with Jamie Malone, Martin O’Leary, Ciaran Russell and Shane Hickey dipping their toes in senior champalmost certainlyionship level for the first time.
Allied to that you have Dean Ryan and Sean Collins who will be returning to this level after a number of years away – it’s 2009 since they last experienced senior championship football.
It all means that the Clare side, which mixes the new with returned stars and ever-presents over the past number years will be radically different to the one that has lined out in recent years.
It’s a good mix though, with the turnover showing that this Clare side is very definitely a work in progress as the long haul away from the basement and up the ladder gathers more momentum.
Key to that upward trend is accounting for Waterford here, something that should be within their compass despite the fact that games between the two – in both league and championship – have had the tendency to go either way over the last decade or so.
It was Waterford who won the two championship ties in Fraher Field in 2007 and 2010, while it was Clare’s turn to eke out victory in their one Cusack Park clash in championship in 2009.
Where the league is concerned, Clare went to Fraher Field in February and recorded an impressive seven-point victory, but Waterford did come to Hennessy Memorial Park the previous year and come away with the points.
It’s that topsy-turvy nature of the results between the two sides that will have Clare on their guard, but that said the game is theirs to win.
Waterford’s danagerman up front is Paul Whyte, while Liam Ó Lionáin is also due a big game against Clare. However, provided can hold sway at midfield – something they should certainly do with Gary Brennan there – they will then have enough ball into the forwards to seal the deal.
And, a huge addition from the league final will be the presence of both Sean and Padraic Collins – Division 4 would have been won had they been there, this game can be won comfortably with them back in harness.

Verdict: Clare

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