Preview and team news ahead of the Allianz National Hurling League – Division 1B clash between Clare and Antrim
Davy Fitzgerald will lead his Clare hurling team into their second outing in this year’s league this Sunday when they host Antrim in Ennis. Even this early in the season, it is looking as if Clare are going to be the team to beat in this division, especially after the manner in which they swept aside the challenge of old rivals Limerick in the opening round.
It was billed as the clash of the two most likely teams to emerge from this group, but Clare were merciless in the way they came away with a 2-24 to 1-13 win.
Antrim themselves enjoyed a fantastic start to the season when they proved too strong for Wexford in Casement Park when a fantastic performance from Shane McNaughton helped them to a 3-18 to 2-15 win over the model county.
The win was all the more impressive given that the Saffron’s are currently minus their Loughgiel Shamrocks players who are preparing for Saturday week’s All-Ireland club final. However, Jerry Wallis’ men will know that Davy Fitz’s men will provide a far stiffer challenge, especially on their own stomping ground in Cusack Park.
Davy Fitzgerald look surprisingly relaxed this season and does not appear to be as animated on the touchline as he was when in charge of Waterford. During Clare’s recent Waterford Crystal cup victory over his former charges, Fitzgerald sat quietly in the stand while his players did the business out on the field. While it is still early days, the signs are that Fitzy is likely to do a fine job with the Banner.
Fitzgerald is benefitting from a lot from the rebuilding work put in by his unfortunate predecessor, Ger O’Loughlin who blooded a lot of the Under 21s that claimed the All-Ireland title in 2009.
Therefore, players such as Conor McGrath, Sean Collins, Cian Dillon and Donal Tuohy have one or two championship seasons already under their belts coming into this season. They may well lack a bit of experience at the very top level but these young players have many big days behind them at underage level.
There is no doubt that Antrim are improving, but it must be remembered that every few years or so they do make some waves before falling away again. Perhaps now that they are playing in the Leinster championship, the players believe that with the right draw, they can actually go into a championship season expecting to win a championship game or two.
Later on in the year when Liam Watson and his Loughgiel comrades are back in tow, they will be a far more formidable proposition but in the meantime, they will be happy to keep ticking away. Despite the strides they have already made and will continue to make under Wallis, they will not beat Clare on Sunday.
Clare’s only doubt ahead of the game is Sean Collins after he missed last weekend’s Fitzgibbon cup semi final due to illness. If Collins is passed fit then Fitzgerald will name the same line out that Limerick in the opening round.
Antrim meanwhile have made three changes to the side that beat Wexford with KB McShane, Michael Gettens and Conor McCann coming in at right half back, midfield and full forward respectively with Barry McFall, Kevin Sheerin and Sean McLaughlin the players to miss out.
Clare (probable) P Kelly; D O’Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney; J McInerney, P O’Connor, B Bugler; P Donnellan, N O’Connell, J Conlon, S Collins, F Lynch, C McInerney, C Ryan, C McGrath
Antrim (confirmed)- C O’Connell; A Gaffin, C Donnelly, K McGourty; KB McShane, N McAuley, S McCrory; N McManus, M Gettens; K Stewart, M Herron, C McFall; S McNaughton, C McCann, PJ O’Connell.