Donal Óg Cusack believes that Clare will force even the mighty Kilkenny to adapt their style as their fluid approach again makes them leading contenders for All-Ireland glory.
The former Cork goalkeeper and three-time All-Ireland winner, who will again be a Sunday Game hurling analyst this summer, rates the Banner County and Kilkenny joint-favourites for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
But he is clearly an admirer of how the current Clare team approach to the game. Speaking exclusively to RTÉ Sport, he said: “They defy their years. There is an argument out there that they are playing the game the way it should be played. It is all about speed of wrist, speed of foot and speed of thought. Even the likes of Kilkenny, who have been very traditional and direct, you can see a change in their style. They are realising that if they come up against Clare in September and give away the ball, they are not going to get it back.”
Underneath that shift symbolised by Clare’s epic victory in last year’s All-Ireland, Cusack believes that hurling itself is changing fundamentally and that Davy Fitzgerald’s youthful side are at the forefront of a shift towards movement and fluidity.
He added: “The game of hurling is like all other sports. You could look at the history of soccer, which started off being a very traditional game where you knocked the ball up to the big man and he knocks it down and tries to score. Soccer has become an absolutely fluid game. Gaelic football is exactly the same. A number of years ago, the game was “kick and catch” then it became very much about movement and now it is a fluid as soccer.”
“Hurling is moving just as fast. The likes of Clare have brought a new dimension to the game with players moving all over the field. Tony Kelly can start at centre-forward but can end in his own half-back line looking to collect the ball. Paudge Collins can end up in his own full-back line.”
In contrast with Clare, Cusack’s own county and last year’s other All-Ireland finalist Cork are rated sixth in the betting by the bookmakers. But despite their narrow miss and the county’s great tradition, Cusack believes that Cork are not unduly slighted by the view of the market.
He said: "I played for Cork for many seasons and even in the years when we didn’t have a good chance or were seen as outsiders, I doubt I ever went on to the field not believing that we could win a game. When Cork get into Championship and they get into big games like Munster finals, those guys are going to have that belief and I believe that Cork have the players.
"The question is whether the entire model they have in place is good enough. I believe the bookies are probably right."