Apologies for firstly focusing on the vanquished in the recent Munster semi-final. But it's apt to reflect on the dramatic turnaround in the 'happiness index' on the Clare hurling scene. Suddenly the young cohort of players are all the rage and more than one hurling journalist has even name checked the reservoir of other up and comers bubbling under. ( Pat O' Connor and Kevin Moynihan would have perhaps have preferred to prove themselves at U-21 level before being name checked. ) Of course there isn't any smoke without fire and a second viewing of proceedings in Thurles showed a decent game and ipso facto much hope for Clare. Donal Tuohy has been blooded in goal and not before time. His club mate Cian Dillon also had a decent bow, but a more mobile full forward will be a different test. To Dillon's left even the most optimistic Clare fans couldn't have hoped that Conor Cooney would have looked so to the manor born as a championship corner back, despite getting no favours from referee Brian Gavin. Nicky O'Connell too showed promise in that many Clare fans would have seen him as a square peg in a round hole at midfield rather than wing back. Sean Collins cut quite a dash in the opening period albeit his manager did him no favours by letting him battle away under puck outs with Declan Prendergast in the second half. John Conlon predictably went to war against Brick Walsh and mostly partly faltered as there wasn't really any cavalry from the bench to bolster him in the second half. And as for Darach Honan: Well like a few other Clare forwards of recent years he has fallen foul to a strain of opinion in the county that prefers to focus on what a player can't do. But even the most gloomy prognosticators about the Clonlara man's future must perhaps recognise that even if he struggles against top quality corner backs, he is likely to garner say 1-2 from winning 30% of possession.
But the qualifiers are still likely to posit many teething troubles to test supporters patience. This blogger has previously praised An Moltoir's terrific forensic analysis on anfearrua re championship matches. But one flaw in his point system may be that , taken in isolation, they don't take account of mistakes. This came to mind when examining Diarmuid McMahon's performance. McMahon, like a few other of his generation has perhaps been a little unappreciated by his own, and he typically did a stand up job in extremis on Monday week last. But his display was of the curates egg variety in that three points came directly from mistakes by the Kilmaley man. With James McInerney injured there's a convincing argument that McMahon is the best centre back available. But it was a conservative selection at odds with Ger O' Loughlin's other preferences. Plus there is a cogent argument that McMahon's physical presence would be more beneficial to the team taking some of the stone breaking pressure off John Conlon in the half forward line. Can a half forward line include two players who are not a threat to garner primary possession from puck outs as Clare were constituted against Waterford. Where An Moltoir was spot on though was in pointing to Waterford's dominance at midfield. This central sector has become a running sore for the Banner since the decline of Brian O' Connell's form and the retirement of Colin Lynch and in the relief after the promising display the issue has been glossed over for the moment.
Shane O' Sullivan and Richie Foley were the midfield combination that ruled the roost and the tireless display of the latter was especially encouraging . However some of that superiority was aerial based on the wind dropping half of the day's puck outs on that sector. A dry airless day at Semple against Tom Kenny and Cathal Naughton would be an altogether different test. The composition of the Waterford team in the Munster final ( AGAINST CORK ) will be crucial, and not just in regard to who fills the revolving door at full back. This observer isn't a fan of the way the Waterford forward line often resemble 'sheep in a heap' with players often congregating in the central areas confusing themselves as much as the opposition. Waterford would perhaps be best served with John Mullane and A.N Other keeping chalk on their boots, as much because the De La Salle star couldn't in any way be double teamed. Granted this policy would be easier if Thomas Ryan hadn't recently suffered a serious injury or if Eoin McGrath regained the form of three or four years ago. What was most apparent in the semi final, bar the excellence of Tony Browne and Noel Connors at very differing stages of their careers, was the depth of their bench. The Prendergasts especially and the McGraths to a lesser extent contributed when they came on. The bench also has Aidan Kearney and several promising members of last years U--21 team to call upon. Unlike a few years ago one imagines that training matches in Waterford are intensely competitive with the reserves giving the anointed ones their fill of it. Whether they have a xv to win a Munster final or get to an All-Ireland is a different matter.