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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019

Clare's long-awaited return to Croker, Galway's attacking riches and key match-ups

5 talking points ahead of today’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Galway and Clare.

1. All-Ireland final the prize on offer

BOTH GALWAY AND Clare know exactly what’s at stake today. Nobody remembers teams that lose semi-finals. The winners in Croke Park this evening will guarantee their place on hurling’s big day in the sun.

John Hanbury with Shane O'Donnell Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

They say semi-finals are about winning and nothing else. For the losers, it means a winter of not quite knowing how far you are behind the rest. No All-Star or holiday will make up for that.

Galway are chasing a second All-Ireland title in succession. Will the majority of their key players in the primes of their careers, the Tribesmen look like a side intent on maximising their medal haul over the next few years.

It’s been five years since Clare last experienced the greatest hurling day of the year. They’ll be chomping at the bit to make it back up the mountain.

Daithi Burke Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2. Individual match-ups

When the referee throws the ball in at 5pm, eyes will be drawn to the match-ups all over the field. This will be a game where those match-ups will be key to victory.

The two that stand out are Daithi Burke v John Conlon and Joe Canning v David McInerney. Both promise to be enormous physical battles and could go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.

Gearoid McInerney v Tony Kelly will be another fascinating one if the Ballyea ace starts at 11. Kelly will look to move left and right, dragging McInerney out of position. The Galway centre-back will face a dilemma.

Should he follow Kelly and leave the middle wide open or let him hurt Galway with scores from distance? Johnny Coen may look to drop back from midfield and pick up Kelly.

Of the rest, Jonathan Glynn v Conor Cleary and Adrian Tuohy v Shane O’Donnell will be fascinating.

3. Can Clare cut out sloppy mistakes?

Clare’s Achilles heel over the last few years and even going back to Davy Fitzgerald’s reign has been their poor decision making and inaccuracy.

They’re at their best when they work the ball through the lines with slick stick-passing and find inside pair Conlon and O’Donnell with early ball. When unforced errors start to seep into the Banner’s game it really affects their confidence and they start taking potshots from distance.

Clare need the likes of Colm Galvin, Podge Collins, Kelly and Duggan to nail their long-range scoring chances and avoid the sort of confidence-sapping misses they hit in the recent Munster final.

Jonathan Glynn celebrates scoring his sides opening goal Source: James Crombie/INPHO

4. Galway’s options in attack

It says an awful lot about the Galway attack that a player of Conor Cooney’s talent is in danger of being left on the bench for today’s game.

With Jonathan Glynn proving an excellent option for Galway at full-forward and Niall Burke enjoying his best year in the maroon jersey, Micheal Donoghue is blessed with attacking options.

This game is likely to boil down to how well the Clare defence can cope with the star-studded Galway attack. Avoiding the concession of goals is one thing, but the likes of Joe Canning, Jason Flynn and Joseph Cooney will pick off scores out the field all day if they’re given time and space on the ball.

The Banner will need to bring a savage work-rate to force Galway into playing rushed passes into their forward division.

Shane O'Donnell holds the Liam McCarthy Cup while being lifted in front of Hill 16 by team mates Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

5. Clare’s return to Croke Park

It’s well documented at this stage, but it’s still hard to believe it’s been five years since Clare have played a game at Croke Park.

They shocked the country in 2013 with a brilliant young squad that annexed the big prize, but the likes of Kelly (24), O’Donnell (24) and Collins (26) are all at the age now where they need to be adding more medals to their collection.

Clare are coming slightly under the radar given Galway are the reigning champions and it seems their supporters still don’t quite believe in this group. Dump out Galway this evening and they’ll start believing.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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