Nicky English: Impressive Clare are a team with potential and momentum

Banner were capable of playing ‘heads-up’ hurling and picking out the right ball

The most abiding impression of the weekend was the emergence of Clare as a top three team in Munster and in my view well capable of a podium finish this championship. The scoreline flattered Cork and was distorted by a dying-seconds goal.

They were impressive and underlined their credentials from the Tipperary performance a week previously. They started very well against Cork and changed it up as required to create constant problems: Peter Duggan moved in and out from 11 while Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell were mobile, elusive and above all, intelligent in their use of the ball.

They were capable of playing “heads-up” hurling and picking out the right ball at the right time. The team is in really good form and Cork were all at sea in the face of their intensity, physicality and strength. The job they did on their opponents in the first half-hour was equally as destructive as what Limerick produced two weeks ago.

Are they capable of beating Limerick? I'm not so sure. Are they the finished article? No and their discipline needs to improve

Cork’s puck-out was eaten up. John Conlon, Diarmuid Ryan – who later made a great block on Horgan at a critical stage – and David McInerney, back to the best form we’ve seen him in for a good while, were imposing under the ball in the half-back line.


We saw goalkeeper Patrick Collins being dispossessed early on for a point. Even at the end when they were down a man, we saw the pressure being exerted by David Fitzgerald leading to a Ryan Taylor point, which could have been a goal.

At all stages the greater intensity was shown by Clare and they had the skill to turn that into converted chances. I thought their midfield was relentlessly on top and when they lost Ian Galvin to a deserved red card, they responded magnificently, led by that middle third of Fitzgerald, Taylor and Cathal Malone.


They’re a team with potential and momentum and Brian Lohan must be agonising over the additional options he’d have were Aidan McCarthy and Mark Rogers available rather than injured – the deeper the panel, the better.

I’d imagine the Clare manager is very happy with what they have brought to the first two rounds and in fairness to him, right back to his Fitzgibbon days with UL, he has never put out a team that doesn’t perform to 100 per cent – whether that’s good enough on the day or not. They make the best of what they have and there’s a strong foundation there now.

Are they capable of beating Limerick? I’m not so sure. Are they the finished article? No and their discipline needs to improve. Four yellows and a red card will cost you games as the ascent gets steeper.

They finished this as 14 against 15 for nearly the whole last quarter and that imbalance should have really suited Cork and the game they play but they seem to have lost their way.

They made structural changes, like freeing Mark Coleman from centre-back and pushing up Darragh Fitzgibbon but the time for structural change was after the All-Ireland back in August 2021, not after the first round in May 2022. They’re low on confidence and are being dominated physically on the evidence of the first two matches.

They fought a lot better in the second half, but it was hard to get away from the fact that they were out-battled, again.

In the league semi-final they finished strongly to beat Kilkenny. There was nothing in the weekend’s performance by Brian Cody’s team to suggest that they’ve been transformed by the championship any more than Cork have. It’s looking on the basis of the first two rounds that there’s a fair gap between the provinces.

Crossover matches

We won’t know for sure until the crossover matches begin but so far Galway ended up drawing with Wexford, who Waterford annihilated in their league semi-final and effectively they drew with Kilkenny on Sunday notwithstanding the late free that gave Henry Shefflin’s team the points.

Cody looked very annoyed and you could see why. They’d just equalised with an injury-time goal. The puck-out went very quickly and on another day might have been recalled and the same applies to the free.

It was a great battle, well fought and intense but I think Galway will need more to challenge the best teams in Munster

Paddy Deegan went through Tom Monaghan, who again was impressive, but got a block on the ball. It was a tight call and I understand why it was given but on another occasion it mightn’t have been. Conor Cooney though showed great composure to knock it over, particularly after the Wexford experience.

For me, Galway are better than Kilkenny but, as against Wexford, they find it hard to put games away or be convincing winners. They showed plenty of positives. Their midfield, Joseph Cooney and Monaghan, won that battle well and like in Thurles I think the losing team were flattered.

Eoin Cody was Kilkenny’s best forward and he’s matured impressively and developed physically but overall they struggled.

Conor Whelan’s return for Galway was a surprise to me. He showed no ill-effects from what had looked a serious hamstring injury and that’s a definite positive. They leaked early goals but Cooney’s free-taking was superb all the way through.

They also got to grips with problems and reorganised effectively while the work rate was again high. It was a great battle, well fought and intense but I think Galway will need more to challenge the best teams in Munster.

Nicky English

Nicky English

Nicky English, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a former Tipperary hurler and manager