©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Clare v Antrim — All-Ireland Under-21HC semi-final match guide

Semple Stadium is the venue as Clare and Antrim look for a place in the All-Ireland Under-21 final against either Galway or Kilkenny.

Saturday, Semple Stadium, 4pm, (Ref: Anthony Stapleton, Laois)

Latest from the medics and management… Clare centre-back Conor Ryan was a doubtful starter for the first of the All-Ireland under-21 semi-finals having picked up a leg injury when playing with Cratloe in the Senior Football Championship. But he makes the fixture as does his clubmate Cathal McInerney, who is in for Eire Og’s Davy O’Halloran.

There is speculation that senior star Tony Kelly will switch from the attack to midfield but that remains to be seen.

CLARE U21H: Ronan Taaffe (Tubber); Paul Flanagan (Ballyea), David McInerney (Tulla), Killian Ryan (Ruan); Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge), Conor Ryan (Cratloe), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Colm Galvin (Clonlara), Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge); Tony Kelly (Ballyea), Padraic Collins (Cratloe), Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones); Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara), Conor McGrath (Cratloe), Cathal McInerney (Cratloe).

This time last year, Antrim had to scrabble around just to ensure they had a starting XV for their All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin — a game they lost 3-23 to 0-6. The Saffrons will hope for much smoother preparations this year.

Antrim manager Johnny McIntosh has made five changes to his starting line-up from the Ulster final win over Derry. Defenders Christopher Murray, Fergus Donnelly and James McShane lose out, as do Stephen Smyth and Conor Laverty in attack; brothers Ronan and Daniel McCloskey come in, along with Conal Morgan, James Black and Seamus Dobbin.

ANTRIM U21: James O’Mullan (Rasharkin); Ronan McCloskey (Loughiel Shamrocks), Ronan Gillan (Loughiel Shamrocks), Conal Morgan (St John’s); James Black (Carey Faughs), Matthew Donnelly (Ballycastle McQuillan’s), James McCouaig (Carey Faughs); Aidan McKeown (Creggan), Stephen McAfee (Ballycastle McQuillan’s); Michael Devlin (St Brigid’s), Seamus Dobbin (Loughiel Shamrocks), Kevin McKiernan (Padraig Sairseil); Nigel Elliot (Dunloy), Conor McCann (Creggan), Daniel McCloskey (Loughiel Shamrocks).

Checking the odds… Clare are unbackable 1/100 favourites with Antrim 16/1 and the draw available at 33/1. The handicap betting has Clare (-23) at 10/11.

Clues from the form guide… Clare destroyed Waterford in the semi-final and what stood out most from the encounter was the performance of Stephen O’Keeffe, in the Déise goal. On second thought, it pointed to the profligacy of the Banner attack and that’s something that reoccurred in their Munster final clash with Tipp, when it took a late Niall Arthur goal to steal a 1-16 to 1-14 win over the Premier County.

Clare unnecessarily made it an uphill struggle, having missed with their first eight shots at the target and it took a free to get them off the mark in the 15th minute. We don’t expect that to be the case this time around but we would hardly expect Antrim to come through even if we have tempted fate. We’ll be keeping an eye on whether Cathal O’Connell will continue to roam out the field from his corner-forward starting position.

Antrim won a 28th Ulster under-21 hurling title and their 11th in 15 years when beating Armagh (1-18 to 0-11) and then Derry (2-20 to 1-12) in recent weeks. But in truth, it is scant preparation for a team such as Clare, replete with senior championship stars as they are. Last year’s semi-final against Dublin was chilling and the bookies expect more of the same here. There’s little evidence to suggest otherwise.

The game breakers are… Antrim have to go into the game believing they have a chance. Conor McCann was their go-to guy in the Ulster final at number 14 so he needs service, and lots of it. Last year they were on a hiding to nothing against Dublin at the same stage because, as county secretary Frankie Quinn later admitted, they had to ring around before the game just to ensure they had a team.

Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

For Clare, captain Conor McGrath is likely to be out in front at full-forward but while he is no doubt an excellent hurler, his finishing has been rather errant this season. We’ve seen it on a continual b3asis in recent months from the Dublin senior match, to the Waterford under-21 Munster semi-final, to the final itself against Tipperary. He continually beats his man to the ball but is maybe a little short of confidence with his rifle. If he regains his accuracy, the scoreboard in Thurles may be such to make a cricket score blush.

Gazing into the crystal ball… Clare just seem to have too much across the page and therefore the grass to be in any trouble here. Six of the 12 under-21 championships games this year have been decided by 10 points or more and we expect that to continue here.

Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin should have too much pace and hurling in around the middle third and though this team is not without its flaws, Antrim are unlikely to expose enough to keep this game alive too long.

Verdict… Clare

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