5 key questions for Cork and Clare relegation decider

The battle to avoid the drop takes place tomorrow afternoon in the Gaelic Grounds.

Clare's Nicky O'Connell in action against Cork's Stephen Moylan.
Clare's Nicky O'Connell in action against Cork's Stephen Moylan.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

DUBLIN BOOKED THEIR spot in Division 1A for next season with victory over Limerick in Thurles last Saturday night.

But who will replace them in Division 1B of the hurling league?

That’s the dreaded outcome facing the losers of tomorrow’s battle between Clare and Cork.

Throw-in for the Division 1A relegation final clash in the Gaelic Grounds.

Here’s 5 key questions that will be factors in determining the outcome of the game.

1. Can Cork finish a game strongly?

In Cork’s Division 1A campaign, slumps towards the end of games have been a defining feature. There were three notable examples in the five games they played.

In a monsoon in Dungarvan, they shipped the last two points of the game as Waterford drew level. They were ahead of Clare by 0-14 to 0-8 at one juncture in the second-half Páirc Uí Rinn but were outscored by 1-14 to 1-2 in the remainder of the game with Luke O’Farrell’s consolation goal arriving at the death.

In Cork’s last game – where they produced a brilliantly vibrant display against Kilkenny – they lead by 1-11 to 0-11 in the 47th minute. But were then overhauled as the Cats outscored them by 0-9 to 0-1 and lost out despite Conor Lehane striking a last gasp goal.

Tailing off coming down the straight proved costly with their comeback to draw against Galway in Salthill being the primary exception. Challenging strongly all the way to the finish line must be an aim for them tomorrow.

2. Are Clare too reliant on Colin Ryan for scores?

Colin Ryan’s form this year has been a highlight for Clare. Rather than be a peripheral figure, he has been a leading light and produced the kind of performances that he hinted at with his superb display of markmanship in Clare’s 2009 All-Ireland U21 title win.

In five games to date, Ryan has notched 0-48 with 39 of those white flags have been raised from placed balls. But there is a flipside to that contribution.

In total Clare have registered 4-86 and when you remove those four goals, then Ryan has registered 56% of their points in games. Admittedly the unavailability of Conor McGrath and Darach Honan through injury at stagees has affected Clare up front.

Tony Kelly has managed to hit 1-12 and John Conlon has struck 0-8 but ultimately there is a reliance on Ryan and Clare need to share scores across the board.

Clare’s Colin Ryan.
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

3. Where is best for Cork to deploy captain Patrick Cronin?

Patrick Cronin was one of the standout figures in Cork’s march to the All-Ireland semi-final stage last year. The consistency of performance that he produced lead to him being a genuine Allstar contender at midfield and persuaded Jimmy Barry-Murphy to hand him the captaincy role.

This spring the thorny issue has been where is best to deploy him. Suspension ruled him out of Cork’s opening encounter before they experimented by deploying him at centre-back against Waterford.

Cronin is picked to play at wing-forward tomorrow against Clare rather than the midfield role where he had such an impact last year. The emergence of Daniel Kearney and the presence of Lorcan McLoughlin creates a selection dilemma in the middle third for Cork. But maximizing the influence of Cronin is important.

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Cork’s Patrick Cronin
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

4. Can Clare’s youth be a winning formula?

At stages during this spring’s league, the products of Clare’s All-Ireland U21 winning sides from 2009 and 2012, have been in sparkling form. That was best expressed in their devastating second-half display against Cork on St Patrick’s weekend.

But there has also been evidence that their youth needs time to adjust to the higher demands of Division 1A hurling. They failed to close out their ties at home to Waterford and Kilkenny and ended up losing by a point on both occasions. While against Tipperary, there were submerged by their opponents greater power and physique.

Clare are a team packed with great potential but smoothing some of their edges is required tomorrow if their youth is to produce a winning formula.

5. Who is going to feel the pressure to perform?

One look at the anguished faces of the Limerick hurlers in the aftermath last Saturday night in Thurles and the exuberance of the Dublin setup, perfectly illustrated the difference between life in Division 1A and life in Division 1B.

The stakes are similar for both sides in this relegation final. Clare are well aware of the effects of plying their trade in the second tier and how it can hamper their summer progress. Cork know a loss and relegation will derail the development of their players.

Tomorrow is going to be a pressurized environment and both Davy Fitzgerald and Jimmy Barry-Murphy will hope their teams can thrive in it.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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