Three weeks ago, hurling fans were treated to one of the best final matches in the history of the All-Irelands, courtesy of Clare and Cork. The two teams played things so closely that the match ended in a draw, forcing the second straight final replay.
That is the second one in the last 64 years.
The two sides will take the pitch once again on Saturday to determine which of these promising young sides represents the future of hurling and which will begin their next golden generation as the bridesmaids. Let's break it down, shall we?
Where: Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland
When: Saturday, September 28, at 5:00 p.m. GMT, or 12:00 p.m. ET
Where to Watch: The match will be broadcast on RTE One.
Breaking Down Cork:
The Rebels are lucky to be playing in this match, given the way they struggled to keep up with the Banner in the initial clash.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy's men found themselves struggling to win puckouts with their normal short option taken away by Clare's high pressure, and they lacked the ball-winners farther downfield to consistently win goalkeeper Anthony Nash's longer pucks.
They seemed to find their legs in the second half, thanks to a combination of Clare's defensive lapses and timely goal scoring. Ultimately, they came up just short of scoring the win.
Cork run a fast-paced, high-octane offense, that centers around the puckouts of Nash. From there, they use a series of short passes to create chances for their primary scorers, Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Pa Cronin. This is a team that knows how to score points, plain and simple.
Goals, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. Before their 3-goal outburst against Clare in the final, the Rebels had mustered just one goal in their previous inter-county contests.
If the points aren't clicking, Cork can't rely on goals to win the match, even if they saved them the first time around. They have to win puckouts, and if they can keep the points flowing consistently, Murphy's men will head home with the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Breaking Down Clare:
The Banner rank a one of the most promising, talented young squads in Ireland. Thanks to the clever tactical acumen of manager Davy Fitzgerald, Clare have reached the All-Ireland finals at least a year or two before most would have predicted their arrival.
Led by the herculean efforts of 20-year-old jack-of-all-trades Tony Kelly, Clare rely heavily on their ability to convert frees and score points from a variety of positions.
Midfielder Colin Ryan, Kelly and wing-forward Podge Collins are the automatic scorers on the roster, while full forward Darach Honan, and half-forward John Conlon are also incredibly dangerous from range.
But, this isn't a team without flaws.
Clare are even more reliant on points than Cork, seldom finding the back of the net. To make matters worse, while goalkeeper Pa Kelly is solid, the rest of the defense is shaky at best. To combat this, Fitzgerald has often deployed an extra defender in the role of sweeper.
When he does, the defense is usually solid. But, when he opts not to use the extra defender, like he did in the final, the Banner are exposed defensively (evidenced by Cork's comeback and near triumph in the final).
If the defense holds up, Clare have the talent to roll past the Rebels. Given what we saw in the first clash, that's an awfully big if.
Prediction: At the end of the night, look for the talent and tactics of Clare to be too much for the Rebels to handle. This will be a close match once again. The combination of Clare's reliance on points and shaky defense and Cork's scoring touch will see to that.
But, by the time the dust settles, Davy Fitzpatrick's men will bring glory to the Banner County. Clare 0-27, Cork 1-23
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