Clare v Cork; Three things to watch
An all-Munster All-Ireland final is a thing to savour, so here’s what to watch out for in the final lap of the race for Liam.
After a frankly breathtaking football semi-final last week, this year’s All-Ireland hurling final has a seriously tough act to follow. But after a year of shocks (Tipp gone after two games, Kilkenny stumbling out early too, Galway’s demise and the return of Limerick and Dublin) we are left with two teams that few picked to be in the showpiece back in May.
Cork and Clare have both been beaten this year but both have learned from those defeats and improved. Both sides will run out at Croke Park on Sunday (Clare at breakneck speed no doubt) on an upward curve. The question now is, which one will ultimately go higher?
Here’s how we think it will be decided...
As my colleague Conor Heneghan mentioned in his Burning Issue piece on the final, the word 'system' is used a hell of a lot when it comes to this Clare team. But the reason for that is they are a team that has a very definite structure, plan and method. It was used as a stick to beat them earlier in the year, when they seemed ponderous, rigid and wasteful.
However, over the course of the Championship, and especially after a second-half trimming at the hands of Cork in the Munster semi-final, Davy Fitz’s side have honed their style, becoming much more accurate with the many chances they create, becoming increasingly difficult to score on and deploying Pat Donnellan as a sweeper supreme at the back.
We don’t expect that to change on Sunday as the presence of Pat Horgan in the Cork attack should see Donnellan tasked with filling the open spaces and picking up any loose ball.
So, with Clare’s ‘system’ so well known, surely Jimmy Barry Murphy can work out a way to counter it?
One option he does have now is the return of man-marker supreme Brian Murphy. The Bride Rovers man’s inclusion could mean he is tasked with shutting down Clare’s playmaker Tony Kelly, a vital supply line to the Banner scorers.
At the other end, Cork’s speed merchants on the wings, lads like Luke O’Farrell and Seamus Harnedy, have to try and penetrate the Clare defensive wall and then bear down on Patrick Kelly’s goal. It’s easier said than done but in a game this tight, a goal will probably decide it.
The man in the middle
We don’t really want to talk about Brian Gavin ahead of the biggest game of the year but after Championship 2013, we have to. The Offaly man is one of the best whistlers in the business and he did a fine job in the 2011 decider between Tipp and Kilkenny.
But this summer has seen a number of high profile games affected by red cards, most have which have subsequently been rescinded, not that that is any consolation to the losing side.
Cork suffered when Pat Horgan was sent off, helping Limerick to victory in the Munster final, while the sendings off of Henry Shefflin and Ryan O’Dwyer were seen by many as crucial to the outcome of Cork’s win over Kilkenny and Cork’s victory against Dublin in the semi final.
If a player does something that warrants it, he should see the line but after a summer highlighted by refreshing results and sometimes baffling dismissals, let’s hope the latter is absent on Sunday.
Dead ball deciders
If the game does get fraught, then Gavin will have no option but to blow for frees and that could ultimately decide this game. The bookies have the handicap at just -1, in Cork’s favour, so every scored free by Horgan or Clare sharp shooter Colin Ryan will be vital.
Cork also have the added weapon of my hurler of the year, Anthony Nash. Capable of scoring from vast distances, that extra weapon may be key to the Rebels’ hopes on Sunday. His shot stopping is top class and his distribution is Cluxton-esque in both its accuracy and importance.
However, in Sunday’s final, it might be his ability to score 0-3 or so, from a range that Clare can’t match, that may tip the scale in Cork's favour.