Cork and Clare set to be one for the ages

Cork v Clare go head to head tomorrow

Cork v Clare go head to head tomorrow

Ah, September. The kids are back to school, scratchy new uniforms and heavy books on their backs, the nights are drawing in, swallows skitter in the sky, and it’s All-Ireland time.

Cork and Clare line out at Croke Park tomorrow afternoon. If you’ve been in a state of suspended animation for the last few months, this pairing may come as a surprise to you. Where are last year’s Munster champions, Tipperary? Weren’t Cork considered to be all washed-up? What about Galway’s young guns? And where in God’s name are the unstoppable hurling behemoth Kilkenny?

This year’s Championship has been one of the most thrilling in years. It’s a testament to how topsy-turvy the competition became that Limerick, at one point, were considered All-Ireland favourites by Paddy Power. However, the pressure got to the Treatymen and they never really turned up in their semi-final defeat to Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare. Not to say that other matches in the Championship were one-sided affairs. Close contests came aplenty and it’s been a feast for the eyes for neutrals.

Clare, meanwhile, made their way to the final with little fuss. Under the fiery Fitzgerald, the young team have played a tactical game marked by their unity and strength. Like Ger Loughnane, who guided Clare to their first All-Ireland in over 80 years, Davy is the team’s talisman and a powerful leader. While they were defeated by Cork in the Munster Championship, they overcame the Rebels in League ties. Form means little and it’s all about the 70 minutes tomorrow afternoon.

Local colour in North Cork ahead of the All-Ireland (image by Roisin Peddle)

Local colour in North Cork ahead of the All-Ireland (image by Roisin Peddle)

What of Cork? Written off by many as yesterday’s men, they have revitalised their team with plenty of young talent. Like the now retired O’Connor twins, much of Cork’s fresh faces are from the North Cork; Jamie Coughlan of Newtownshandrum, William Egan of Kilbrin, and superb goal-stopper Anthony Nash (Kanturk). It’s another side effect of the decline of the traditional city teams, but that’s a debate for another day.

Like Davy Fitz, Jimmy Barry-Murphy is more than a mere bainsteoir. JBM has been adored since his own playing days as a dual star, and his return as manager was a sign to many in Cork that all was right with the world. Cork have been ruthless in their punishment of the opposition throughout the Championship, and the youth of both teams will ensure a lively, energetic final.

Clare has stuck with the same team that so soundly dispatched Limerick. Meanwhile Cork have moved veteran Tom Kenny to the bench as half-back Brian Murphy returns from injury.

Like any hurling match, the ability to put points on the board early will be the deciding factor. Colin Ryan, Clare’s expert marksman will be a danger to Cork, whereas Clare will be hoping that Anthony Nash’s puck-outs go astray, and that Patrick Horgan has an unlikely off-day. Cork hero Seán Óg O’hAilpin pointed out during the week that Clare and Cork’s games mirror each other with the use of a midfield sweeper. Whether either team decide to play a different game tomorrow remains to be seen.

It’s been sixteen years since the last all-Munster final, and the winner of that contest was Clare. The superstitious may go on that alone, especially if Biddy Early is smiling on the Banner.

It’s all too close to call, and a salivating prospect for fans of the real beautiful game.

The minor final looks to be a thriller too. The Hawkeye controversy has overshadowed the final between Galway and Waterford. Both teams remain unchanged since the semis, and the game is set to be a tight one, with bookies making Waterford slight favourites. Waterford’s full forward Stephen Bennett has been on fire during the Championship with six goals so far. Will Waterford’s firepower prove to be Galway’s undoing? The Tribesmen are not to be written off. Doubtlessly feeling more rested due to their direct route to the final, they might have the stamina needed to see off the Déise.

*Lead image via gaelicdirect and crosshavengaa. Compound image by author

The All-Ireland hurling final takes place tomorrow. The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle previews the big match…

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