HURLING: Can Clare rise to the occasion?

When Sunday comes and what it’s all about... Clare captain Pat O’Connor and his Cork counterpart Seamus Harnedy with the Munster Cup at Bunratty Castle. Photograph by Natasha Barton

THERE can be no doubts. 

Any semblance of doubt and it will be over before it starts, where the beginning of the end is the end of the beginning.

There can be no doubts because as sure as Cork are succoured and have their hurling egos massaged by the tradition and back catalogue of Christy Ring, Jack Lynch, JBM, John Fenton, Séan Óg Ó hAilpín and all of that, they’ll definitely have no doubts. 


And it all means that they’ll come to Thurles in confidence, others might deign to call it coming in arrogance, with their ‘We’re Cork like’ philosophy tattooed in mind and body and all the way to butt and bos of their hurleys. And it will be in their water bottles too that will ferried onto the field by their runners as the temperature, both climatic and cámans, really hots up.

This is what allowed them come from nowhere in 2017 and beat Tipperary, Waterford and Clare in successive games to win Munster; this is what has them unbeaten in Munster so far this year, having negotiated the games of tight-rope and Russian Roulette that have melded to make this the greatest Munster Championship ever; this is what created the dynamic within the team to make that final push when coming from behind to beat Waterford in the final group game to reach the final and steeled them to do the same in the final minutes of the opening instalment against Clare on 20 May.

This is what you don’t get by being in a dressing room listening to a sports psychologist as he tries to calibrate minds into believing and visualising the endgame that always has the cup up on the sideboard; this is what you don’t need endless hours of video analysis for, video clips tailored to the individual, and statistical breakdowns to the level of whether you had blueberries or bananas, or both, with your morning granola.

For sure the Rebels and every team has their video analysts, psychologists and dieticians, but before they walk in the door of their dressing room or appear on their iPhones or Androids they have no doubts.

You either have that or you don’t.

Thing is, there is no reason why Clare should be lacking in that regard either.

Their belief should be total too and just as the Rebels are buttressed by times past and in the present by the quality of their hurlers, so too should Clare.

They have quality, and star quality at that; they have an All-Ireland, while they’re coming into this Munster Final on a run of form that’s strikingly similar to 2013 — three wins back-to-back over Grade 1 hurling opposition in Tipperary, Waterford and Limerick to reach a Munster final against Cork, just like the wins over Wexford, Galway and Limerick were in 2013 to reach an All-Ireland final against Cork. 

And the similarities don’t end there — for all the world the goal that Ian Galvin scored against Tipperary in Thurles was as transformative as the one that Conor McGrath got at the same venue in 2013 against Galway.

Yes, they were in different halves and into different goals, but they’re related by the fact that both goals liberated the team — from there it was lift off.

That’s why the belief in Clare has to be total. It has to be a case of ‘We’re Clare like’ as much as it’s ‘We’re Cork like’ and there can be no doubts on any level.

But, the question has to be pucked out there because of Clare’s wretched record against the Rebels in recent years. Since the high of Shane O’Donnell putting three goals in Anthony Nash’s net and Conor McGrath and Darach Honan following up with two more, Clare have failed to the Rebels on four occasions, while their wider provincial championship record against them is appalling  and is a nod to unwanted fact and tradition that tells us Clare haven’t beaten them since 1998, while you have to go back to 1932 for the last time Clare beat Cork in a Munster senior final.

1932 was the year of the Eucharistic Congress — but while a lot of water has flown under the big bridge that was Catholic Ireland in the 86 years since, one thing that has been constant is Clare’s inability to beat Cork in Munster finals.

Back in 1932, the first Munster Final that The Irish Press covered was the meeting of Clare and Cork in Thurles. In its eve of match preview, the headline across all seven columns on top of the page read, ‘CAN THE CLARE HURLERS RISE TO THE OCCASION?’.

Then there were a series of three sub-headings: ‘Cork All Out to Repeat Last Year’s Triumphs’, ‘Men Whose Brilliance May Be The Deciding Factor’ and ‘MATCH THAT MAY BE HISTORIC’.

All of the above from 86 years ago can be copied and pasted and applied to the present day. Can the Clare hurlers rise to the occasion against a Cork team that will be all out to repeat last year’s triumph, while it goes without saying that the brilliance on either side — Tony Kelly, Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane, Colm Galvin et al — will be the deciding factor in a game that will be historic.

Cork’s 53rd; Clare’s seventh.

Going back to 1932 again, The Irish Press preview was penned under the pseudonym of Rory O’ The Hill, with his words being as apt for 2018 as they were for 1932:

“Cork are confident,” he began. “They do not underestimate their opponents. They expect a stern struggle and victory. Clare are hopeful. With backs to stop the Cork rushes, and Daly in goal to give them confidence, the Banner County will show fight.

“It will be a fast, spectacular match, with interludes of dogged hip-to-hip hurling. As the hour glass empties, extra pressure and added verve will be in evidence.

“All these giants of the arena will be seen in a succession of mass attacks and desperate repulses, and a hundred gripping duels until the last whistle sounds and another Munster Championship is won.”

If Clare have no doubts they can win — in 1932 they won thanks to the incomparable Turlough ‘Tull’ Considine from Ennis’ Turnpike who stepped up with 3-1.

It’s high time for such a final repeat.


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