By Jackie Cahill
Sunday July 8
TG4 All-Ireland intermediate championship, Group 3, round 1
Clare v Down; Kinnegad, 2pm
CLARE, who were beaten All-Ireland intermediate finalists two years ago, start their 2018 campaign with a fixture against Down in Kinnegad.
After losing out by just a single point to Kildare in the 2016 decider, the Banner County bowed out at the quarter-final stage against Meath last year.
Clare find themselves in a four-team group in the revamped round-robin championship, alongside Down, Kildare and Wexford.
The top two will make it through to the quarter-finals and in many ways, it's the proverbial 'group of death' in the intermediate championship.
Down were well beaten by Tyrone twice in the Ulster championship but they did record an impressive victory over Fermanagh in between those two chastening afternoons against the Red Hands.
On their day, Down can be a competitive outfit and they won't fear their three group opponents.
Clare are the only intermediate county in Munster this year but they did beat Limerick, a junior outfit, in a fixture organised by the provincial council, with the Enda McDonnell Cup up for grabs.
That was a morale-boosting win for Clare, who struggled in Division 2 of the Lidl League this year.
Down finished third in Division 3 but were comprehensively beaten by Wexford in the semi-finals.
A win is a must here for both teams if they harbour genuine hopes of making the quarter-finals, as Leinster counties Wexford and Kildare will present stiff opposition for the remainder of the group phase.
Clare and Down have the honour of kick-starting the 2018 TG4 All-Ireland series, before the junior and senior championships get underway on July 14.
Be sure to follow the hoganstand.com match tracker this weekend for all the live action from the All-Ireland football and hurling qualifiers and the Leinster SHC final replay.