*Clare’s Peter Duggan. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

USE OF THE BALL and discipline are two areas Clare will need to see an improvement in as they bid put together back to back wins in the Munster senior hurling championship.

This weekend’s clash is between two counties who seem to be on different trajectories. Much of the talk in Waterford this year has been negative. The seniors have played an uninspiring style of play which is one dimensional and lacking in attacking verve. They went down badly to Cork after a somewhat positive display against Limerick in the first round and they were largely underwhelming in the league.

Added to a backdrop of several years of failure at underage level, confidence in the Déise is low and talks of a system overhaul at underage level have begun. Waterford are still waiting for a first win in Munster across senior, minor and under 20s grade this year.

The mood in Clare is far more upbeat. Clare’s victory against Limerick in the last round kickstarted a feel-good factor which was duly doubled on by victories for our minors and under 20s. Clare’s success at underage is a testament to how quickly things can turn around when proper structures are put in place. Clare have won their first Munster championship at one of the top three grades since 2014 and hurling supporters in the county will hope that taste of success can inspire our 20s and seniors further.

While moods in the camps may differ, there is still a game to be won and Clare will likely have to win both of their last two fixtures in the round robin to qualify as one of the three to progress from Munster. Clare’s last outing was a huge success, but we saw last year how a classic fixture with Limerick drained Clare of energy for the rest of the season. Thankfully, there has been a two week break since that fixture and Clare players will have parked that feeling after the match to get on with planning for Waterford. While there was lots to look back on and be happy about the performance, there are many areas they will want to improve on also.

Clare’s use of the ball must be better. There is a tendency from our half backline and midfielders to take on long distance, low percentage shots rather than feeding our forwards. As a former forward myself, it is a major frustration to see ball floating in over the heads of our scorers and going wide. This drains the life out of a team, as forwards become frustrated and less likely to make the hard runs showing for ball. I hope to see a huge focus placed on bringing our inside line into the game early and, as the game opens up, taking scoring chances from further out the field. We have seen the effectiveness of Mark Rodgers and particularly Aron Shanagher off the bench when direct fast ball is being put in.

Clare’s discipline can also improve – less in frees conceded and more in how we interact with the referee. Several players had words with Colm Lyons in the Limerick match, causing him to bring three frees forward for dissent and making him more likely to give Limerick marginal calls. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, refs love to be plamásed and sometimes a quiet word from a ‘star player’ can be far more effective than a remonstration for all the crowd to see.

The clash this weekend should be an intriguing one but may not be as exhilarating as the Limerick fixture. Waterford like to play a rigid system which withdraws bodies back the field, targeting scores from distance. Most of their shooting is done in the middle third rather than close to goal as they rarely create chances for their inside line and often don’t even play one. The key here is to apply pressure to their shots without fouling. Nothing bails the man in possession out more than a cheap free in the middle of the field when he has no target inside. Clare absolutely have to keep the free count low and keep the pace of the game high.

Waterford still have exceptional talent in their side and will be a dangerous prospect. It has been baffling that Austin Gleeson hasn’t started in their first two fixtures but he takes to the field from the off this weekend. If Gleeson, Hutchinson and Bennett can get into the game early they may start to fancy their chances of pulling off an upset.

Davy will be targeting a higher energy display as he lamented the lack of hunger and work rate from his side after the Cork game. Whether or not they can produce a bounce for him will probably dictate whether his term in Waterford is one and done or if he can build a team over the course of a few seasons. If Waterford could take a scalp against Clare it could represent progress for a team who has been easily swept aside by the banner in the last two Munster championship clashes. If they fail to produce a performance perhaps some will begin to wonder if they are headed in the right direction.

However, I don’t see how they can operate successfully within the system this team currently employs. I’ve been wrong on the result in our first two outings this year, but I’m more confident this week in predicting a Clare win.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

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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