Clare’s senior hurlers travel to UPMC Nowlan Park on Saturday wearing the favourites tag when they face off with Laois.
In their most recent game at the home of Kilkenny GAA which took place in February of this year, Clare shared the spoils with Brian Cody’s Cats. It was the only Allianz National League outing of 2020 that Brian Lohan’s men dropped points in what was an unbeaten group phase, their only defeat being the League decider with Limerick which also doubled up as the Munster SHC quarter-final.
When Laois and Clare faced off in the NHL in February, Clare recorded an eight point win with the majority of scores coming from Tony Kelly and Aron Shanagher.
Saturday is also Clare’s first competitive outing since the underwhelming ten point loss to Limerick. A starting fifteen will not be released until close to game-time. With the same fifteen lining out for the A team in an internal challenge game in Cusack Park on Sunday morning, it appears the former Clare great may opt to keep faith with the same team.
Wolfe Tones forward Aaron Cunningham was a surprise omission for the Limerick outing. The 2013 All-Ireland winner made a cameo appearance from the bench but was said to be in top form in the lead-up to the championship outing. He is expected to be given a far longer stint on the field this weekend.
His clubmate Aron Shanagher has proved to be a handful for Laois defences down through the years. He netted a hat-trick when the counties met in the 2016 championship.
Aidan McCarthy recovered from a broken thumb to be introduced the last day out and will be pressing for a starting spot. Retention of Clare’s puckouts and greater support for Tony Kelly in attack had been identified as areas in which improvement is necessary from the men in saffron and blue.
Laois manager Eddie Brennan has confirmed that they have sustained further injuries in advance of the game. Éanna Lyons has damaged his hamstring while Ronan Broderick and James Ryan have been ruled out with cruciate ligament and thumb injuries respectively. Wing-forward Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher is also doubtful for the tie.
“The hits keep on coming for us. What do you do, there will be three or four new faces coming into the starting 15 and three or four more into the squad. That’s what happens and we have to accept that. It is opportunities now for other guys. We had guys very disappointed that they didn’t get to travel with us to the Dublin game and other lads disappointed that they got no game time so they have opportunities now. Whatever 15 we have on the pitch, they have to firing on all cylinders and ready to go to war. That is where its at now. There are no more comebacks and it is our last chance to get an extension in this year’s championship,” the eight-time All-Ireland winner stated.