Tonight, Clare v Waterford, Cusack Park, Ennis, 7.30pm, (Ref: Johnny Ryan, Tipperary)
Latest from the medics and management…Five Waterford players who featured in last Sunday’s Munster senior hurling final defeat against Tipperary will line out for the county U21 side here. Goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe, centre-back Philip Mahony, wing-forward Gavin O’Brien and full-forward Pauric Mahony all started in that senior tie while wing-forward Martin O’Neill was introduced as a substitute during that game.
WATERFORD U21H: Stephen O’Keeffe (Ballygunner): Jamie Barron (Fourmilewater), Stephen O’Keeffe (Ballygunner), Mark Wyse (Passage); Ray Barry (Lismore), Philip Mahony (Ballygunner), Eoin Madigan (De La Salle); Padraig Prendergast (Lismore), Jake Dillon (De La Salle); Gavin O’Brien (Roanmore), Eamonn Murphy (Dunhill), Martin O’Neill (Mount Sion); Fionán Murray (Cappoquin), Pauric Mahony (Ballygunner), Brian O’Halloran (Clashmore/Kinsalebeg).
Clare have five players who featured against Limerick in last weekend’s All-Ireland senior qualifier defeat in wing-back Seadna Morey, midfielder Colm Galvin, wing-forwards Tony Kelly and Aaron Cunningham, and full-forward Conor McGrath, who will captain the team. Wing-back Patrick O’Connor and centre-forward Padraic Collins featured against Waterford in the semi-final of the Munster SHC.
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), Padraig Collins (Cratloe), Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones); David O’Halloran (Eire Og, Ennis), Conor McGrath (Cratloe), Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara).
Checking the odds…Clare are warm favourites to advance at 4/11 with Waterford priced at 5/2 while the handicap betting has Clare (-3) at 10/11.
Clues from the form guide…Form is difficult to pin down for both these teams as they enter the game without any U21 championship match to date this year. They both have a plethora of senior panellists and those players will need to recover from their respective defeats, in Clare’s case against Limerick in the All-Ireland qualifiers last Saturday and in Waterford’s case against Tipperary in the Munster final last Sunday. The minor form of both counties is encouraging in recent years with Waterford winning the Munster title in the grade in 2009 while Clare have claimed the last two crowns in 2010 and 2011. When Waterford met Clare in the 2009 Munster minor championship, they triumphed by 3-9 to 0-12 with ten of that Déise team set to start tonight.
The game breakers are…Clearly the senior players on both sides are going to be hugely influential presences. Philip Mahony will knit together a formidable half-back line for Waterford with Ray Barry and Eoin Madigan flanking him while Paudie Prendergast and Jake Dillon are highly-rated players at midfield. In attack both wing-forwards Gavin O’Brien and Martin O’Neill will hope to use their senior experience to thrive at a lower grade, Pauric Mahony’s free-taking is a valuable asset while Brian O’Halloran, who has endured injury travails in recent times, will hope to demonstrate the prowess that saw him bag a starting place in the Waterford senior attack for the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final.
Yet Clare are a serious proposition with Patrick O’Connor in defence and Conor McGrath in attack formidable operators at this level and survivors from the county’s historic All-Ireland U21 victory in 2009. Colm Galvin, Seadna Morey, Aaron Cunningham, Padraic Collins and Tony Kelly have gained valuable experience at senior level. If they funnel enough possession into their attack, then it is difficult to see them being thwarted while Cathal McInerney is a valuable attacking weapon to have on the bench as well.
Gazing into the crystal ball…It’s a significant game for Clare hurling given their senior side’s championship exit last Saturday, given the level of success they have enjoyed at minor level in recent years and given the number of extremely promising hurlers in their ranks. Playing on home soil simply adds to that expectation even more. Yet it is a challenge that the team, jointly coached by Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moroney, can rise to and meet. At this level Kelly and particularly McGrath can thrive in the scoring stakes and it’s going to be difficult for Waterford to stifle those threats.
The Déise outfit pack plenty talent themselves and will be heartened by the manner in which Tipperary have enjoyed successful trips on the road already this year in this competition. But Clare look to have more to offer and if they can limit the amount of placed ball opportunities they cough up to Pauric Mahony, they have the wherewithal to fashion a triumph.