Nicky English: Difficult assignment for Clare as they put their season on the line

Pat Ryan’s rejigged side will be fired up in front of big home crowd at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Banner have a poor championship record in Cork

And the first shall be last. You would have got long odds on Waterford providing the best performance of the hurling championship’s opening weekend.

One of the consequences is a match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh between Cork and Clare with unexpectedly perilous jeopardy for the two teams.

Both were beaten in difficult circumstances and have to pull out of the tailspin this weekend. It has happened once that a team losing the first two matches has made it out of Munster but it’s not exactly recommended practice.

Clare looked home and hosed against Limerick when Aidan McCarthy pushed their lead back to six but contrived to blow themselves up in familiar fashion, by conceding unnecessary goals. When the first went in there had been only marginal improvement by Limerick.


Difficulties at goalkeeper – that second goal was just too soft for intercounty level – and in the full-back line also came home to roost when Gearóid Hegarty found all that space at corner forward to create the third.

Do they make changes in that area; does Tony Kelly start? I’m not sure Clare were anything near what they had been in the league final or semi-final. Even though they built a big lead over Limerick, Shane O’Donnell and Aidan McCarthy apart there didn’t appear to be any momentum from the league victory.

There are a few question marks for Clare, among them a poor record in Cork against Cork. Then again, I had reservations about Cork before they lost in Waterford last week and they weren’t exactly allayed by what was on view in Walsh Park.

They didn’t look a whole lot different from they had in the past few seasons. Bad luck was blamed last year but that can’t really be a recurrent excuse. They have selected conservatively in that time, relying on long-serving players, and the results aren’t improving.

It’s been a tough call for Pat Ryan. What was he to do? Tear up the script and start again in the second game? To an extent that’s what he has done with six changes, including dropping Mark Coleman, who I didn’t think was too bad against Waterford.

It wasn’t all bleak. Whenever the ball went to Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett, they looked very dangerous but they were also vulnerable at the back and Waterford almost scored at will.

They still have a goal threat that will be a danger to Clare which, together with a big home crowd, can give them the edge against what is basically a better team but one which unusually struggled with a lack of leadership and composure.

Pat Ryan was faced with the task of changing his team whereas Brian Lohan had the trickier job of working out what went wrong when the pressure tightened. Slight advantage, Cork.

In the other Munster game, Tipperary have to start focusing on themselves. They ended the league in free fall and supporters have no idea of what their best team is. You wouldn’t be sure that it’s any easier for Liam Cahill but his selection of so many younger players is a brave one.

A league that first involved a lot of rotation ended in confusion after Clare went to town on them in the semi-final. For instance, three centre backs were used during the campaign before settling on Bryan O’Mara this weekend.

Tipperary can be competitive, as Limerick don’t look anywhere near their best, but it will take a big opening performance, which they got last year. They went on to be competitive in the remaining games until, out of nowhere, Waterford turned them over and cost them a Munster final.

But we saw last week that Waterford are still capable of that type of coup.

Maybe after this weekend there will be certainty over who goes where for Tipperary, which would be welcome for Liam Cahill because the Clare league defeat featured a lot of individualistic performances from players trying to stake a place on the team rather than playing as one.

They have Jake Morris, Gearóid O’Connor, Mark Kehoe and Jason Forde, which is a decent set of forwards who can score and Seán Hayes is a promising addition. Last Sunday Clare had to work hard for their scores despite Limerick’s below par performance. If the champions repeat that, you’d imagine Tipp’s scoring potential would cause a fair bit more damage.

I’d like to see Tipperary push right up, especially on Limerick puckouts, because they are much more dangerous building from the back with various runners off the shoulder. It’s comforting to keep a spare man at the back when playing them but teams are actually better off taking them on higher up the field.

Limerick got last week’s goals very easily and without really having to go up the gears and there’s no guarantee they’ll be much better although I was impressed by the energy they got off the bench.

You couldn’t predict a Tipp victory because they are so untested and Limerick have always been able recently to dominate them in the third quarter and down the stretch. But I expect Tipp to be ultra-competitive.

In Salthill, what value there might have been in taking the temperature of Kilkenny and Galway in what has become their traditional dress rehearsal for the Leinster final plunged when injury forced Derek Lyng to name a team without three of his best players.

Then again, Lyng was not afraid of playing without his big names during the league, using it as an opportunity to check on his panel depth.

Galway didn’t leave an identifiable footprint in the league and, like Cork there is a well-worn familiarity about many of the players. We should get some sense this weekend of what differences Henry Shefflin and this season’s new coach, Eamon O’Shea, have been able to make but until then, it’s hard to have a strong view on where Galway are going.