THERE are few better ways to go into an All-Ireland semi-final than entering one with a winning habit, which Clare most certainly have in recent weeks.
Since crumbling to Cork in the Munster semi-finals in June, Davy Fitzgerald’s young side has racked up two qualifier victories and an impressive vanquishing of an admittedly off-colour Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
A number of the Banner’s senior panelists also collected Munster under 21 medals a week ago following their success over Tipperary at Semple Stadium.
This is a Clare side with talent in abundance and the seeds of plentiful success at minor and under 21 grades since 2009 appear to be coming to fruition. There is quality in every area of the field, with solidity at the back, a hugely gifted midfield and a variety of forwards who are well able to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Young players such as Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Podge Collins have drawn glowing praise for their performances in 2013, with John Conlon also offering a powerful presence in the forwards and Colin Ryan adept from placed balls.
The experience of Pat Donnellan and Brendan Bugler in the backs has helped younger compatriots such as Patrick O’Connor and Cian Dillon to develop into inter-county hurlers of distinction.
Such is the quality of players at Fitzgerald’s disposal that some excellent hurlers, including the likes of Seadna Morey, are reduced to limited game time that they would otherwise be getting plenty of had they been involved with most other counties.
For all of Clare’s potential, though, true deliverance has yet to come at senior level since the heady days of the 1990s, and for almost all of the current Banner crop this is unchartered territory, with the county’s last semi-final at this level coming in 2006. There are also question marks over their relatively low goal-scoring ratio and, particularly against Cork, they left a series of chances go begging.
Limerick remain the bookies’ favourites by virtue of their Munster final success, but they have not been in action for five weeks, whereas Clare come into the game with serious momentum. Stand by for a classic.