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6 questions: TheScore.ie’s writers preview the All-Ireland hurling final

JBM or Davy Fitz? Who are the key men in each county? Or who will be taking Liam back home with them tonight?

Cork and Clare: Munster rivals meet again.
Cork and Clare: Munster rivals meet again.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

1. Which manager has done a better job this season – JBM recovering from relegation or Davy shining with a young team?

Fintan O’Toole: JBM. Davy at least had the potential of recent underage victories to tap into and they survived their first year in Division 1A. JBM has overcome league relegation, a perceived lack of talent due to Cork’s lack of minor and U21 All-Irelands, and the loss of a core of last year’s squad to retirement, injury, Gaelic football and rugby. But he’s brought the county back into an All-Ireland final. It’s been a marvellous feat.

Paul Hosford: JBM. This is a Cork team that has been dead and buried on numerous occasions this year. Relegation, losing Munster, drawing Kilkenny, drawing Dublin, being down to Dublin. And yet, here we are. In an All Ireland Final.

Adrian Russell: Davy Fitz for me, Ger. You get the impression most of this young Clare side would be gearing up for Freshers’ Week rather than All-Ireland final Sunday if it wasn’t for the mad-genius influence of their manager. But JBM has done a typically classy job again.

Sinéad O’Carroll: Stellar jobs all round. JBM saw his team devastated by relegation and a Munster final defeat but his answer? Let’s go beat Kilkenny.

It’s been a rocky road for Davy Fitz too but Clare have gone from strength to strenth in the back-door system. So much so, that you’d wonder if he would have had it any other way. Cute hoorism at its finest, he’s also played the underdog/young card as much as he can in public but you can bet he never doubts his lads.  Davy just shades it for me. His team are winning because of what he’s pulling and dragging out of them. That Clare team under anyone else may not be such a dangerous prospect.

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Cork boss Jimmy Barry-Murphy celebrates with Frank Murphy (INPHO/James Crombie)

Sean Farrell: JBM. As impressive as Clare have been to this point, they didn’t come from the doldrums and they didn’t beat Kilkenny.

Niall Kelly: Both have done superb jobs but it’s Davy Fitz for me. He had all the raw materials with a massive amount of underage talent coming through but it takes a shrewd manager to assemble the pieces and get them to play as well as Clare are. Because he’s a madman (that’s a understatement), he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves but he’ll have earned his place at the top table if Clare win.

Steven O’Rourke: It’s a tough one but it’s JBM for me. As Paul said, Cork have been written off so many times this year and they keep bouncing back. No doubt Davy Fitz has done a great job but the Clare hot-seat doesn’t come with the same burden of expectation as the one on Leeside.

Patrick McCarry: JBM has done a great job but I’m going to go for Davy. There was talk of Clare building a team that could challenge the best in years to come but no-one would have picked them as finalists at the beginning of the championship. Their style of play has been most impressive too and one more burst of bravado could get them over the line.

Paul Fennessy: JBM. The ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ cliché is evidently as much a myth in GAA as it is in any sport. Recovering from the psychological blow of relegation is a bigger challenge.

2. Who’s the key player for Cork?

Fintan O’Toole: Patrick Horgan. This summer the 25 year old has only played three and a half senior championship games yet has amassed 1-31, including 21 pointed frees, from his outings.

Paul Hosford: Pat Horgan. His impact need only be shown by what happened in the Munster final after he went on. On form, he’s as good as any player in the country.

Adrian Russell: Every Cork team should have a gatchy, wristy, ruthless Glen Rovers forward if you ask me so I’d be tempted to say Pa Horgan but Shane O’Neill has been a ‘Rock’.

Sinéad O’Carroll: Easily answered after the Munster Final. Pat Horgan – his sending off, for me, is the only reason they lost that game. And, in case we weren’t clear on his importance, he goes on to a man-of-the-match-winning performance against the Cats and contributes 11 points…

Sean Farrell: Pat Horgan’s the obvious choice and his scoring feats from play and placed balls, but you sense that Conor Lehane has been a relatively quiet cog within the Rebels so far and this could well be his time to assume stardom.

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Stephen White celebrates with Patrick Horgan (INPHO/Colm O’Neill)

Niall Kelly: Anthony Nash. It ain’t easy following in Donal Óg’s footsteps but after waiting in the wings for so long, Nash proved last season that he is more than capable. This year, remarkably, he has been even better. His double-save against Kilkenny was the icing on the cake and he’s been just as influential at the other end with some timely points. My pick for Hurler of the Year.

Steven O’Rourke: Now that he’s actually been named in the team, it has to be Brian Murphy. It looked like his season was over in June but it shows how important JBM thinks the 31-year old is that’s he has brought him back for the final. If he can do a man marking job on Tony Kelly, then Cork really limit Clare’s attacking potential.

Patrick McCarry: Patrick Horgan tops the scoring charts due to his free-taking but he has been the heart-beat of the Cork attack. Cork may still have lost to Limerick had he remained on the pitch but they sure were grateful he was freed up to play, and reel off 11 points. Ended the team’s goalscoring drought against Dublin last time out.

Paul Fennessy: Pa Horgan. Despite still being only 25, he’s already established himself as a vital member of the side. And he deserves some silverware more than most, owing to his phenomenal scoring record alone.

3. Who’s the key player for Clare?

Fintan O’Toole: Tony Kelly. He lit up Croke Park with his semi-final display and showcased his range of skills and point-taking. If Cork stifle his threat, like they did in the Munster semi-final, then they can thrive.

Paul Hosford: Colin Ryan. I think free taking could be massive today. Look at the ’03 final when Cork squandered a lot of dead balls. If Ryan is on form, Clare are right in it, if he has a bad day, however, it could go the other way.

Adrian Russell: As Donal Óg Cusack kind of said last Sunday night, the system is the main threat from Clare. Ryan is probably to key to that.

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Cian Dillon and Tony Kelly celebrate at the end of the All-Ireland semi-final (INPHO/James Crombie)

Sinéad O’Carroll: Not as easily answered. It’s all about the panel when it comes to Clare – and playing the system. Central to that system though is captain Patrick Donnellan, doing his best Seanie Mc impression. Can he command that space in the Cork end and direct play? But there are other game-changers amongst the ranks, and no more so than Colin Ryan. Imagine if he and Horgan are on form? We could be in for one high-scoring game.

Sean Farrell: Brendan Bugler is a terrific hurler and his match-up against Seamus Harnedy will be key as the St Ita’s man has been among Cork’s most consistent scoring forwards up to this point.

Niall Kelly: Take your pick of five or six. McInerney, Bugler, Ryan, Kelly and Collins are all crucial to this Clare side but Pat Donnellan’s role as sweeper has been particularly decisive in the last two games. Galway couldn’t make any headway with their spare man in the quarter-finals and in the semis, John Allen’s best efforts ultimately ended up disrupting the Limerick attack more than the Clare defence. How Cork deal with Donnellan will be important.

Steven O’Rourke: As Sinéad says, Clare aren’t about individual players but I can’t help but feel Podge Collins is going to have a cracker for Clare today. If he doesn’t it could be the aforementioned Kelly or, in a close game, Colin Ryan’s free-taking. In short, I’m going to get splinters sitting on this fence.

Patrick McCarry: Conor McGrath has been at the heart of so much of Clare’s best moves and has popped up with crucial scores all summer. Colin Ryan’s steady supply of frees have been vital but The Banner’s strength has been scoring from all over the park. McGrath personifies that threat and has a handy goalscoring knack.

Paul Fennessy: Very difficult to single out one player for Clare. David McInerney, Patrick Donnellan and Colin Ryan have all had a huge impact in their own way.

4. A key factor this afternoon will be…

Fintan O’Toole: Clare’s ability to get a goal and Cork’s ability to stop them. Green flags have sustained Clare this summer with Shane O’Donnell and Conor McGrath’s second half strikes killing off Waterford, Cathal McInerney’s extra time goals killing off Wexford while early goals against Galway and Limerick provided them with huge boosts. While only David Treacy has put the ball past Cork’s outstanding goalkeeper Anthony Nash this summer. Nash’s clean sheets against Clare and Kilkenny were absolutely critical this season.

Paul Hosford: Free taking. It’s going to be tight, probably nervy as well, so whichever team holds their nerve in front of the posts will eke it out.

Adrian Russell: The referee. It’s been an unbelievable summer for hurling but we’ve had high profile sendings-off — O’Dwyer, Horgan, Shefflin — throughout. It invariably ends any threat from the 14-man team so hopefully we end up with 30 men on the field.

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Brian Gavin: the man in the middle tomorrow (INPHO/James Crombie)

Sinéad O’Carroll: The occasion. Did anyone call this final at the start of the year? Which of the lads will cope better with Croke Park in September with the pressure of expectation from their hurling-mad counties? “You can’t win anything with kids”…we’ve heard that one before. But for me, that’s exactly why Clare might have the edge. Young pretenders, young kids, they may just sail through it – used to being big fish in their smaller ponds of schools, college and U21 games.

Sean Farrell: Hunger! Nah, only messing. Neither side will be wanting in that regard. Instead, it’s an interesting match-up of traditional psyches. While both present youthful faces and inexperienced players only one side looks like they possess an assurance that their method will surely win out. If Clare passion can override the Cork swagger, we’ll be in for a hell of a finish.

Niall Kelly: Discipline. And, linked to that, the performance of referee Brian Gavin. Pat Horgan and Colin Ryan are both lethal free-takers and if they are given easy opportunities, you can be sure they will take the bulk of them.

Steven O’Rourke: Nerves. There aren’t many players lining up today with All-Ireland winning medals in their pocket. Whoever wins that battle has a great chance of winning the game.

Patrick McCarry: A red card. Surely you can’t rule one out in a summer in which they have been flashed for good, and scandalous, reasons. There may be some early leniency but don’t be surprised if a red card alters the destination of the Liam MacCarthy.

Paul Fennessy: Luck. Both teams seem fairly evenly matched, so it only takes one dodgy refereeing decision or Hawk-Eye malfunction to swing the game in a particular side’s favour.

5. What’s been your favourite hurling moment this summer?

Fintan O’Toole: Kevin Moran’s herculean late point that enabled Waterford to force extra time against Kilkenny in July’s qualifier in Thurles. Moran lived up to the role of captain as he made a lung bursting run down the right wing and despite being hooked as he tried to strike off his right, the De La Salle man swivelled to launch over a point off his left that tied the game. In a summer of unrelenting drama, it was an extraordinary passage of play.

Paul Hosford: Conor Lehane’s early point against Dublin. Falling over, he scoops the sliothar into his hand, gets up and fires over.

Adrian Russell: The scenes at the Gaelic Grounds at the final whistle in the Munster final will be talked about for years. Plan B was rocking.

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#Scenes: Shane Dowling celebrates with the Limerick fans (INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)

Sinéad O’Carroll: Ah so many. What a classic year. Paul Schutte’s performance at corner back – shutting out the much talked about Walter Walsh – in the replayed game between Dublin and Kilkenny was a personal favourite. And then seeing his brother Mark come on to get a goal. That’s the stuff the GAA is made of. Off the field, seeing Joe Canning sign autographs for about 30 minutes for kids from all counties after they were knocked out of the Championship by Clare showed how important this guys are to Ireland. Pure athletes, great professionals and super men. Hats off to everyone who was involved in hurling 2013.

Sean Farrell: TJ Reid’s equalising point against Dublin in the first Leinster semi-final. We can look back and laugh now, but at the time it was an ominous stroke which meant that the normal order would surely be retained. Dublin had missed their chance. How great it is to be very very wrong.

Niall Kelly: Watching Johnny McCaffrey lift the Bob O’Keeffe Cup and end Dublin’s 52-year wait for a Leinster hurling title. Their performance against Galway that day was a joy to watch… and the talk of the double was nice while it lasted.

Steven O’Rourke: All of it. But if you want one specific incident, it has to be Podge Collins’ reverse handpass against Galway. Woof.

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Patrick McCarry: Dublin looked as if they were the real deal when they wiped the floor with Galway in the Leinster Final. The win over Kilkenny was riveted with tension but the Dubs played so fearlessly against Galway after, next up, that it looked as if an All-Ireland final appearance was on the cards.

Paul Fennessy: As a Dubliner, it had to be being in Croke Park to watch the Leinster final. It was obvious how much it meant to Dublin and in particular, Anthony Daly, as he was welling up while watching the captain’s speech.

6. Who will lift the Liam McCarthy Cup and why?

Fintan O’Toole: Cork. They have brewing confidence, a core of vital experience (Nash, O’Neill, Kenny, Murphy, Cronin and Horgan) and an attack that is starting to catch fire.

Paul Hosford: Heart says Cork. Because I’m from Cork. Head says Cork because I think that our backline could just be too strong and the return of Brian Murphy could give us enough to get just over the line.

Adrian Russell: Hopefully I’ll be raising a glass to celebrate a Cork win but I can see Davy Fitz crying deathstare tears of joy on Ger Canning’s shoulder for some reason. We’re due a draw though.

Sinéad O’Carroll: The mother is from Clare so we grew up in Kildare screaming ‘Hon the Banner’ (there was no conflict of interest as we gave the Lilywhites a right cheer in the Christy Rings too). So my heart says Clare and the weather, the hurling, the presence of Davy Fitz… it’s all a bit reminiscent of ’95, no?

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One cup: will it be Cork or Clare? (INPHO/James Crombie)

Sean Farrell: It’s science. Cork’s DNA will assure them that they’re on course for the All-Ireland. Clare will fight the good fight, but there will come a time, between minutes 60 and 65, for a cool head and it will likely be a Rebel.

Niall Kelly: A last-minute Colin Ryan free wins it for Clare.

Steven O’Rourke: Cork. Because they’ve been the better side in the two key games between the pair already this year (despite Clare winning the relegation final). Hold that form and they’ll win by 4-6 points.

Patrick McCarry: I think Cork will shade it as these young lads from Clare have got to eventually realise the enormity of what they are mixed up in. Brian Murphy’s presence, and man-marking abilities, for Cork is vital.

Paul Fennessy: Cork have looked increasingly impressive of late, so I’m tipping them for a tight win. And besides, if I don’t, certain people in the office won’t be too happy.

Cork v Clare, All-Ireland senior hurling final match guide

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