Kerry v Clare @ Austin Stack Park Tralee, Sunday 2pm
An intensive schedule of four games in ten days awaits Clare’s new management duo of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor as they begin their senior reign in the Munster League. Add in the fact that they will be without the services of up to eight All-Ireland winners from 2013 for various reasons (Patrick Donnellan, Paul Flanagan, Tony Kelly, David McInerney, Conor McGrath, Patrick O’Connor, Colin Ryan and Conor Ryan) and the need to immediately delve into their new-look squad becomes a reality from day one.
While Clare are back-to-back Munster League champions, the return to the top flight of the National League and peaking for the Munster and All-Ireland Championships clearly take precedence this year but without a large chunk of their most experienced performers for the early part of the season, filling those gaps by means of experimentation in the Munster League becomes a chief priority.
An opening trip to Kerry, who welcome back Clare native Patrick Kelly following their 1-28 to 0-18 defeat to Cork last Sunday, could be the ideal start as the Kingdom are currently in transition as they only appointed Fintan O’Connor as the successor to Ciaran Carey on Christmas week and therefore are admittedly behind in their pre-season training.
On Sunday, they certainly put it up to Cork for the first 40 minutes but expectedly failed to live with their hosts once they upped the ante, outscoring the visitors by 0-16 to 0-02 for the final 30 minutes.
To shore up their rearguard, Kerry played a sweeper throughout the tie, switching between their hard-working midfield duo of Daniel Collins and Paudie O’Connor to sit deep while up front, opting for a two-man full-forward line of Shane Nolan and John Egan that never offered any threat on goal.
A similar gameplan will be employed on Sunday but after dealing comfortably with that tactic last year in the Munster League (2-27 to 0-08) and National League (2-28 to 1-09) campaigns, Clare should have too much firepower for the home side who are still finding their feet at this level.