All Ireland Hurling Championship 2013: Full Preview for Clare vs. Cork
As the All-Ireland Final creeps ever closer, fans and players alike are bundles of nerves and excitement as they await Sunday's match between Cork and Clare in Dublin.
For the Rebel County, a win Sunday will bring their first Liam McCarthy Cup since 2005, while the Banner have the potential to end a 16-year wait since their last title.
Cork have history on their side; with 30 hurling titles to their name to Clare's three, they have been the vastly more successful club over the years.
But Clare bring a hungry young squad to Croke Park, who figure to be serious contenders in the Championship for years to come.
Only time will tell which of these talented sides will come out on top, but let's take a look at the matchup and see just who has the edge come Sunday.
Where: Croke Park, Dublin.
When: Sunday, September 8 at 3:30 p.m. BST, 10:30 a.m. EST
TV Info: RTE 1 will broadcast the match.
Key Cork Storyline: Brian Murphy's Return
When Cork's veteran half-back Brian Murphy went down with a broken collarbone in June, most feared that the 31-year-old's year was over with the Rebels' senior squad—perhaps even his career.
However, the stellar man-marker has made his triumphant return to Cork's lineup for Sunday's clash, as list in gaa.ie. While you may not think one man can turn the tide of a match, if there's a player capable of slipping in and making a significant difference, it's Murphy.
He remains one of the best man-marking defenders in the sport, tenacious on the ball and skilled at clearing his line, a skill which figures to come in great handy against Clare's supremely talented half-forward line.
But his skill set extends beyond just his defense. In each of their last two wins, over Galway and Limerick, Clare have gotten the benefit of some shoddy free taking from their opponents. With Murphy out, there was a chance they'd get more of it in the final.
However, the Rathcormac native has returned, and with him comes his incredible skill on long-range frees. Combine him with full forward Patrick Horgan's automatic pointing skills on shorter frees, and it becomes clear that Murphy is a game-changer.
Key Clare Storyline: Will Davy Fitzgerald Utilize a Sweeper?
A major part of Clare's run of success in this championship has been manager Davy Fitzgerald's tactical acumen. Rather than playing a standard "5 lines of 3" line out, the former Waterford manager has lived up to his reputation by deploying a seventh defensive player, oftentimes at the expense of a corner forward.
Typically, Pat Donnellan has been that extra defender, which has helped the Banner defense close down on opposing forwards.
The trade-off? It leaves Clare vulnerable at the front, and gives Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy an extra player to deploy as he sees fit. Previously, the tactical risk was well worth the reward, but in this match, giving Cork and their short puckouts a wide open player at the back is a recipe for trouble.
The Rebels are at their best when they can utilize their passing and build the attack from the defense, and leaving a man unmarked is an invitation to do just that.
Ultimately, Fitzgerald's decision regarding the sweeper could be what swings the match one direction or the other.
Clare come into the match as favorites, thanks in large to their tenacious defense, which springs the offense into action. They play short, accurate passes, creating momentum and scoring chances by playing into space.
When they do bomb the ball long, talented scorers Podge Collins and Conor McGrath are capable of slotting the ball home.
Who Will Win the All-Ireland Final?
Half-forward Tony Kelly remains one of the keys to the Banner's offense. His facilitating and scoring touch from a variety of positions will be crucial to their hopes. They'll be looking to point the ball early and often, eschewing scoring chances on goal for shots over the bar.
On the other side, Cork bring a bevy of potential scoring options to the pitch. Horgan is a devastatingly effective scorer from play and on frees, while midfielder Pa Cronin remains the primary ignition switch to the offense.
The Rebels play a short puckout game, with goalkeeper Anthony Nash looking to hit short, accurate opening passes rather than simply bombing the ball into the half-forward line and hoping for the best.
If they hope to find success, they must win the ball on those puckouts as much as possible. It's crucial to the offense, and they certainly don't want to find themselves on the receiving end of a counter attack.
Look for a lot of points in this one. Neither team takes a ton of opportunities on goal, and as a result, both are likely to put a ton of shots over the bar. It figures to be a close match throughout, but ultimately, it'll be the heroics of Kelly that bring the title home to Clare.
His versatility and skill are too much for the Cork half-back line to contend with, and he'll prove to be the difference in an extremely tight match.
Clare 0-23, Cork 1-19
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