A glance at the results below will tell you everything you need to know about Clare’s woeful record in the Munster Senior Championship since the turn of the millennium. Four provincial victories in 21 matches and only one final appearance is a conundrum that almost defies belief considering that Clare have contested two All-Ireland deciders, four semi-finals and eight quarter-finals in that time.
Who better than Clare’s most successful managerial duo Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor then to finally redress that balance as along with provincial titles at minor (2010, ’11), Under 21 (2012, ’13, ’14) and Intermediate (2016), they hold a peerless 71% winning record in Munster Championships since 2009 boasting 20 victories from 28 matches, with four of those defeats coming in the experimental intermediate feeder grade.
Not that Moloney is keen to dwell on the past as their only concentration is getting their new-look squad off the mark this Sunday against the county’s nearest and dearest rivals.
“That [record at senior level] is true but right now, it’s about a one-off contest between ourselves and Limerick. Whatever has gone before isn’t the main concern, the complete focus is on the cut and thrust of what happens on Sunday.
“We have prepared well for it. The league section of the season had a certain intensity to it but the last six to eight weeks have been quite intense as well because the step up from league to championship is critical and I think we’ve focused training on that.
“I think they’ve trained very, very well since the Dublin game so they’re in good form at the moment and we’re really looking forward to next Sunday now.”
Add in the fact that the Clare v Limerick derby has thrown up a different winner in every of the 12 championship meetings since 1991 and the new management team are presented with another unwanted record to try and rectify.
“We hope there will be a difference this time as Clare won the last meeting last year so the every second turn scenario, we obviously want to change that. Yes, it’s a derby and Clare and Limerick have seemed to continuously upset the form book over the years so you’ve had situations where Limerick have gone in as hot favourites and Clare have overturned them and vice versa.
“But ultimately for the two teams going into Sunday’s game, they have a lot in common. Limerick have had a good underage period, Clare had a good underage period as well so both counties are coming from a position of strength from that perspective. And we also all know an awful lot about each other so therefore I don’t expect to be a huge amount in it on Sunday. I expect it to be very, very tight.”
That theory is enhanced when you include Paul Kinnerk and Joe O’Connor in the conversation, two coaches that have worked closely with nearly every Clare player in recent years but will now be plotting their downfall from the Limerick trench.
“Absolutely, there’s no doubt that it is a factor. Paul has worked closely with them over a number of years as did Joe but that’s the way it goes and the lads will be out to show with Joe and Paul, that they coached them very well over that period of time.” he says wryly.
“Look, it’s a day where we’re representing our county and we’re going to be doing our damnedest to overturn Limerick. And we can all meet up afterwards and talk about it but right now, it’s an intense rivalry at this point.”
Having been without several key players throughout their opening chapter of the 2017 season, Moloney and O’Connor have yet to field their strongest team so far. However, on the flip side, it has consequently forced them to develop their squad and find new players to fill the void which now welcomingly makes their selection headache even more acute ahead of Sunday’s opener.
“I think that was a big help in a way, there were around 30 players used in the league and we had a long injury list and guys in action with Ballyea as well. So we’re fortunate at this time to have a lot of good hurlers in the county and there is certainly competition for places and that has played itself out over the past seven or eight weeks. Every guy has put in a really great effort over that period so now it comes down to picking the best 26 to represent the county at this stage.
“There’s always some level of injury and the medium to long term ones at the moment are Niall Deasy who unfortunately has been out for the past two or three weeks and Oisi n O’Brien is trying to come back to fitness as well.”
So with an heightened competition for places and the prospect of a keen derby, the only remaining ingredient for Moloney is getting Banner supporters to row in behind the team, just as they did to memorable effect in their previous provincial and All-Ireland incarnations.
“Hopefully people will come out and support the lads on Sunday, Throughout the league, we were really appreciative of the number of people that came out to get behind the team. I remember distinctly the Kilkenny game, the Waterford game and I know the Dublin play-off was a double header with the footballers but the crowd were still very vocal and rousing in their support at all our home games.
“That support was really appreciated because when the players speak about it afterwards, you know it had an impact. Especially when they start to get on top and hearing the crowd shout them on, it really gives them that extra percentage and extra drive.
“So again we would be really appreciative if a large crowd turned up in Thurles on Sunday because we will need everyone. Limerick always travel in big numbers so I would really like to see a situation where Clare would outnumber Limerick in Thurles on Sunday and hopefully then we can give them something to cheer about.”