Cork and Clare clash in Wednesday night’s Bord Gais u-21 Munster hurling final up in Cusack Park, Ennis with a 7.15 throw in and for armchair fans it’s live on TG4 as well.
These are the four most significant factors that will decide where the trophy will go. Clare will be going for a three in a row having won the Munster title in 2012 and 2013, going on to All Ireland glory on both occasions, while Cork are in search of their first Munster U21 title since 2007 when current senior captain Pa Cronin featured.
1) Home Advantage
This could prove a big advantage for the Banner county as they have more experience of the pitch from regular training sessions and defeating Tipperary there in the semi final. While a few of tonight’s Cork panel will have played in Cusack Park, the Rebels will be unable to rival Clare’s local knowledge.
2) Battle of the forwards
The return of Shane O’Donnell to the Clare forward line will give them a huge boost. While the Éire Óg man has had a frustrating season with injuries he returned the last time out against Tipperary and scored a goal, indicating a return to the devastating form he showed in last year’s senior all Ireland final. Fellow survivors from last year’s senior All Ireland victory Tony Kelly and Peter Duggan are in their last year at U-21 level and, with Clare seniors out, will be extra hungry for victory and are sure to cause problems for the Rebels defense.
Cork have their own talisman in Alan Cadogan who is surely in the running for young hurler of the year, having already broken into the Cork senior set-up. He will line out in the full-forward line alongside fellow senior panelist Rob O’ Shea, both will need to deliver big if the title is to return to Leeside for the first time since 2007.
3) Cork’s Keeper
Cork currently have the keeper of the Championship in Ballinhassig’s Patrick Collins who produced a string of saves that the Cork management team described as ‘outrageous‘ in the semi final victory over Waterford. The keeper is in his second year of u21 championship despite being eligible for minor this year if he produces more heroics tonight it could prove decisive
4) Cork are left in the championship
For the Clare players if they lose tonight then they will be finished inter county hurling for the year before August something they weren’t planning for at the start of the year, with the senior team going down to Wexford already. This will give them an added incentive to deliver. It’s really do or die time for the Banner men
Cork on the other hand will still have the senior championship to play for and those players on the senior panel will have the All Ireland semi final against Tipp on the back of their minds.
This could be a huge factor in the hunger both teams bring the clash, and consequently it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clare emerge victorious.
Stephen Walsh, Pundit Arena.