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Lar Corbett: Kilkenny will throw the lot at Clare, but I'm backing the Banner

"One year Kilkenny beat Tipp in the semi-final on a Sunday. The following morning, a friend of mine was in Langtons and he rang me to say Cody and his then selectors, Martin Fogarty and Mick Dempsey, had a meeting there from 9am to 12.30"

In manager Brian Lohan (left), Clare have the right man in the right place

Lar Corbett

Looking ahead to next Saturday's All-Ireland hurling semi-final, Clare - going off their season to date - are rated about four points better than Kilkenny.

But they are facing the Cats in a one-off encounter, which Kilkenny have spent a month focusing on.

Nobody uses the gap between matches better than Brian Cody, who attended Clare's last two games, and you can be sure he picked up a lot.

A quick anecdote from my own playing days. One year Kilkenny beat Tipp in the semi-final on a Sunday. The following morning, a friend of mine was in Langtons and he rang me to say Cody and his then selectors, Martin Fogarty and Mick Dempsey, had a meeting there from 9am to 12.30.

By lunchtime, Kilkenny had their plan for the final and four weeks to rehearse it, refine it, in Nowlan Park. They will have done the very same for this.

Cody will have seen how two big men, Lee Chin and Conor McDonald, troubled Clare's full-back line and their goalkeeper. He'll have seen how Tony Kelly's influence was neutralised.

The players for these jobs will undoubtedly have been spoken to, and will have trained their roles in 15-a-side practice games.

Players are not stupid. They crave a plan that's credible. When they see the outline of it developing, how it works in training, they start believing it will work on the big day.

Kilkenny did this against Limerick in the 2019 semi-final, out-battling them in the first half, and then doing enough to prevail. No one has pulled off the same trick since.

Add to this Cody's ability to instil team spirit and his core belief in competing for everything, while keeping everyone grounded, and we see what Clare are walking into next Saturday.

Clare need to have a plan for when Walter Walsh and TJ Reid land on the edge of the square. In Brian Lohan, they have the right man in the right place - in many ways a kindred spirit of Cody.

Who is free if Kelly is double-teamed? And how to use the ball in that situation? These are questions they must answer quicker than the 55 minutes it took to figure it out in the quarter-final.

Clare have made the championship to date, but their worst performance was their last one. They should have known what was coming against Wexford and figured it out at half-time.

They got there in the end, but if Kilkenny open a lead with 15 minutes left here, they won't let it go.

What neither side can control is what version of the rules the Croke Park referees' committee implement. In the Leinster and Munster finals - on the same day, in the same sport, and part of the same competition - James Owens applied "league rules", blowing everything that moved, while John Keenan applied "All-Ireland final rules" and let it flow, resulting in a classic.

Everyone loved Keenan's Munster final performance and his contribution to a classic game in difficult conditions. Except the few who control how the game is to be played - the assessors and the home for retired refs in Croke Park.

They want the James Owens' 35-frees-a-game, stop-start contest. David Gough, speaking at a recent event, explained that he implements the rules and when it comes to his decisions, no one else's opinion matters.

Success, then, is implementing rules to the letter of the law. Great, but what happens then is you get teams finishing with 11 players, like the Tyrone-Armagh football clash, and that becomes the talking point. There is a real disconnect between this small group of powerful assessors and how everyone else wants to see the game.

In too many matches this year, the ref's interpretation has proven a decisive factor. The balance needs to swing back to focus on what makes hurling great, rather than this we-only-implement-the-rules mantra.

But back to the key question: who will advance next Saturday?

Clare and Kilkenny both go into this expecting to win. Clare's 2022 form is better, but Kilkenny's semi-final preparation is better. Small things will make the difference.

Can Clare get a little more on the scoreboard from Shane O'Donnell, Peter Duggan, Ryan Taylor? Will the Clare supporters massively outnumber Kilkenny's? Who will convert more of their frees: Tony or TJ?

I think Kilkenny will perform, but Clare have more players moving well.

That's why I'm taking the Banner to prevail, but only just.

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