Cork have improved and can avenge All-Ireland defeat by Clare

The arrival of Aidan Walsh, Mark Ellis, Bill Cooper and Alan Cadogan has strengthened Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s hand

Clare’s Tony Kelly: Cork will surely deputise a man-marker to track the outstanding 2013 Hurler of the Year. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Clare’s Tony Kelly: Cork will surely deputise a man-marker to track the outstanding 2013 Hurler of the Year. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 11:00

There wasn’t a whole lot between these teams last year but Clare proved themselves better in the end although in the All-Ireland finals I’d a sneaky feeling for Cork to win. Nine months later and I still do.

The games are not strictly comparable because I think in fact Cork have improved. They were actively looking for new blood after last year and they appear to have found it.

The improvements have come in key areas for concern that arose after last year’s All-Ireland. They had problems in the middle of the field and Aidan Walsh has signed up. Mark Ellis is more of a holding centre back than Christopher Joyce and now Joyce is playing better on the wing with Lorcán McLoughlin.

Cork’s forwards were genuinely dangerous last year but Alan Cadogan is still a very positive addition to their attack and Bill Cooper has brought a new dimension to centre forward. One of the big influences on tomorrow’s match will be how these newcomers fare with the pace and intensity well up on the last day.

I also think that the matches against Waterford will really stand to Cork. Lucky to survive the first day, they regained confidence and a bit of swagger the second day. Even if Waterford basically didn’t turn up, it was still a championship match for Cork and they had to focus on it and get nervous for it.

That’s two games that Clare haven’t had.

Turn up

My view is that in the league Clare were bothered to turn up in anger only once, against Kilkenny and they were mightily impressive that day. They fought very hard, toughed it out well and got vital scores. I’ve a feeling that they’ll come very strong in this and play close to their potential.

I’d go back to the experience of Tipperary in 2002 when we played better in June than in July. That can happen with champions – the day they come back, they come back strongly.

We’ll get a good idea of how the All-Ireland and under-21 wins have sat with them over the winter. I’d be surprised if it’s had no impact bur we mightn’t see it until later in the year.

The chief goalscoring threat on either side has been nullified with Anthony Nash’s outstanding 20-metre frees no longer permitted. Whatever about the merits of that, I think that the debate is unfinished and that when the rule is formally changed there should be a reduction of players on the line.

Clare will be without Shane O’Donnell who has had a mixed time since the All-Ireland, mainly because of injury. But when they’ve all guns blazing he’s one of the biggest guns so he’s a big loss tomorrow.

There are also injury concerns over Podge Collins and, given how important he is at his best to how Clare function, that’s a major worry for Davy Fitzgerald.

Another important influence will be how Cork cope with Tony Kelly. They’ll surely have to detail a man marker and although Ellis is athletic enough, a task like that would cut across his primary responsibility as a ‘stopper’ centre back.

I might have developed a blind spot about Cork but, with their greater match practice and what I believe is an improved team, I’m taking them to reach the Munster final.

Great chance

An interesting aspect of this year is how the form of 2013 has been stood up so far this season. Clare versus Cork is going to be a very important fixture, we’ve seen Limerick come through in the other Munster semi-final and if Dublin can get out of Wexford Park this evening that will be further evidence.

Dublin’s history of alternating years on and years off haunts them slightly going up against Wexford and they won’t be looking forward to this trip. I don’t think there’ll be much in it but the home side have a great chance.

Anthony Daly is already without Danny Sutcliffe who has become so important that a lot of managers, were they given transfer budgets, would have him on their list. Daly also has had injury concerns over Liam Rushe.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Wexford won this. Last year they drew with two of the All-Ireland semi-finalists, including champions Clare. Under Liam Dunne they have grown into a more formidable side and recent reports from challenge matches indicate that they’re playing very good hurling and have a menacing full forward line in Conor McDonald, Liam Óg McGovern and Rory Jacob.

More importantly, in the championship this year they saw off Antrim fairly quickly and more to the point played with a method – something they have been lacking up until recently. They’re also going to see this as a one-off opportunity to get to a Leinster final, which would mark a major step forward.

I’ve a feeling that they’ll turn Dublin over.

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