This Sunday sees the beginning of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship as Clare take on Waterford.
This promises to be the most competitive Munster championship for a long time and a strong provincial run through the ‘front door’ should be of benefit to the eventual winners. Tipperary have dominated the province recently and remain favourites but it must be said that either of the other four counties can beat Tipperary on any given day.
This weekend’s clash should be good. It doesn’t have the same appeal as a knockout clash but both sides would love to win a Munster title and their clash should bring high levels of intensity and drama. Waterford have held the upper hand against Clare recently, winning the last two meetings, but despite this Clare have been installed as favourites with the bookmakers. Personally I think it is a huge game for Clare. They have been making good progress in league campaigns and at underage and I feel they need to start making an impression on the championship this season.
They had a good year in 2012. They lost to Waterford in the opening round in a very tight contest and a game they probably should have won. They bounced back with an excellent and some would say vital win against Dublin which really helped their progress as a team. They lost to Limerick in their next game but gave a very good account of themselves in what I felt was one of the best games in last year’s championship. They performed well in this season’s league and this year’s championship is a big test for them. A win against Waterford would provide huge confidence and momentum to their season.
There a lot of questions surrounding this Waterford side. Last season’s campaign showed very little progress in my opinion. While they played well in their games I felt they looked like a team on the decline. They obviously deserve credit for beating Clare but I think that was a game that Clare lost more than a game that Waterford won. They gave a good account of themselves against Tipperary but never really looked like winning the game. They bowed out to Cork in the quarter-final when John Mullane almost single handily kept them in the game in the first half and they couldn’t withstand a strong Cork finish. Their league campaign was good. They secured Division 1A status quite early with some good results.
The loss of John Mullane is huge. His leadership and ability to score at vital times is almost irreplaceable. They have some good young forwards like Maurice Shanahan, Pauric Mahony and Brian O’ Halloran but the void left by Mullane will take a long time to fill. They will still rely on big performances from Michael Walsh, Noel Connors and Kevin Moran if they are to be successful but they have a mental toughness when it comes to tight games. They may win on Sunday but I struggle to see them having a big impact at the business end of the season.
The Davy Fitzgerald factor will provide an interesting side show on Sunday. Last year’s final whistle saw John Mullane and Eoin Kelly celebrate directly in the face of Davy Fitzgerald but Waterford defender Noel Connors has spoken highly of the former Waterford manager this week. There is no doubt that a passionate man like Fitzgerald will provide strong motivation for his Clare side this weekend and those antics at last year’s final whistle will provide Clare players with added incentive to be the side celebrating at the final whistle for 2013.
Potential Key Battle:
Tony Kelly –v- Michael Walsh
The teams are yet to be confirmed but one would assume that Tony Kelly will line out at centre-forward although Davy Fitzgerald may spring a surprise. Kelly was one of the best performers in the whole league campaign. He had many outstanding displays. He showed good ability to run at defences and was one of the freest scoring forwards from play. Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh on the other hand has been the most important player for Waterford since his move to number 6. Both teams fortunes may depend a lot on the performances of these two players and whoever wins this battle will provide a strong platform for the rest of their team.