Mike McNamara, whether he was a prime mover in it or not, once operated in a hurling context where perceived slights were seized upon. If he read some of the championship previews judging his charges hopes he might be inclined to pin articles on the dressing room wall, and slip into full Canon Michael O' Brien "donkeys for derby's mode". The Sunday Tribune was particularly uncharitable, it's hurling correspondent rating Clare beneath Wexford, and another journalist railing against McNamara for his antediluvian training methods. The redoubtable Sean Moran in the Irish Times slipped into generic cliche by terming the Banner county to be "in transition". Too often this term is used in politically correct terms to describe an outfit that is perceived to be not much cop, and with Clare naming only one player spending his first season on the panel, and with no u-21 anywhere near the starting fifteen, there is a patronising whiff in the air.
But this imagining of Clare still existing in an established patterns also exists amongst their supporters. Talk amongst them usually focuses on the malaise in the forwards, with an eye constantly fixed on the sky looking for a sign as to the arrival of the next James O' Connor. Conversely there is a curious "it will be all right on the night" attitude towards the sides backs, due to years of living on the fatted calf. This complacency seems to have infected the management. It's a little reported fact that two men who played corner back in last years championship Kevin Dilleen and Anthony Kilmartin are not involved this summer. The Clare selectors seemed confident that Tadgh Keogh would cut the mustard and didn't try any other players in the position, bar the ill-fated Conor McMahon, in the spring. But subsequent challenge matches have put the selectors off the Sixmilebridge man and Daragh Clancy, with no apparent corner back experience, has been dragooned into the position. In the half-line Conor Plunkett so long the dauphin to Seanie McMahon has been informed his time has come, a promotion that seems less logical and more ripe for disappointment than five years ago. On his right Pat Donnellan, hopefully not too chastened by having virtually all the media spell his name wrong throughout the league, will have to overcome the suspicion formed from his county u-21 career, that he is more a ball player in the Paul Kelly mode than a granite hewn championship wing back that Clare need. If Dan Shanahan and Seamus Prendergast have shaken off injury, and in the case of the former sonamblulent league form, we'll have a much better idea about the reasoning behind Gerry Quinn's omission, on Sunday night.
The saffron and blue selection has a wing and a prayer element to it in attack for different reasons. Tony Griffin and Diarmuid McMahon are only back in the country for just over a month, albeit they are reported to be in good physical shape. Tony Carmody has had very little spring hurling after a serious injury. Niall Gilligan and Jonathan Clancy have both suffered mild concussions in recent weeks. But with Declan O'Rourke invalided and Fergal Lynch and Barry Nugent failing to secure the trust of yet another management team, Clare are hoping that class ( yes there is plenty of it, despite urban legend ) will overcome the respective infirmities. One bugbear, the lack of a quality freetaker may have been treated by Mark Flaharty's inclusion. Another, the lack of goal power is, judging on the league and challenges still a sore point.
The comfort for Clare is that their undercooked forwards are facing underpowered Deise backs. Eoin Murphy, perhaps on the advice of a frustrated agent, attempted in the winter through a celebrity dancing show to raise his public profile. His worth may be more apparent on Sunday night, much to the chagrin of Waterford's supporters, if their Munster hopes have gone south. His direct replacement Declan Prendergast, although more suited to corner back than full, will likely mark the aforementioned Flaherty, and Clare's debutant might have faced a harder introduction to championship. The absence of Ken McGrath doesn't need to be dallied on the for too long. One thing Waterford could take from the league q/f defeat to Tipperary was how calm and authoritative Kevin Moran seemed in a the problem position of full back. And of course the injury worries aside- which prevent Eoin Kelly from starting- there is the suspicion that Waterford's forwards have too much heavy artillery for their opposite numbers. Bar the debutant dual player Gary Hurney, it is instructive that the most unheralded amongst them include the All- Star Stephen Molumphey, and the oft undervalued Eoin McGrath.
Clare could improve markedly later in the summer. This would be ironic considering managements desire to take the Munster Championship ultra-seriously, forsaking the policy of the Anthony Daly era. Their saving grace could be that their ill-preparedness due to events seems to be aped by Waterford. Indeed its possible that Clare might have more fight for a contest that may be prosaic for Waterford with their eyes on a much bigger prize. However despite the absentees, Waterford's xv still seems to have a smidgen more talent, and though the draw might be tempting for serious punters, the Deise are still the better bet.