Wexford will find it hard to keep Clare under wraps
Eleven of Clare side that start today’s final have lined out competitively for seniors
Clare’s Tony Kelly: he may well hit form for the climax of the championship today. Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie
On top of the riches enjoyed by Clare hurling at under-age and their apparently inexorable march towards a third successive All-Ireland at the grade – something equalled only by Limerick, Tipperary and Cork – the county has been equipped with two correctives in case there is any danger of complacency setting in against a useful Wexford team.
First, the shockwaves from Donegal’s overthrowing of 1/10 favourites Dublin a fortnight ago has concentrated the minds.
Second, the experience of being out-thought and out-fought by Wexford at senior level twice earlier in the summer has left a useful legacy to the team of under-21s, many of whom were involved in the All-Ireland qualifier matches.
Calculating the amount of senior exposure isn’t always the most reliable way of working out a winner in under-21 championships, but it provides a useful context.
Their opponents fielded just four, one of whom appeared for just a couple of minutes out of the three hours.
Perhaps the best indicator of the sheer depth of the Munster champions’ panel is that Cathal O’Connell, who impressed playing in the league, is struggling to get into the first 15 such is the menace of Aaron Cunningham, Shane O’Donnell and David Reidy.
Both sides make just one change from the semi-finals.
Wexford bring Jim White in for Garrett Foley in defence, and Clare replace Alan O’Neill at centre back with Conor Cleary, who had been the first choice in the position until he fractured a finger which forced him out of the All-Ireland semi-final against Antrim.
The champions’ one near-death experience was in Munster when Tipperary took them to extra-time before Clare ran out comfortable six-point winners. However it is fair to say they were hampered in their preparation by the heavy involvement of so many of their panel with the county seniors, who had been knocked out just days previously.
Once those players became free to concentrate on the age grade they have developed steadily, and will not be beaten unless Wexford have become clearly the better side.
The Leinster champions have been impressive in making their way through the province for back-to-back titles, and have a couple of stars from the senior team that reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals. It doesn’t always happen that senior form translates.
CrucialLiam RyanJack Guiney
The form of outgoing Hurler of the Year Clare captain Tony Kelly has not been as luminous this season but he has been able to tune in for vital periods of matches and may well hit form today for the climax of the championship.
Kelly’s free role
However their perseverance against Galway was impressive when they wrestled back momentum in a match that looked to have turned against them.
If Wexford deliver this could be a terrific final, but the chances of them keeping Clare under wraps for the whole hour look limited. In the All-Ireland under-21 B hurling final, which is the curtain-raiser at Thurles this evening, Kildare are expected to make up for last year’s late defeat by Kerry, although it was opponents Roscommon who knocked out the champions in this year’s semi-finals.