One of the most intriguing rivalries to develop in the Championship over the last few years has been that of Cork and Clare, with no less than four championship meetings taking place between the two sides in the last two years.
Cork knocked Clare out of the Munster Championship in both 2013 and 2014, but Clare won the most important fixture, the replayed 2013 All-Ireland final, after the first final ended in a draw. Both sides will go head to head in game number five, knowing that defeat will bring their respective 2015 campaigns to an end, so another cracker in Semple Stadium is surely on the cards.
Cork come into this fixture after easily overcoming Liam Dunne’s Wexford side in the previous round, and after defeat to Waterford in their Munster semi-final, this Cork team would fancy themselves as dark horses for an All-Ireland title in much the same way as Clare would have done two years ago.
With forwards such as Séamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane, who scored 1-6 from play against Wexford, including an excellent goal from an Anthony Nash puckout, you definitely wouldn’t bet against Jimmy Barry Murphy’s side being in the mix.
It’s in defence, however, where Cork’s weaknesses are, and based on the attacking displays shown by Tipperary and Kilkenny so far this year, it’s hard to see Cork beating either of those sides. Last year, when Cork won the Munster Championship, they seemed like a team genuinely capable of winning the All-Ireland, but injuries to crucial half backs Lorcán McLoughlin and Kieran Joyce have weakened the Rebels’ defence and they might run into trouble against a Clare attack that is very capable of scoring goals.
For all the criticism Clare have received, they still possess a lot of talent in attack and looked sharp in attack against Offaly last weekend. When Davy Fitzgerald brought on Aaron Cunningham against Limerick in the Munster quarter-final, the Wolfe Tones man’s pace caused a lot of problems for Limerick’s full back line and almost swung the game in the Banner’s favour – admittedly after Limerick’s Seán Tobin had been sent off to make it 14 v 14 again.
Cunningham worked well in a two man full forward line alongside Shane O’Donnell, a player who was very lively against Offaly last weekend before being taken off after 50 minutes when the game was won. Along with John Conlon, as well as Tony Kelly and the returning Colm Galvin in midfield, Clare possess a very strong attacking presence.
Like Cork though, it’s more in defence that Clare’s weaknesses seem to lie and in the discipline of their defence at that. If Clare concede as many frees to Cork as they did against Limerick, then Pat Horgan is certain to punish them the same way that Shane Dowling did and make it harder for Clare to stay in the game.
Pat Donnellan’s red card in that game didn’t help matters either and with a player sent off in three of their last four championship games, Clare need to be disciplined if they are to stick with the Rebels through this one.
The winner of this fixture will play either Galway or Tipperary/Waterford. Waterford already dealt with the Rebels this year, with Cork unable to break down the Déise’s strong defensive structure. It’s hard to see either Cork or Clare defeating either Tipperary or Kilkenny, but following disappointing Munster campaigns, both sides will be eager to get a win this weekend and will then fancy themselves against either Galway or the loser of this weekend’s Munster final.
The knives will be drawn on the manager of whichever side loses, so with both sides out to save their respective seasons, another great game between these rivals is in store.
Eoghan Lordan, Pundit Arena