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Decies unfancied - but Banner beware; McCARTHY'S MEN TO PUSH THE CHAMPIONS ALL THE WAY.

MOST people have written off Waterford's chances of winning the Munster final tomorrow - but they're unheralded coming into their clash with Clare and in those situations, you always have a chance.

If things go wrong for the favourites at the start it's usually hard to recover and Waterford will be heartened if they take the early opportunities that come their way.

With the new rules in place, Waterford know that it's not do or die tomorrow. They'll have at least one more game this summer and they'll hurl in a looser fashion.

Yet both sides will still want to win this game more than anything and I think it's going to be a tremendous occasion.

The game is a sell-out and the atmosphere created by both sets of passionate supporters will motivate the two counties.

Waterford haven't been in a Munster final for ten years and in the meantime, hurling has taken great strides forward.

The advent of Clare and Wexford has brought a renewed enthusiasm to the game and since Waterford are one of the new teams on the scene, they'll get huge support tomorrow.

That's important because I've always felt Clare are always boosted by the support they receive - and Waterford will be able to match that at Semple Stadium.

Waterford's main strength is in their half-back line, backboned by captain Stephen Frampton, and in midfield.

A lot of people would say that their forward line is very dangerous but I'm yet to be convinced of that.

They have a tendency to miss chances and against Tipp in the last round Waterford nearly paid a costly price for that failing.

They left Tipp in the game far later than they should have been, but they simply didn't take their chances and if they continue down that road against Clare they'll be punished.

Waterford must take the early chances - if any - that present themselves. If they don't it's impossible to see them winning. Nevertheless I do believe they have the ability to win the game. The Decies are a good, physical side that plays at pace, they're determined to win and a lot of that is down to Ger McCarthy.

BELIEVE me, they'll make it very difficult for the Banner and unless Clare can repeat the 100 per cent hurling they produced against Cork, the game will be close.

Having said that, Clare are favourites in my book. If they can reproduce the form they showed in the semi-final I don't think any team will be able to live with them.

They were up for that game after the bad performance in the league semi- final against Cork. They were determined not to lose to the re-match and it helped to focus them in training.

However their success comes from being psychologically well prepared.

On the evidence of their display in the semi-final, Clare are actually a better team than they were last year or in 1995. Their performance against Cork was as good as I've ever witnessed.

On top of their usual dominance in defence and their strong midfield play, the threat from their forward line was varied and represents a big improvement.

Normally Jamesie O'Connor is burdened with most of the score-taking, and although he still played very well against Cork, the other forwards, particularly Eamonn Taaffe and Alan Markham, also played well.

Niall Gilligan also stood out and I think of all the young forwards around he has the potential to be great. Compared to the young forwards playing for Cork and Tipp he has the size to trouble defenders.

Ger Loughnane knows how to keep his players on his toes and he showed that again when he changed his team before the start against Cork.

The only people annoyed by that ploy were journalists and GAA authorities. I didn't see anyone else makig a fuss about it, and the Clare supporters certainly didn't mind.

The two players left out were probably annoyed but Loughnane's regime is all about keeping his panel one step ahead pyschologically, and it works.

All it shows is that Loughnane has the will to keep pushing his side to victory. It's hard to argue with his track record.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:English, Nicky
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 11, 1998
Words:697
Previous Article:Offaly face reality.
Next Article:TO THE BANNER BORN.


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