Plunkett under pressure as McNamara considers his options


CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM NEWS:CLARE'S CENTRE back Conor Plunkett may indirectly lose out to Brendan Bugler, who is expected to return from suspension ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland hurling quarter-final against Cork in Thurles. Clare manager Mike McNamara is expected to realign the half-back line, putting Gerry Quinn in the number-six jersey and Bugler at wing back.

Plunkett was charged this season with filling the boots of the legend Seánie McMahon, now retired, and despite being man of the match in the defeat of Waterford on June 1st, he looks the defender least sure of his place since the Munster final defeat to Tipperary on July 13th.

The Tipperary half-forward line combined for 2-8, of the 2-21 total, in the provincial final, centre forward Séamus Callinan and John O'Brien causing most damage.

McNamara will confirm the line-up tonight. The midfield and forward lines are expected to remain unchanged, though Barry Nugent, who has proved effective off the bench this summer, is a viable candidate to start.

Joe Deane has been passed fit to line out at full forward for Cork but Timmy McCarthy succumbed to an ankle injury and is replaced by Patrick Horgan in the only change from last week's morale-boosting victory over Galway.

Horgan's inclusion at left corner forward means a switch to the right corner for Cathal Naughton and a move to wing forward for Ben O'Connor.

Naughton, Horgan and their forward team-mate Pa Cronin will play a third game in eight days, having played against Galway and in last Monday night's Munster under-21 semi-final against Clare.

Cork are seeking a sixth consecutive championship win over Clare, the run dating from 1999.

Meanwhile, the Cork football panel has received a mid-season bonus with the surprise return of Michael Shields from the AFL franchise Carlton Blues.

The 22-year-old, who played in last year's All-Ireland final, has opted out of a career in Australian Rules and is expected to come straight into Conor Counihan's plans ahead of the All-Ireland quarter-final on August 9th/10th.

"I miss home and I've been fighting that for a while and while I could have battled it out for another two or three months, I had made my decision," said Shields this week.

"While realising the game wasn't for me, I have a greater appreciation for the game of AFL. And while I'm disappointed that everything didn't work out perfectly with Carlton, it was still a great experience and one that I will never forget."

Shields signed terms with Carlton last November, joining two other Corkmen, Setanta and Aisake Ó hAilpín, in the squad.

Cork are awaiting injury updates on their defensive stalwarts Graham Canty, Noel O'Leary and Paudie Kissane.

Glentoran football club have agreed to release the Fermanagh footballer Dermot McCabe for Sunday's Ulster final replay against Armagh, despite selecting him in the squad that leaves for Latvia on Tuesday to play the Uefa Cup second leg qualifier against SK Liepajas Metalurgs.

"Shane is available for the match on Sunday; there is no issue," said the Glentoran chairman Alan McDonald.

"I had a chat with him and I fully understand the situation. He is okay to play for Fermanagh this week.

"He is committed to us. He is contracted to the club for the next few years."

Normally an impact replacement, McCabe started last Sunday's match in Clones as a late replacement for Liam McBarron. He was in turn replaced by Barry Owens early in the second half.

CORK (SH v Clare):D Óg Cusack; S O'Neill, D O'Sullivan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Óg Ó hAilpín; T Kenny, J O'Connor; B O'Connor, N McCarthy, P Cronin; C Naughton, J Deane, P Horgan.