*Clare captain, Tony Kelly. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

AFTER THE FANFARE of the Munster championship, it feels like it’s back to the grind for the Clare hurlers this weekend.

The biggest question in Clare is whether our players can recover, both emotionally and physically after the Munster Final. Last year this was not the case and Clare scraped past Wexford in a gritty but uninspiring display. Clare’s energy levels were through the floor and Kilkenny made us pay in the semifinal, ruthlessly putting us away.

When Clare play at a high pace with intensity, we have shown that we can compete with the best in the country, but, when there is a drop-off in the work rate, we can appear ordinary.

While the Leinster championship does not attract the same carnival atmosphere and reach the same entertainment levels as Munster, the teams there are gritty and play a physical brand of hurling. Dublin will be dangerous opponents for Clare this weekend and we will have to be at our best. Donal Burke is up there with the best dead ball specialists in the country at the moment and if we let him dictate the pace of play by conceding games, we could find ourselves in trouble. Clare’s discipline will have to be excellent, and we can’t afford to concede frees as we did in the first half of the Munster Final particularly.

While I disagreed with handing a home venue to Limerick for the Munster Final, we couldn’t have picked a better venue for Clare in the All-Ireland quarter final. This will be Clare’s third time playing championship in the Gaelic Grounds and those details make a big difference to a team. The pitch is suited to our players and that familiarity should put our players at ease. Our scoring efficiency dropped off in the cauldron that was the Munster Final, but I expect a huge improvement in this area this weekend.

Our bench made a positive impact in our last outing against Limerick and some players put their hands up for a starting birth. None more so than Ian Galvin who came on and made a huge impact. Ian’s finishing is clinical, and he has a lot to offer to this team, I will be hoping that he sees more gametime this weekend.

The absence of Conor Cleary was a huge loss for the Munster Final and much of the focus will be on whether he is back, and if not, how will they proceed in his absence. Once Cian Nolan received a yellow card his hands were tied and couldn’t handle Aaron Gillane, however, I would see no issue with starting him this weekend and I think you would see a huge improvement in him if you did. Paul Flanagan and Seadna Morey both did well when introduced the last day, and both are more than capable of playing from the start this weekend.

Clare have taken a high-risk approach when playing Limerick, man marking their half forward line to stop them from working the ball effectively out of defence. The risk here is that huge space is left in front of the Clare full backline, this is a necessary risk when playing against Limerick as Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey particularly can dictate the game if left unmarked. However, I would favour a tighter defensive unit against Dublin and try to limit the space in our defence. While Donal Burke needs man marking, the other forwards should be limited enough by the hard work of our midfield and half forward line. This should allow two of our three half backs to stay more connected to the defence and cut down that space.

Dublin will naturally look to curtail Tony Kelly’s influence on the game, and I would expect to see him double marked for large portions of the game this weekend. Clare have enough attacking threat for other players to step up and take advantage of this. Clare are a better hurling team than Dublin and if we are focused and dictate the pace of play I don’t see Dublin being able to live with us. Clare should have enough this weekend to progress and get a chance at redemption against Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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