Plenty at stake for both sides as Clare bid to extend great U-21 record
Limerick star Cian Lynch braced for final at a packed Cusack Park
Limerick’s Cian Lynch and Clarecaptain Conor Cleary will be in action in the Munster U-21 final at Cusack Park. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
There would appear to be a little more than just a Munster under-21 hurling title at stake in Cusack Park this evening. The entire hurling mood of both counties hinges on the outcome and Clare are looking to extend their winning streak beyond the province for a fourth year.
No wonder Cusack Park is heading for a near sell-out.
Such is the quality of hurlers in both teams, it promises to be an extremely entertaining contest and one that’s difficult to call in advance. Clare certainly have the pedigree. Limerick have the desire for it.
The immediate backdrop is Clare seeking a fourth Munster title in succession, a feat only previously achieved by Tipperary (1978-81) and Cork (1968-71).
Senior starCian Lynch
Clare also benefit from home advantage which, Lynch concedes, is a major plus.
“To have home advantage is massive for them,” he says.
“Every team would love to play a Munster final on their home ground. The stadium is close enough to the field so they nearly hit every ball with you.”
However there wasn’t any great expectation of Clare actually getting this far as they boast only three survivors of last year’s team (which also won a third All-Ireland in succession), and weren’t fancied to beat Waterford in the semi-final.
Yet beat them they did, 0-23 to 1-18 with their own senior star Shane O’Donnell (looking for his third Munster title) once again central to their attack, while Bobby Duggan and Ian Galvin actually did most of the scoring.
Galvin won a Harty Cup medal with Lynch, at Ardscoil Rís, in 2014, so those two certainly won’t need any introduction.
“You would develop a bond when on the same team together,” says Lynch, who scored a goal in their semi-final win over Tipperary. “So it will be weird playing against a good friend, a lad you kind of grew up with. That’s the joys of it. It has happened down the years. Ardscoil has been a school that has had Clare and Limerick hurlers in the past come through and players are used to playing against each other.”
Clare captain and centre-back Conor Cleary is a graduate of St Flannan’s, although he was better known there for his football exploits, partly explained by his football background in Milltown Malbay.
Now, however, Cleary has emerged as one of Clare’s most promising hurlers, and he says one of his childhood heroes is under-21 selector and former Clare All-Ireland winner Seanie McMahon.
“I wanted to be Seanie McMahon, since I was five or six years old,” says Cleary. “It’s just like chatting to anyone but to see what he’s done, it’s crazy. He knows what backs don’t want and what forwards want so he’s just an excellent man to have on board because he’s played at such a high level.”
And given the level they’ve been playing at, this Clare team should possibly prevail again.