Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
©INPHO/James Crombie Clare celebrate at the end of the Munster U21 final.
# Young Folk
Clare U21s 'the most creative and innovative set of players we've worked with'
The Banner are 1/66 favourites for tomorrow’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling final.

ALL-IRELAND FEVER is set to run and run for another few weeks but Clare’s U21 hurlers have their minds set on Antrim, not Cork, this weekend.

The Banner are 1/66 favourites to defend their underage crown when they come up against the competition’s surprise package in Semple Stadium tomorrow evening.

Antrim overcame similar odds last time out when they stunned 1/80 chance Wexford and became the first Ulster team to book their place in the Bord Gáis Energy U21 final.

But now Kevin Ryan’s men face an even tougher test against a Clare side who can call on David McInerney, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Podge Collins, all of whom started in Croke Park last Sunday.

No fewer than 10 others have trained with Davy Fitzgerald’s senior panel this year, but while the rest of the country licks its lips at thoughts of the senior replay on 28 September, the players are fully focused on the Saffrons.

The response to Cork’s three second-half goals last weekend is a perfect example of their mental strength, joint manager Gerry O’Connor said.

“Traditionally if Clare had been hit for a sucker goal at the start of the second half, the heads might have dropped. After the second goal the game would definitely be over and the third goal would only be making the whole thing more unfortunate for us.

But these guys, they have a different mentality. They only know winning. They only know how to enjoy themselves and express themselves on the field.

They’re probably the most creative and innovative set of players that we’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. They’re continuously pushing themselves. They’re continuously setting seriously high standards.

“They’ll be a bit down certainly after the game but that game was wiped from their memory very, very quickly.

“By the time they got back into us on Tuesday night, all they were concerned about was who was going to make the U21 team.”


Clare managers Gerry O’Connor, left, and Donal Moloney, right with Antrim’s Kevin Ryan (INPHO/James Crombie)

The most notable absentee is Aaron Cunningham who is rated as “less than 50/50″ for tomorrow’s match by management. Cunningham, who is recovering from a grade one hamstring tear, could yet be fit to take his place on the bench for the senior final but O’Connor says the rest of his players can’t worry about injuring themselves before the replay.

“No, that wouldn’t be their mentality at all.

Our job is to completely park what happened on Sunday and completely park what’s going to happen in three weeks’ time. We’ve got better and better at that as a management team, to completely refocus them to the job in hand which is a huge task.

It isn’t an opportunity that Clare teams get very often, to compete in an All-Ireland final, so there’ll be no question of them being in any way complacent or not focused on Saturday evening.

If they are to win by anything close to the 15-point margin the bookmakers are predicting, O’Connor knows they will have to deal with Antrim’s unusual tactics.

Exclusive Six
Nations Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella’s exclusive analysis of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this spring

Become a Member

“I’ve watched the Antrim-Wexford game to death. Antrim set themselves up very cleverly.

“The one thing you would say, young [Daniel] McKernan and [Ciaran] Clarke, the two corner forwards played a very unorthodox game.

“They set themselves up to deprive Wexford or any realistic goal opportunities and they succeeded in doing that. They played a two-man full-forward line and four in their full-back line.

“I wouldn’t say Wexford were complacent, but they were a small bit orthodox about how they went about breaking down Antrim. They went down the channel of high ball into the full-forward line and they had three guys against four defenders.

“The challenge for us is to see how we get around the system Antrim have in place.

“It has been a real championship of complete unexpectedness,” O’Connor added. Clare will be hoping to avoid any more shocks tomorrow.

Football or hurling? Dual star Lee Chin still weighing up his options

Your Voice
Readers Comments