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Waterford and Clare will play the opening fixture of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship on Sunday at 3:30 pm in Thurles.
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The match will be live on RTÉ One’s ‘The Sunday Game’.
The two teams meet in the Munster quarter-final with the winner of the clash facing Tipperary in the semi-finals.
The loser will get a second chance and will enter the All-Ireland qualifiers.
Clare is on a three-game win streak after a poor start to the National Hurling League season was salvaged with a show-stopping performance against Kilkenny on the final day being the highlight.
Waterford boasted an identical record of three wins to the Banner County but will want to iron out their defensive lapses if they are to get past Tony Kelly and co.
Kelly has once again underlined his importance to this Clare side with his performances so far this season.
A 20-point haul against Dublin is the standout in a list of standout performances.
Kelly’s six points from play in Parnell Park helped his side to a five-point win over the Dubliners, along with his 13 frees and 65.
The side’s performance against Kilkenny was impressive as it showed that this Clare team have other offensive weapons when Tony Kelly plays.
David Reidy, Aron Shanagher, Diarmuid Ryan and Aidan McCarthy starred alongside Kelly in a fantastic attacking display by the county.
A big criticism of Brian Lohan’s Clare side has always been their overreliance on Tony Kelly.
This year could be the year they break free from that, or at least begin to.
Aidan McCarthy has excelled for Clare this year as he led the line in Tony Kelly’s absence in the middle of the league campaign.
The Clare U-21 prospect has impressed after making the jump to senior level and had a fruitful game against Wexford after Tony Kelly went down.
McCarthy has not looked back and will be a danger for Waterford’s defenders this weekend.
Clare’s attackers will have a lot of opportunities to drive this point home against Waterford’s defence, which is yet to get going this season.
Waterford’s defence will need to be much better if they are to get past Lohan’s Clare.
The All-Ireland finalists have already conceded 13 goals this season, conceding three or more on three occasions.
Only Westmeath (20) conceded more in Division One and no other side conceded over nine.
Their defence has looked disorganised and in disarray so far this year, failing to pull it together after falling short in Croke Park last season.
Waterford are in for a long day if their defensive shape is anything like it was against Cork on the opening day of the National Hurling League.
In contrast, Clare maintained a positive points difference over their five games in the league, conceding as many goals as they scored (7).
The side’s defensive woes were a talking point before the 2021 season began but their improvement in attack has lowered the volume on that topic.
The triple-threat of Stephen Bennett, Dessie Hutchinson and Calum Lyons will give the Clare defence their all.
However, Waterford have struggled at times to connect defence and attack by creating problems for themselves in midfield.
They will need to be at their best to beat this in-form Clare side.
The Banner County’s faults in defence are not as negatively impactful as their often-one-man attack has been.
But, as mentioned above, that problem may be solved.
E Quilligan, R Hayes, C Cleary, P Flannagan. D Ryan, J Conlon, P Fitzpatrick. C Galvin, T Kelly. C Malone, D Reidy, R Taylor. I Galvin, A Shanagher, A McCarthy
B Nolan, S Fives, C Gleeson, S McNulty, C Lyons, I Daly, K Moran, A Gleeson, D Lyons, P Hogan, J Fagan, S Bennett, D Hutchinson, Sh Bennett, D Prendergast
Predicted Winner: Clare by 3
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