TWO MONTHS ON from suffering a heavy loss in the league to Waterford, the Clare hurlers are planning to stay overnight before Sunday’s Munster championship opener in order to improve their preparations for a return to Walsh Park.
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Clare lost out 0-31 to 1-14 on St Patrick’s Day weekend with Stephen Bennett’s haul of 0-16 causing the greatest damage as Waterford defeated them at the league quarter-final stage.
Next Sunday sees Clare commence their Munster round-robin campaign with the Waterford city venue a novel setting for the Banner side.
“It is a completely new venture for us because, when you’re playing in the Munster Championship, it’s normally Thurles or Limerick or Cork and you can plan logistically very well,” admitted Clare joint manager Gerry O’Connor.
“You get your time lines right for the morning and the afternoon. It’s obviously going to be an overnight situation for us because there’s no way you could just rock up on the day of the game.
“It’s about two and a half to three hours but there is a whole host of logistics around that that don’t make it feasible as a day journey.
“There is the cost factor as well. We travelled down on the morning of the game against Waterford in Walsh Park in the National League and we definitely knew that that wasn’t the right thing to do.
“We were very lucky to beat them in Walsh Park in 2014 in the U21. We got a late goal but it is definitely a challenge from a logistical point of view. So be it. That is the Munster championship now.”
The provision of home games is a major boost to Waterford after their travails in 2018. O’Connor is aware of how sides can harness home advantage when operating in a different provincial structure. Last summer Clare utilised Cusack Park to their advantage when seeing off Waterford and Limerick in Ennis.
“The buzz it gave us was that, if we are fair, we had only a very middling product as a Clare hurling team and management in 2017 to sell to the Clare public and it took a while for the players and the supporters to bond and gel.
“Halfway through that first-half in Waterford last year, when Shane O’Donnell hit that shoulder on the Waterford full-back, that kind of lifted the crowd and there has been a very strong connection and bond between the Clare team and the public for the last year.
“We have essentially turned Cusack Park into a fortress now. That is a huge positive for us. We have lost very few games there and played very well. The supporters are very close to the pitch and they get right behind the team. There is an energy that comes down off the stands that the players feed off.
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“It’s a massive boost for them (Waterford having Walsh Park) but it also puts massive pressure on a team at home. If you don’t start very well and there is this weight of expectation on you, I remember the Munster U21 final in 2012 up in Cusack Park and we were expected to put in a huge performance and maybe win easy.
“That was a very unusual place for a Clare team to be in a Munster final but as the game progressed there was an edginess and a tension in the ground because the crowd went silent.
“They could see we were up a point and down a point. That’s the other side of playing away, if you can get in a good start and get the team under pressure that is playing at home that puts the pressure back on them.”
O’Connor is concerned that the condensed nature of the fixture programme will place pressure on the fitness of his players this year. From 2-16 June, Clare have three clashes to contend with against Tipperary, Limerick and Cork. They are already planning without Jamie Shanahan, Ian Galvin and Conor McGrath for the season due to injury.
“What we learned (last year) was that we got really lucky with injuries. The concern, or the big challenge for us, is that we have got these three games in 14 days which we were lucky enough to avoid last year. It is nearly too much to ask.
“Galway were the only team that won a three-in-a-row last year in the 14 days so that will definitely test the resilience and the endurance of the players on our panel.
“In 2017 we played Limerick in the Munster semi-final, one player tweaked a hamstring and one tweaked a groin. Six weeks later they were back for the Munster final. If you tweak a groin or a hamstring now you’re gone for the Munster championship. That’s the reality of it because there is no way you are going to get back inside four weeks.”
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