Galway and Clare will face off in a National Hurling League fixture for the 62nd time this Sunday afternoon in Salthill (1.45pm throw-in ), but both teams are already focusing on their championship preparations with the top two in division one's group A already known.
With table-toppers Wexford hosting Cork this weekend ahead of their semi-final, Galway will have a little under four weeks without a game after Sunday’s fixture, so they will want to put in a positive performance ahead of their Leinster opener on April 16 in Wexford.
Clare have an extra week off before their Munster campaign gets underway with a similarly tricky away assignment as they travel to Thurles to take on Tipperary, so quite what Brian Lohan will be hoping to achieve from this game is anyone’s guess.
A battling performance at home to Limerick last time out saw Clare pick up their third point of the campaign after an 0-18 apiece draw. Although the recent return of Tony Kelly has been a huge boost to the Banner men, this result secured their division one status, which considering their lengthy injury list was no mean feat.
The Ballyea dynamo has already amassed 2-23 from his two appearances having made a swift return to full fitness following ankle ligament surgery last October. The extent of Mark Rodgers' knee injury is as yet unknown, but Diarmuid Ryan is definitely ruled out. Aron Shanagher is another on the treatment table, while Peter Duggan continued his recuperation with a 15-minute cameo against Limerick.
Galway struggled to live with Cork’s accuracy and movement last time out in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and with Kilkenny now also coming into form, the Tribesmen will be pushed to the pin of their collar to claim one of the three qualifying berths in Leinster, despite still being topped by the odds makers as favourites to reclaim the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
This projection may be based on Galway’s past results more than any present form. The untimely passing of Henry Shefflin’s younger brother Paul puts all things sporting very much into perspective, and Galway may just be happy to put this league campaign very much in the rear view mirror.
This will be the first time the two counties have crossed swords since an epic All-Ireland semi final in 2018 that required a replay before Galway came through by a solitary point in Thurles. Their last league clash was all of seven years ago when two late Jason Flynn placed balls earned Galway another one-point win in their 2015 opener.
Clare’s last victory on Galway soil came all the way back in 2004 in Pearse Stadium, on a day when Eugene Cloonan was top scorer for the home side. Galway, managed by Conor Hayes at the time, still went on to win the league that year after beating Waterford in the final.