As the build up for this weekend’s Munster SHC final intensifies, we take a look at what players would make it into a combined starting XV from both Cork and Clare.
1. Anthony Nash
Nash is now safely regarded as one of the best net minders in the country, without a shadow of a doubt. Since replacing Donal Óg Cusack as the Cork number one in 2012, not exactly small boots to fill, the Kanturk ‘keeper has been a phenomenon.
He won back-to-back All Stars in 2012 and 2013 as well as earning a nomination for Hurler of The Year in the latter year when the Rebels came up just short in a classic All-Ireland final replay against Sunday’s opposition.
His puckouts have been instrumental in the Rebel revival so far this summer, and by the time the final whistle is blown on Sunday, they will have had a strong say on the where destination of this provincial crown is.
2. David McInerney
Usually deployed at full-back for Clare, McInerney is a versatile defender well capable of marking any of the best forwards around and keeping them to minimal influence.
The 24-year-old can play comfortably in any of the six back positions and has been a mainstay in the Banner defence since his introduction to the set-up in the glory season of 2013, when he was still u-21. His strong, athletic presence is a blessing for his teammates around him who benefit greatly from his consistently dominating displays.
3. Damien Cahalane
Cahalane looks like a new man this year so far. For a hurler who has come in for such heavy criticism in recent seasons, the St. Finbarr’s clubman been busy casting any doubt over his capabilities aside with his performances in the championship to date.
Seamus Callanan and Maurice Shanahan, two of the most prolific attackers in the game today, will testify to the competence of Cahalane at the edge of the square in 2017. In those two displays against Tipperary and Waterford respectively so far in Munster, the 24-year-old put on towering performances.
Many on Leeside are attributing the peak form of the Rebels full-back to the influence of legendary Cork number three, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, who is a selector in their camp.
4. Séadna Morey
Morey broke into the Clarke senior set-up as part of that talented bunch who strung together three All-Ireland u-21 championships in-a-row.
Currently in a rich vein of form, the Sixmilebridge defender is as tight a marker as there is in all of the country. Touted to pick up the lively Alan Cadogan on Sunday in a man-marking role, fireworks should be expected.
Known also to roam forward from time to time, Morey notched a point for himself the last day out versus Limerick. He is a corner-back that no opposing corner-forward fancies coming up against.
5. Christopher Joyce
Joyce is one of the toughest defenders in the game today and has proven that consistently since his breakthrough at senior level for the Rebels.
From the Na Pairsaigh club, it is easy to see where ‘Joycey’ drew his inspiration from to grow into one of the strongest half-backs in Munster, with Cork legends John Gardiner and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín hailing from the same north-Cork City club.
Having recovered admirably from a cruciate ligament injury which he suffered in March 2015, he has re-established himself as a strong, intimidating physical force in the Cork defence. Whoever Joyce picks up in Thurles on Sunday better be ready for a battle.
6. Mark Ellis
Ellis has been in superb form for Cork this summer, commanding games from centre-back and springboarding attacks for them with his quality ball distribution. The speedy number six is ever reliant in the heart of the Rebel defence.
Never found wanting in the physical stakes and with the sharp touch to go with his vision, the Milstreet club player has everything an inter-county centre-back needs.
7. Mark Coleman
Having only made his championship debut for Cork in their Munster opener in May against Tipperary, Coleman has settled into the groove of senior inter-county championship hurling like a duck to water. His skill, speed and strength have allowed him to stand out as a key figure and star performer in Kieran Kingston’s side’s resurgence.
Awarded with the man of the match accolade for the superb showing he put in against the Déise, the Blarney man is already being deemed the find of the summer and to be in contention for Young Hurler of The Year.
At just 19 years of age, it is quite frightening to ponder what this young Corkman could develop into in the coming years, as he is already playing with the class and maturity of a seasoned veteran.
8. Tony Kelly
Kelly is clearly up there with the best hurlers in Ireland and it is fair to say that he would make it into any combined XV.
Although the semi-final victory over Limerick was not the Ballyea man’s finest hour, a game where he was scoreless and missed a penalty, a backlash is to be expected on Sunday which is an extremely worrying factor for Cork.
He can play anywhere, so we’ve selected him at midfield, a position where he finds himself on a world of possession.
Clare’s main man, for anyone who needs reminding of Kelly’s insane ability, check out this ridiculous highlight reel:
9. Colm Galvin
Completing an all-Clare midfield is the man with an engine which never shuts off. Galvin has the perfect build and style of hurling to make the modern midfielder.
If Clare are to triumph on Sunday, the midfield battle must swing their way, and Galvin will have a huge say in that. Well able to get up and down the Semple field all day and often finding himself on the scoresheet, the two-time Fitzgibbon Cup winner with Mary I is a key figure in the Banner set-up.
He will look to assert himself on the proceedings from the outset against the Rebels this weekend.
10. Conor Lehane
Lehane is on fire at the moment. 2017 looks to be the year where the Midleton speedster delivers on all the promising potential he has shown in bursts since breaking into the Cork senior fold straight out of minor.
So far this year, Lehane has proven to be the Rebels’ main man, establishing himself as a real leader for the team. He notched 0-10 against Tipperary and 0-04 in the semi-final win over Waterford.
The Cork faithful will look to the skilful wing-forward again to guide them to a first Munster title since 2014, and if the Leesiders do power on to the latter stages of the championship, we should expect Lehane to be a front runner for Hurler of The Year.
11. Podge Collins
It is great to see Collins back hurling for the Banner this year. Having dwindled between juggling a dual role and even focussing solely on the big ball for Clare with his father in the dugout for that code, Podge has elected to link up with Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney for 2017.
At his best, the Cratloe wizard is another player who would walk into any combined XV in Ireland. Unstoppable at full flow and a joy to watch, some of these Cork defenders may still be having nightmares from the runaround Podge gave them in Croke Park for those two epic 2013 finals.
12. Seamus Harnedy
Harnedy has been a model of consistency for the Rebels since bursting on to the scene in 2013, having no underage inter-county experience. He picked up the man of the match award in his championship debut that year versus Clare in Munster.
Strong in the air, a natural ball winner and knows where the posts are, the St. Ita’s native can operate in any of the six forward positions equally as effective as another.
With an undying work-rate and evident passion every time he crosses the white line, Harnedy is any managers dream to have within their ranks.
13. Conor McGrath
McGrath is a well recognised scoring machine in hurling circles in Munster and beyond.
Not one bit afraid to go for to go for the jugular when the opportunity arises, his goalscoring record in the championship speaks for itself. The Cratloe star has a lightning quick turn and a habit of leaving defenders for dead in pursuit of him.
His summer is already off to a flier, having helped himself to 1-03 in the semi-final defeat of Limerick. Cork will be wary of McGrath come Sunday and will need to restrain his influence on the game if they wish to come out on top.
14. Patrick Horgan
‘Hoggie’ certainly is and has been one of the most skilful players the game has has seen over the past ten years. A gifted stickman, Cork’s score-getter in chief and now a player with the experience and leadership skills to drag Kingston’s side through a tough battle, Horgan has the power to directly impact the result of any game he participates in.
The fact that he is closing in on surpassing the great Christy Ring’s all-time scoring record for the Rebels speaks for itself. If the Glen Rovers forward can add at least five points to his championship tally on Sunday, he will overtake the icon that is Ring on the all-time championship scoring charts to go fifth.
While he has still has some ground to make up on Joe Canning, Eoin Kelly of Tipp, Eddie Keher and Henry Shefflin, having impressed to date in 2017 and now poised to become Cork’s all-time top scorer, perhaps it is time that critics of the man sat back and enjoyed what is truly a special player while he is still around.
15. Shane O’Donnell
Would a Cork-Clare combined XV be complete without the hero of 2013?
O’Donnell has showed his awesome ability only in patches for the Banner since his amazing 3-03 in that All-Ireland final replay, but he has been hampered with injuries and frustrating niggles.
Looking back to his best in Clare’s Munster championship opener last month, bagging 2-02, there is no question as to who the Banner faithful would want the ball to fall to in a one-on-one with Anthony Nash on Sunday.
The Éire Óg goal machine’s finishing ability is second to none and the Cork defence will need to keep him under tight wraps if they are protect themselves from a similar fate to that of 2013.
Check out the latest episode of our weekly GAA podcast, The 16th Man where we looked ahead to this weekend’s Munster final clash betwen Clare and Cork