Clare's Cathal O'Connell could be a key figure at Semple Stadium. ©INPHO/James Crombie

Five talking points ahead of the All-Ireland under-21 hurling final

Clare are on the verge of retaining their All Ireland under 21 title. Can Antrim cause another massive shock in Thurles?

What a collection of Clare players

THE CROWD WAS moderate, but the roar harkened back to the salad years of the 90s when Clare were kings, feared and respected in equal measure. David McInerney’s paw and raking clearances thrilled the Clare faithful as Galway were easily dismissed in last month’s tepid All Ireland under 21 semi-final.

Class was everywhere. Out the field Tony Kelly was going well craving involvement and adept at wisely selecting the correct option. Tender in age the four Clare under 21s, who started the senior showpiece with Cork are already experienced big day operators.

From the start of the season in the Fitzgibbon Cup Colm Galvin has shown that he isn’t merely a player for the future, he is polished in the present. Anyone who has witnessed Podge Collins hurl will testify to his engine and ability to convert under pressure. Last weekend’s point against Cork will linger long in the memory. Those four were the only four to start for the seniors, but they have several awesome accomplices as peers too.

A good start more than half the battle for Antrim

IT WAS All Ireland semi-final day. A panel of 19 players travelled to Thurles. Nobody, not even themselves, think victory is possible initially. Then Antrim start well and belief enters their system.

Doubt creeps into the raging hot favourites, Wexford, who are suddenly worried and agitated. The shock was on, Saffron momentum increased, and by the end only a couple of Wexford goals would suffice. Antrim had something to protect and that they did with commendable composure.

Surely Antrim will bring a bigger panel to the decider and Kevin Ryan’s encouraging sideline promptings should see them adopt a similar set up to what stunned Wexford. In the first half of that unexpected win Antrim scored 2-7 from 14 shots at the target, which was an efficient return. The likelihood is that Antrim won’t make as many chances, but whatever they do manufacture must be taken, especially early on.

imageHectic Banner schedule

HIGH STAKES matches are arriving thick and fast. The schedule is taxing and hectic, but that is the price of being successful. There is always a fresh challenge, and Clare hurling glimmers with promise. Still GAA history is loaded with cautionary tales so it is vital to make hay when trophies are on offer.

A string of Clare hurlers will feature in three All Ireland finals in September. It is an amazing feat and trying to be on the money in every contest is an examination of the mind as much as the body. Paul Kinnerk’s training acumen, though, is highly regarded in the south west and the Clare players are top level athletes as well as slick stickmen.

Between the lines

‘BETWEEN THE LINES’ is among the current coaching phrases in soccer. That is where the opposition can be hurt according to the technical experts. Teams can struggle to cope with a dynamic attacker capable of drifting into space to probe and pose questions. Watch Clare’s Cathal O’Connell, he is all style and skill.

In last year’s campaign O’Connell had the tricks and flicks to do serious damage in a withdrawn role. Creating space inside O’Connell’s willingness to wander was a critical factor in Clare garnering Munster and national silverware. Clare will hope to get O’Connell in the pocket again. Antrim will need to beware.

Antrim dining at the top table

ON A RAW February afternoon in Clones even though St Thomas’ eventually prevailed from a feisty All Ireland club semi-final replay there had been glimpses of how Antrim hurling can sizzle. Loughgiel Shamrocks, the holders might have been dethroned, but went down with honour. Thomas’ had to be at their best to eke out a victory. Leaving the border town Hill that afternoon one pondered how Antrim inter county teams at all levels haven’t brought that raw intensity to the table frequently enough since the heroes of 89.

Marquee names aplenty were part of their storied senior triumph over Offaly, but Antrim have never come anywhere near to that kind of achievement since then. That is why the under 21s display when beating Wexford has shown what can be done when graft is married with craft.

Though it is a tad unfortunate Antrim are meeting a particularly potent Clare outfit it will be heartening to see them scamper on to the hallowed Thurles turf again for a game that matters.

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