Attendances at hurling and football championship games to date have, for the most part, been disappointing but an improvement is expected this weekend as it gets to the business end of the season.
Four quarter-final places remain to be filled in both the senior and intermediate hurling. While there is much to look forward to in each of the four senior games, the clash of neighbours Inagh-Kilnamona and Kilmaley on Saturday evening is expected to be the top attraction.
At whatever grade these clubs have played each other over the years, they have rarely failed to provide plenty of talking points. They have both had a lot of success at underage levels and this is particularly true of Kilmaley, who have won minor A and U-21 A titles in recent years. Many of the players who featured in those wins are now filling key roles at senior level.
Champions Cratloe know there are no second chances from here on. Already without key player Podge Collins, they face into this weekend’s clash with O’Callaghan’s Mills likely to be without Michael Hawes, who suffered a hamstring injury in their win over Whitegate, an injury that also caused him to miss his club’s football tie last weekend.
After some impressive performances in the league, O’Callaghan’s Mills disappointed when going under to Clonlara last time out. Conor ‘Rocky’ Cooney will find himself facing players who were his team mates last week when he played for Cratloe in the football championship.
After their surprise defeat last time out, Newmarket know they will have to step up a gear if they are to overcome Tulla. The remaining game at the weekend will see Crusheen take on Éire Óg. Crusheen are likely to again be without Pat Vaughan and this will represent a huge blow to their hopes, while Éire Óg may well have to do without the services of full-back Aaron Fitzgerald.
The relegation play-off commences on Sunday, when Whitegate, minus their captain Brendan Bugler due to injury, take on Tubber, while Clarecastle will face up to Feakle.
Add in four third round games and two relegation play-off games in the intermediate grade, together with the Division 2 Hurling League semi-final clash of Ballyea and Smith O’Brien’s and it all adds up to an exciting weekend for hurling fans across the county.
By Seamus Hayes, sports editor