Today, Semple Stadium, 7pm (Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan, Cork)
Latest from the medics and management…Clare have named an unchanged side and that is unsurprising considering the 28-point victory they enjoyed against Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final. Two members of the Clare side – wing back Patrick O’Connor and full-forward Conor McGrath – both came on as substitutes during the counties meeting in the All-Ireland U21 final in 2009. While from the Clare team that started the 2010 All-Ireland minor final there are six survivors – Ronan Taaffe, Paul Flanagan, Seadna Morey, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Padraic Collins.
CLARE U21H: Ronan Taaffe (Tubber); Paul Flanagan (Ballyea), David McInerney (Tulla), Killian Ryan (Ruan); Patrick O’Connor (Tubber), Conor Ryan (Cratloe), Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge); Colm Galvin (Clonlara), Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge); Tony Kelly (Ballyea), Padraic Collins (Cratloe), Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones); Cathal McInerney (Cratloe), Conor McGrath (Cratloe), Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara).
Kilkenny have also kept the faith with the team that triumphed in their semi-final and that victory over Galway was a similarly admirable triumph considering the amount of senior stars packed in the Tribesmen line-up. From the 2010 All-Ireland minor decider against Clare, Kilkenny have 11 survivors from that starting line-up – Dylan Walsh, Jason Corcoran, Willie Phelan, Brian Kennedy, Luke Harney, Ollie Walsh, Kevin Kelly, Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, John Power and Ger Aylward.
KILKENNY U21H: Dylan Walsh (Thomastown); Jason Corcoran (John Lockes), Willie Phelan (Dunamaggin), Brian Kennedy (St Lachtain’s); Luke Harney (Kilmacow), Richie Doyle (Barrow Rangers), Joe Lyng (Rower Inistioge); Geoff Brennan (St Patrick’s), Ollie Walsh (Dicksboro); Kevin Kelly (St Patrick’s), Padraig Walsh (Tullaroan), Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro); Walter Walsh (Tullogher-Rosbercon), John Power (Carrickshock), Ger Aylward (Glenmore).
Checking the odds… Kilkenny are 4/5 favorites with Clare representing good value at 6/5. In the goalscorer markets recent evidence would suggest Kilkenny duo John Power and Ger Aylward and Clare captain Conor McGrath, all at 13/2, are the best chances for first goalscorer.
Clues from the form guide… They have been the two most impressive performers at U21 level this summer but these respective groups of Clare and Kilkenny players had previous in that regard before 2011. Kilkenny won All-Ireland minor crowns in 2008 and 2010 – along with reaching the 2009 decider – and that has spawned the nucleus of this current U21 side. Clare may not have collected an All-Ireland minor title in recent years but they did put back to back Munster crowns together and produced some brilliant talents.
That has transferred to the U21 grade this year. Kilkenny breezed past Wexford and Laois in Leinster before facing a Galway team stuffed with senior stars in the All-Ireland semi-final. But they proved capable of overcoming that challenge by making the early running and staying in front. On Clare’s part they destroyed Waterford in the Munster semi-final and Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final. They also had the nerve to chisel out success in dramatic fashion in their sternest test against Tipperary in the provincial final.
The game breakers are… None of Kilkenny’s players were involved during last Sunday’s senior final but those that were on the bench will have important influences in shaping the outcome of this clash. Willie Phelan and Richie Doyle backbone the defence while Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh are significant presences in their attack. It is the goalscoring potential of John Power and Ger Aylward, who have eight between them in the campaign to date, that Kilkenny will be most keen to tap into while Kevin Kelly’s prescise point-taking ability has also been striking.
A concern for Kilkenny will be the amount of goals they have shipped. Seven to date in their three games is a notable statistic in contrast to the solitary goal – from Tipperary’s John O’Dwyer – that Clare have conceded. Kilkenny will also be facing a team that produces cohesive performances and unlike Galway, who entered the All-Ireland semi-final cold as an U21 outfit, have the benefit of playing consistently together.
Clare have their share of senior performers with eight of the current outfit having played championship at that elite level. That ensures they have a share of match-winners in wing-back Seadna Morey, midfielder Colm Galvin, wing-forward Tony Kelly, full-forward Conor McGrath and corner-forward Cathal O’Connell. Kelly is a particular star, who rescued them during the Munster final against Tipperary on an evening when they misfired for long stretches.
Is the nature of their display that night a worry? Certainly there will be issues in their early shooting and their defensive play at times. Yet there is a considerable boost for Clare in how they never panicked and fashioned Niall Arthur’s match-winning goal.
YouTube Credit: HurlingGoals
Gazing into the crystal ball…With All-Ireland minor and colleges medals in their locker, the core of this Kilkenny team have great experience of winning major matches. They will also view this grade as a platform on which to exhibit their talents and prove they are ready for a future senior promotion. If they unleash the firepower in their attack then Clare could be in trouble but the significance of shutting down the Cats attack early on has been clear in this year’s championship.
Clare players must have be hugely motivated as well after the severe disappointment of not claiming the ultimate honors at minor level. Their management setup have provided them with a great structure and created an excellent game plan. They will seek to implement their traits of speed and skill from the opening quarter in order to get their attackers into scoring positions.
Correct the shooting that blighted their Munster final against Tipperary and they have a superb opportunity, particular if leading lights Kelly and McGrath stamp their impression on the game. Substitutes like Niall Arthur and Peter Duggan may also be critical, and while Kilkenny have good back up as well in Martin Gaffney, the Banner progression can be maintained.