banner can make light of absences
LIMERICK V CLARE
(Thurles, Tomorrow, 4.0
IT'S a fair whack, whatever way you look at it.
Twenty months ago, Clare were crowned All-Ireland champions. Tomorrow, they face Limerick in Thurles - a fixture that traditionally, tends to define any Banner team's season - without a third of the team that won it.
And just just any five players, either.
Five All Stars.
The most hurtful absentee, doubtless, is Podge Collins, fit, healthy and playing football tonight in Ennis after his disagreement with Davy Fitzgerald over the viability of dual-ing up for Clare.
Then there's the suspended Brendan Bugler, a double All Star and a huge physical and motivational force in the Banner's half-back line since the bad old days.
Conor McGrath, frequently Clare's most prolific forward, is reportedly out too with a hamstring (ditto Conor Ryan) injury while Colm Galvin has since departed for America.
Yet for all the poor-mouthing going on in Clare, they do have that not-insignificant reservoir of talent from which to draw, namely three All-Ireland Under 21 winning teams on the spin.
And any attack that features Tony Kelly and Shane O'Donnell just now is one to be feared.
O'Donnell, in particular, has located his best form and - even more importantly - a blank injury diagnosis and he was a lightening rod for all that was good about Clare in the League.
Richie McCarthy's last exposure to competitive inter-county hurling, meanwhile, was being dragged all over Croke Park by Mark Schutte in the League quarter-final before being replaced.
Clare will pose questions that Limerick haven't answered before and the toughest might be what the Treaty defenders do when three - and sometimes four - of their men drop deep to defend/leave space for O'Donell and Kelly to exploit.
As per usual, Pat Donnellan will do his sweeping thing in front of Clare's six designation backs but that trio of Declan Hannon, Graeme Mulcahy and Shane Dowling are still likely to get on plenty of ball.
Whether they can get their conversion rate high under the sort of populated pressure Clare with exert is the big unknowable.
For what it's worth, plenty of hurling observers gave Limerick the nod as 2014's third best team but there are three newcomers to Championship hurling in the team for tomorrow and as ever with débutants in Thurles in the Munster SFC, calling their levels of influence isn't easy.
Yes, Clare are missing more (there are reported doubts over Cian Dillon and Seadhna Morey too) but that element of the unknown could yet work in their favour.
And judging by their recent form, O'Donnell and Kelly are ready to explode onto the national scene all over again.
ODDS: Clare 11/10, Draw 17/2, Limerick EVS