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I don’t believe what is going on behind closed doors in Clare will have any impact on The Banner’s players. Did it look like it made a dent on Tony Kelly last year? Of course not. He played hurling from the gods!
Clare’s boss Brian Lohan will probably use the current turmoil in his favour and utilise it as motivation for his players. John Conlan is back, so is Colm Galvin and there’s also talk of Peter Duggan returning from Australia too. They also have some young talent starting to come through as well, so it’s not all doom and gloom – especially on the playing side of things.
With all that said, going all the way north to Antrim is a difficult place to go. I watched The Saffrons a few times in the Joe McDonagh Cup last season and I really like what Darren Gleeson is doing with them. He’s a young, up-and-coming coach, who has learned his trade from the great Liam Sheedy and his team will relish Clare coming up to them on Sunday.
I believe Clare will win this, but I don’t see them bettering a nine-point handicap up in the North. So, I’m giving Antrim (+9) the nod in this one.
Laois come into this season under a new manager in Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett, Mr Laois himself! The man just eats, breathes and sleeps Laois hurling. It’s great to see him back in the game. I have to say Laois were the one team I was disappointed with in the Championship last term. Can they find the form of 2019? If they can, they’ll be in with a shout of covering the nine-point spread here.
Wexford Park is a very difficult venue to visit though, and I reckon Davy Fitzgerald will be eager to get a good start to the year. All the talk coming out of the county is that the panel is in great shape and that Davy is ready to bring in a few exciting players from their minor team from a few years ago.
Wexford, like Cork, will be keen to have a good couple of weeks to get into the season and I’d expect them to win this game. They should just about cover the handicap too.
If there is one team I’m keen to keep a close eye on this year, it’s Cork. I’ll be honest, when the Championship draw was made, I was delighted Waterford avoided The Rebels. It’s very hard to go back and beat a team in the Hurling Championship the year after doing it and Cork-Waterford games rarely have back-to-back winners.
Cork should have the bit between their teeth this weekend, especially after that Championship defeat last year. There is pressure on Keiran Kingston to get results now and he’ll be anxious for The Rebels to have a decent National League campaign this season too. They really need to build up a level of consistency if they are to challenge for any honours.
I don’t believe that it will be the be-all and end-all for Liam Cahill to see Waterford win on Sunday, he may want to blood a few players and experiment with his side before the Championship. Cork might just want this win slightly more and I might not like saying it, but The Rebels should edge this one.