Clare manager Brian Lohan believes that top-level hurling is generally becoming more competitive but that there is a clear gap to Limerick that the chasing pack must close.

"They're so good in all areas of the game. Whether it’s their conditioning or their skill level, they seem to have everything," he told RTÉ Sport.

"They’re certainly not going backwards, in their professionalism and the quality of players that they have. Great resources behind them as well.

"Most hurling people will accept that they are the standard at the moment and it’s up to every one of the other counties to try and get up the level that they’re at.

"There are a couple of counties that have made good progress in the last number of years. It’s competitive outside of Limerick."

Clare haven’t reached an All-Ireland semi-final since losing an epic two-game series to Galway in 2018 and Lohan has set that as the minimum ambition in what is his third year in charge.

"We want to improve," he said. "Every team in the championship wants to get up to Croke Park, so that means you’ve got to be in the top four in the country.

"That would be a general goal that we would have."

Three-time All-Star Tony Kelly underwent ankle surgery last August

The Banner begin their Allianz Hurling League campaign away to Cork today, and will be without a host of players, including talisman Tony Kelly, the returning Peter Duggan, Aidan McCarthy and John Conlan.

Colm Galvin, who was at midfield when the Banner last lifted Liam MacCarthy in 2013, announced his inter-county retirement today due to a persistent groin injury.

"It is condensed," said Lohan. "You’ve got five games in seven weeks and then four games in the Munster championship in five weeks. You need a strong, robust panel to get through it.

"We’re looking forward to it but the big disadvantage is because it is such a tight schedule, if there are any (serious) injuries, you’re effectively gone for the season.

"We’re under a bit of pressure with injuries at the moment, a number of guys that are just rehabbing and trying to get back for the later rounds of the league or championship.

"Cork are a good quality team and had some really super performances last year. We suffered with how well they played against us so it’s a big challenge for us but we’ll go down and have a cut at it."

Listen to Cork v Clare in the Allianz Hurling League live on Saturday Sport, RTÉ Radio 1. Watch Kerry v Dublin in the Allianz Football League live on RTÉ 2 on Saturday (7pm), follow all the football and hurling action with our live blogs on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app, and watch highlights on Allianz League Sunday on RTÉ2 at 9.30pm.