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'People are saying, 'this is five years on, you were 21, you're 26 now, where are you?''

Anthony Daly says it’s “incredulous” that Clare haven’t appeared in Croke Park in almost five years.

ANTHONY DALY SHAKES his head when he’s asked about Clare’s five-year absence from Croke Park.

The Banner’s last trip to the venue was on their 2013 All-Ireland final replay success, a record Daly calls “incredulous.”

Tony Kelly, Aaron Cunningham and John Conlon celebrate with the Liam McCarthy Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

After they lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup, Davy Fitzgerald’s side were expected to dominate the hurling landscape, but things have quickly changed.

Clare are rated by the bookies as the 6/1 rank outsiders to lift the honours in Munster this summer and have been leapfrogged by Limerick and Cork in the provincial pecking order in the last 12 months.

“You’re watching the replay in ’13 and all the bunting going up over Drumcondra on a Saturday night, a glorious Saturday night, and to think we wouldn’t be in the stadium – wouldn’t be in the stadium – to this day?” said Daly at the launch of RTÉ’s championship coverage.

“That would have been incredulous for us. To see the U21s winning (the All-Ireland) a week or two later handy… Like, tell a Clare person that night, ‘you won’t be there until 2018.’

“That’s the bit I think that’s irking the Clare man on the street, why can’t we get back there? I didn’t win a thing over them (as manager from 2004 to 2006) but every year we were in Croke Park. We made the semi-finals two years and a quarter-final.

“We were lucky to get the quarter-final in Croke Park (in 2004) but we still drew with Kilkenny there that year. It’s not easy but certainly, we should not have been five years out of Croke Park with the players that are there.

Anthony Daly with Fergal Lynch Anthony Daly with Fergal Lynch in 2006 Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“To say that Tony Kelly wouldn’t play in Croke Park (with Clare) again, Colm Galvin, Conor McGrath, these guys, David McInerney? They’re too good not to be in the great cauldron and Clare people are dying to get back there.”

Clare begin their Munster SHC campaign with a visit to Leeside where they’ll take on reigning provincial champions Cork.

A young core of talented Rebels emerged last season, with U21 stars Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade enjoying impressive campaigns with the seniors.

It’s not so long ago Clare won three All-Ireland U21s on the trot, but now that group are reaching the prime of their careers.

“People would look at winning three (All-Ireland) U21s with the boys more than (the senior win in) 2013. I think the book has been closed on 2013. It’s just people are saying, ‘this is five years on, you were 21, you’re 26 (now), where are you?’

“Even Bobby Duggan, my own (Clarecastle) clubmate, heading off for Chicago for three months. For some reason he just hasn’t clicked into senior and I still would think he should be at that level.

“I see with the club, when we needed him he was magnificent. Some managers fancy some players, we all had that experience both as players and managers, that a certain time comes that you’re not in favour with a certain manager and that can happen.”

Daly’s frustration is understandable, even more so when you consider that even Colm Collins’s footballers have featured in the Dublin venue on a couple of occasions. But he stresses the character of the current squad cannot be questioned.

“How can you say (that) to a guy that finished his career with two Munster minors, three Munster U21s, three All-Ireland U21s, an All-Ireland medal, a league medal, but they haven’t won a Munster.

Tempers flare in the first half Tempers fray during the league clash between Clare and Limerick this year Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“We won three Munsters and that would be an irk on us as well, not to win a Munster. As good and all as they were, they couldn’t back it up from 2013 to win a Munster even and get into the semi-final, even if you lose it.”

Ahead of Sunday’s opener against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the former Dublin manager says it’s Clare’s home games that will determine their season.

“The first game is huge obviously, but we have to win the two home games, Limerick and Waterford in Ennis. If you go back, traditionally Cork and Tipp would be the big guns and we’d probably be bottom of that, maybe Waterford and ourselves.

“Limerick would be ahead of us, probably, in Munster traditionally, but the three would be seen as equal over the last 20 years maybe. Win the two home games and that gives us a massive chance of being at least third.

“And if we can pick up something away from home in Cork, even one draw away in Thurles, there’s a great chance of being in a Munster final. And then you’re on the road.”

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Poll: Who do you think will win this year’s Munster senior hurling championship?

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Kevin O'Brien

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