The sun is shining, the beaches are packed, 99s are flying out the door of supermarkets all over the country and Thurles is a sell out on Sunday for the Munster Hurling Final.
Who: Cork v Clare
What: Munster Hurling Final
When: July 1st
Where: Semple Stadium
Odds: Cork EVS, Draw 10/1, Clare EVS
This week brings back memories of years gone by for us hurling enthusiasts reminiscing on the beauty associated with the Munster championship over the years.
Almost 50,000 fans will embark on the gladiator’s arena on Sunday to see the two best teams in the province battle it out for the Munster bragging rights in what will be the highest attendance at the final since the 2006 showdown between Cork and Tipperary.
It’s no surprise that Cork will have over 30000 fans in attendance Sunday but the sometimes fickle Banner supporters have really got behind their team since the Tipperary victory and will travel in huge numbers Sunday.
The reigning champions, Cork, enter this game having gone through the round robin format undefeated. However, that stat does not tell the whole truth as the Rebels have been inconsistent over the four games played up to now.
Are Cork the dazzling pacey and skilful outfit that played against Tipp for 35 minutes, in the first half against Limerick and in the last 10 minutes against Waterford?
Or are they the nervy, pedestrian and predictable side that showed up in the second half against both Tipp and Limerick and the first 55 minutes against Waterford?
One huge positive for Cork is that all four games they played were relatively even going into the last 5 minutes and Cork did not succumb to defeat in any, underlining the character of this side.
The Leesiders will enter this game without the services of 2017 sensation Alan Cadogan and are also sweating on the fitness of Mark Ellis (groin) and Tim O’ Mahony (virus). They will be able to welcome Robbie O’ Flynn back into the set up after he successfully came through the under-21 semi-final against Waterford last week. Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Bill Cooper and Shane Kingston have all been in tremendous form of late and if they can get enough ball into Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy, the Cork men will be hard to stop.
My big worry for Cork is every time teams have really pushed on the puck out, goalkeeper Anthony Nash and the half-forward line have been found wanting.
One would expect that Clare will not give the Kanturk native the same respect they did last year when he was allowed to go short to Damien Cahalane for the full 70 minutes, enabling him to deliver a free supply of ball into the Cork full-forward line.
What a difference a goal makes. Had David Reidy not buried a goal late on against Tipperary, Clare would have been dumped out and we would once again be talking about the county’s inability to turn their obviously talented team into a victorious one.
That being said, Reidy took the goal beautifully and Clare have not looked back, with many now tipping the Banner county to be the most likely team to dethrone Galway in this year’s battle for the Liam McCarthy Cup.
There is a similar feeling to 2013 about this Clare team with the return to form of Tony Kelly and Podge Collins. This is aided by the superb scoring ability of Peter Duggan and the exceptional defensive displays shown by Jamie Shanahan, Patrick O’ Connor and Conor Cleary.
The team now seem to have removed the shackles of performances past and are playing with much more freedom than they have in recent years. They will have the bones of 20,000 Clare fans in Thurles Sunday to roar on their team but now is the time they have to deliver.
It’s been 20 long years since the Banner faithful have celebrated Munster success, beating Waterford in a replay.
In terms of All Ireland success, this game means more to Clare than Cork and a defeat would end their chances of lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Momentum is with Clare but Cork will relish the fact that everyone is talking up a side that have failed and failed again since 2013. Cork’s failures have been in the All Ireland series and Munster has not been a problem for this team over recent years.
This is one of the fastest Cork teams we have seen in years with genuine speed in every line and the wide open spaces in Semple stadium will play to the Cork attributes which may be the difference.
Verdict: Cork, but only just.