Clare and Antrim clash in the first of the U21 semi-finals down for decision in Thurles this weekend. The young men from the Banner County can consider themselves fortunate to be in the All Ireland series this year as it took a late Niall Arthur goal to defeat Tipperary in the Munster final.
They were hot favourites to win that game and sometimes playing in front of a big home crowd can leave young players feeling pressurised. They never really hurled with fluency on the night but their character was admirable as they dug out a win against the grain.
Having been drawn to play the Ulster champions this year they would have known that if they could emerge from their provincial championship that an All Ireland title would be within reach.
They have several senior stars in their side and the experience and class of players like Tony Kelly, Seadna Morey and Conor McGrath will be invaluable. Inside forwards David O’ Halloran and Cathal O’ Connell were prominent in the Munster campaign also.
Antrim have regressed at an alarming rate at underage level over the last five years. Where once their minor and U21 teams would be considered dangerous opposition, they are now rarely competitive and they have shipped some heavy defeats in recent seasons.
Ronan Gillan, James Black and team captain Conor McCann are class players but they lack the depth of talent required to compete at this level.
The odds are stacked against the Ulster champions and it is hard to see them troubling a very good Clare side.
Clare: R Taaffe, P Flanagan, D McInerney, K Ryan, S Morey, C Ryan, P O’Connor, C Galvin, S Golden, T Kelly, P Collins, A Cunningham, C O’Connell, C McGrath, C McInerney.
Antrim: J O Mullan, R McCloskey, R Gillan, C Morgan, J Black, M Donnelly, J McCouaig, A McKeown, S McAfee, M Devlin, S Dobbin, K McKiernan, P Sairseil, N Elliot, C McCann, D McCloskey.