MHC: Clare’s second coming is imminent

Clare will be hoping to buck a trend of a quarter of a century when they take on Limerick in Sunday’s Munster semi-final in Thurles, write Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

Clare’s Aaron Shanagher draws a penalty from Limerick’s Richie McCarthy & Gavin O’Mahony during the sides’ 2016 meeting.

A COUPLE of years ago a GAA book with a difference crash-landed in the office with stories to tell about hurling and football through the years via the prism of the dates of the year.

GAA Book of Days it was called, with the authors purporting to be Messrs Cusack and Hogan — of course this claim wasn’t true, seeing as The Citizen left this mortal coil back in 1906, while Hogan was gunned down the Tans on Bloody Sunday 14 years later.

But what’s within the covers seems plausible enough — for instance from the Clare point of view some of the key dates in the county’s hurling history are there, with the 1914 final victory on 18 October getting honourable mention, even if 3 September isn’t marked by the historic All-Ireland win of 1995.

Instead it goes to Kilkenny and Limerick and the All-Ireland of 1933 when over 5,000 supporters were locked out of Croke Park as the crowd had swollen well past the capacity of the day which was  45,176.

However, one entry for the June bank holiday weekend that will be well upon us this Sunday when Clare and Limerick cross really sticks out, and could well be applied to the Clare hurlers.

It’s from Mickey Harte and it’s philosophical and goes well beyond the dimensions of the field — hurling and football, anything.

“The psychology of life is what I talk about,” says Harte. “Each day brings a new story, a new opportunity to develop, to grow. Players have to do that physically, and mentally, and sure psychology comes into that. But you have to use the experiences you’ve had before to be of benefit to you in whatever circumstance your find yourself in during a game.”

Even if you wanted to, it would be hard to craft better words for Clare.

This is a new story, and under new management with some new ideas they have the opportunity to develop and grow out of the stagnation, staleness and sameness of their performances over the last three years which simply haven’t been good enough.

And along the way there are physical and mental dimensions to this, with psychology also coming into it, while of course they’ll have to use the experiences of the last few years of indifference to their benefit as they bid to scale the heights once more.

It all starts on Sunday, with the carrot for both Clare and Limerick being a huge one, because, even though neither would admit it, the path to Munster glory has already been made easier by Cork’s removal of Tipperary from the equation.

Not that it will make this game any easier, of course, because where Clare and Limerick are concerned the only rule of thumb is that anything can happen.

Favouritism, which lies with Clare because they won the 2013 All-Ireland and Limerick just won Munster, isn’t worth the betting slip it’s written on — it never really has been where these two neighbours are concerned.

The last quarter of a century has told us that, with the favourites routinely beaten, and well beaten at that.

This was especially so at the beginning of a remarkable run which has seen victor and vanquished trade places every other meeting since 1993.

Limerick won in ’90 and ’91, but from ’93 onwards the favourites generally lost. Limerick in ’93, Clare in ’94 and on it went in ’95 and ’96.

Advantage Limerick for Sunday then, not that Clare will be too worried, with the intent they showed by arranging a training session to co-incide with the Cork v Tipperary quarter-final being a significant statement.

They’ll be confident of bucking that trend which dictates that it’s Limerick’s turn to win, but it will be a real pressure-cooker situation between two sides who have under performed badly in the last couple of years.

Both have endured championship hangovers that have lasted four years — Limerick since the 2013 Munster final they were fortunate to win because Cork had Patrick Horgan sent off in the first half; Clare since the All-Ireland.

Since then they’ve only hit form in snatches — Clare in winning last year’s National League, Limerick in pushing Kilkenny to the wire in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final.

Both are now under new managements and both will expect a big performance, with the subdued affairs of the last two years likely to give way to a much more intense affair between two teams with much to prove.

It’s a huge year for Clare, one where it’s vital that they contend again or else the tongues that have been wagging about their fall from grace as a championship force will have more ammunition in their words.

Put simply they have to contend again, and part of that process has to be to set the record straight in Munster, which has been abysmal since the county contested four out of five finals and winning three between 1995 and 1999.

In the 17 Munster Championship campaigns since 1999 Clare have just managed four championship wins — 2003 v Tipp, 2008 v Waterford and Limerick, 2013 v Waterford — giving them by far the worst record of all competing counties.

In that time there’s been just one Munster final appearance in 2008, making the provincial championship a veritable wasteland for Clare hurling these past two generations since Ger Loughnane passed the baton in 2000.

2017 is the time to amend that appalling record of under achievement and looking at the team that is likely to take to the field the artillery is certainly there.

A full-forward line trio of Shane O’Donnell, Aron Shanagher and Conor McGrath can make hay, while outside them half-forward line of John Conlon, Padraic Collins and Tony Kelly also has a star quality.

With the midfield pairing likely to be David Reidy and Colm Galvin, the make-up of the defensive lines less certain, but the regardless of the six chosen in front of Andrew Fahy in goal will make for a very strong looking first 15.

On paper Limerick don’t look capable of competing with that, but their age-old ability from Mick Mackey’s time to rise to the challenge of championship, coupled with insider knowledge on Clare that Paul Kinnerk, Joe O’Connor and Alan Cunningham will have can be the great levellers.

And the fact that Limerick’s incarceration in Division 1B continued for another year means the level of expectation among supporters won’t be at fever pitch also plays to their advantage.

The endgame will be this game going to the wire, but Clare still should have enough. They have to. This has to be the start of the class of 2013’s second coming. Just has to be.


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