John Mullane: It’s time for Clare’s golden generation to finally deliver on Munster hurling’s biggest day

We all want to win every day we take to the pitch but there are certain games where getting across the line is the only thing that matters.

The 2004 Munster SHC final sticks out when it was all about righting a few wrongs from our loss to Cork the year before. We were beaten in the ’04 league decider as well and the thought of losing three finals in a row was something we couldn’t stomach.

We got the job done and the time comes for every team when you just have to go and do it – Clare’s hour of need is in a heaving Gaelic Grounds tomorrow. They simply must prevail.

The margins have been wafer thin against Limerick, one of the greatest teams we’ve seen, but they need to get championship silverware in the trophy cabinet.

This is a golden generation for Clare and to only have an All-Ireland medal and a league title to show for it over a decade’s service is simply not enough for talents like Tony Kelly, Shane O’Donnell and John Conlon.

It’s a fourth Munster final for their elder statesmen and now is the time to get over the line in a big one with no guarantees through the backdoor, as they found out last year.

How often have we seen a team finally make the breakthrough and suddenly play with a freedom and know-how to eke out victories in the tightest situations? Success could see Clare flourish even further.

Can the Banner bring a 25-year Munster wait to an end and finally get their hands on the Mick Mackey Cup or will Limerick go where only Cork have gone before with a history-equalling five-in-a-row?

Outside of the silverware on offer, you just feel that after a taxing Munster campaign the prize for the winners is massive as they avoid an extra game in the All-Ireland series.

The three-week break for the winners will go a long way in helping their assault on Liam MacCarthy but Brian Lohan won’t be thinking about that – full focus will be on doing whatever it takes to win Munster.

Wouldn’t it be something if they were able to bag another win against the Treaty in the Gaelic Grounds? There’s a bit of a siege mentality from Lohan, much like Ger Loughnane, by saying ‘we’ll take ye on in your own back yard again’.

There’s also the carrot of ending Limerick’s 11-game unbeaten streak in finals under John Kiely and removing the cloak of invincibility which has been around the green giants over the past five years.

Between league (2019, ’20 and ’23), Munster (’19-’22) and All-Ireland finals (’18, ’20-’22), Limerick have always delivered on the big occasion, with an average winning margin of seven points to boot.

Limerick take the opposition to places they’ve never been before. Nothing can really prepare you for what they throw at you and Clare might have to beat them three times this year to go all the way.

The venue is important for Clare as I feel going man-on-man and taking the chance with leaving space in a two-man full-back line will be much easier to cut off in the Gaelic Grounds rather than the spacious Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The midfield battle between the Limerick pair of Will O’Donoghue and Darragh O’Donovan and Ryan Taylor/Cathal Malone will be key, especially given that each of the four are on top of their game.

How will Clare go about taking on the Limerick half-back line after they were back to their brilliant best the last day against Cork?

This is just a mouth-watering game that is captivating anyone with even a passing interest in hurling.

It will also be fascinating to see if Limerick pay more attention to Kelly. They have been happy to zonal mark, as they always do, but the Ballyea wizard has gone to town on them in recent meetings.

Many of Kelly’s best days have come against Limerick over the past few seasons with tallies of 0-4, 0-13 (5f, 1 sideline), 0-16 (10f, 1 ’65) and 0-17 (9f) to his name, so watch that space.

Both provincial finals are a coin toss, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them went to extra-time, but I just feel this Limerick team are back smiling again. It’s like the pressure is off.

They survived an almighty scare on the final day in Munster and their big players around the middle eight are coming to the table again.

My Lovely Rose of Clare might have to be put on hold, I suspect Limerick, You’re a Lady and Dreams will be belted out once again after another epic.

I have a sneaky feeling that Galway will still have a big say in this year’s championship and getting their hands on a Leinster title is crucial for Henry Shefflin. That will be an almighty struggle against his native Cats but the way they finished against Dublin just tips the scales.

I can’t finish without offering my deepest condolences to Teddy McCarthy’s family. Who will ever forget the summer of 1990 when soccer fever gripped the nation and Teddy Mac landed a famous double?

His legacy in the GAA will never be matched.​

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