With the holders in both codes not in Championship action till next weekend, it’s last year’s runners-up that catch the eye on the fixture list as the races for Liam MacCarthy and Sam Maguire begin
nd while Mayo will be desperate to ensure their good work in securing a swift return to Division 1 during the league campaign isn’t overshadowed by a summer-ended defeat to Sligo at Markievicz Park this afternoon, it’s tomorrow’s Munster SHC clash between Waterford and Clare that really stands out as the highlight of the weekend.
After the disappointment of last year’s final loss to Limerick, the Deise will be desperate to avoid the sort of hangover that befell them following their three-point defeat to Galway in the 2017 decider.
The introduction of the round-robin into Munster the following season saw Waterford rack up an unwanted record of seven defeat and one draw with no wins at all over the 2018 and 2019 Championships, a statistic that had left them very unfancied when last year’s Coivd-truncated tournament finally got going.
Yet the re-introduction of one-off ties in 2020 seemed to suit the Suirsiders, with Limerick the only side to beat them as Cork, Clare and Kilkenny all fell to Liam Cahill’s rejuvenated squad.
And for John Mullane, it’s the strength in depth of that panel that should ensure no repeat of that post-final collapse of three years ago despite a mounting injury list.
“Jamie Barron and Conor Prunty won’t play. Now you throw in Tadhg de Búrca who’s missing as well,” the four-time Munster title winner told The Throw-In, in association with Bord Gais Energy.
“All of a sudden that’s the spine of your team from last year gone, your full-back, your centre-back and your engine in midfield. Jamie Barron has been a revelation for Waterford over the course of the last six or seven years, he’s been Mr Consistent.
“So they are missing players but the top, top teams over the last couple of years that have won All-Irelands are able to overcome injury setbacks. If they have injuries, they have players that can come in.
“And I think Liam Cahill and Waterford are building up a panel and while we might be down a couple of big-hitters at the weekend, I think we have the calibre of players that can come in and do a job.
“You’re talking the likes of Darragh Lyons, (Iarlaith) Daly will probably go to centre-back. The big question then is who’ll go to full back? I know who my fullback would be, I’d put Kevin Moran back there.
“And then you have the firepower up front. I mean they’re clocking up big scores, you’ve Dessie Hutchinson, the Bennett brothers, (Jack) Fagan, Jack Prendergast.
“It’s probably nearly a throwback to our team of the noughties. Where any one of six forwards can hurt you on the scoreboard.
“With that, you can allow for one lad or another lad having an off-day. Where if four of them perform, there’s a good chance they’ll win the game.
“And I think that’s what Waterford have now. They have six forwards that are as good as any in the country, and they have one or two others that can come off the bench and do damage too.
“That’s why regardless of who they’re missing, I still think they’re going to be in a good place. And I think they’re going to be difficult to beat again.”
For Clare, they’ll be looking to put a controversial NHL campaign behind them, with early defeats to Antrim and Wexford compounded by that ‘close contacts’ spat with the Model county.
However, Mullane believes that the strong finish to the campaign Brian Lohan’s Bannermen enjoyed with a win over Laois subsequently backed up against Dublin and Kilkenny means his native county can’t take anything for granted against the side they easily dismissed in last November’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
“When you go through the rankings and the way I’d break it down, Clare are possibly number six or seven, possibly below Tipperary, Kilkenny, Cork,” he finished.
“But in a one-off game, a Brian Lohan Clare team are dangerous. We saw how they ended the league, went up to Parnell Park and were very, very good. And they’re coming off a very good win against Kilkenny in Ennis.
“So they’re coming into this game with momentum, considering where they were at the start of the league but I think there was an over-reaction towards Clare as far as their poor form was concerned.”
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