SIXTEEN days before Christmas Day and nine months after the Cusack Cup started on March 19, the league, which consists of seven rounds before the top three are finalised, will conclude in Kilmihil on Friday evening.
When referee John Hannon throws the ball in for the 2016 final, two fierce rivals will shorten the winter’s evening as they go in search of the cup, €2,000 in prize money for the victors from The Clare Champion and a winning conclusion to their footballing year. Kilmurry are seeking an unprecedented six in-a-row, a feat never achieved by any club.
Kilmurry have won 10 Cusack Cups up to now, while Doonbeg have 14 on the sideboard but none since 1994. Kilmurry have enjoyed a superb year, winning their 14th senior championship and 13th U-21 title, while their minors and juniors also reached their respective county finals. The one downside to Kilmurry’s year was their 1-14 to 0-8 loss at home to Dr Crokes in the Munster club quarter-final on October 30. That was their last competitive game and were it not for the fact that Doonbeg beat Clondegad in the semi-final, perhaps Kilmurry might not be as tuned in as they will on Friday evening. Their last defeat in a knock-out Cusack Cup game was in the 2010 semi-final. Since then, they have completely dominated the competition.
Doonbeg were knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the senior championship, when they lost to Cooraclare. In earlier rounds they had beaten Clondegad and Kilkee. A Cusack Cup win would definitely buoy players and management, with the 2017 season not too far away.
Doonbeg need this more than Kilmurry, given that their last senior championship win was in 2010. For a club of their stature, having won just two senior championships in 15 years and no Cusack Cup in 22 years, it constitutes a bleak period in their history.
Of course, Kilmurry will be very keen to hold on to the Cusack Cup and definitely will not want to hand it over to Doonbeg of all clubs.
How their senior players handle the fact that they haven’t had a game in six weeks will be an issue for Kilmurry. Their U-21s, Ciaran Morrissey and Keelan Sexton, have had plenty of match practice on their way to winning the club’s first title at that level since 2007. That win last Sunday in Corofin will have lifted everybody associated with the club.
A player on each side, David Tubridy and Keelan Sexton, will be part of the Munster panel facing Ulster at Parnell Park in Saturday’s inter-provincial semi-final. If they win, Munster will play Leinster or Connacht in Sunday’s final.
Friday’s final, though, is of much more significance locally and both of those players will have central roles to play in determining the outcome.
Doonbeg’s semi-final win over Clondegad in Ballynacally will definitely give them an edge in terms of having played a competitive game. Their last game prior to that was in August. Shane Ryan scored their second and decisive goal that day and along with Joe Blake, Cian O’Mahoney, Colm Dillon and Shane O’Brien, they will have key roles to play if Doonbeg are to deliver.
Provided they are match sharp, Kilmurry will look to Darren Hickey, Martin McMahon, Michael O’Dwyer, Shane Hickey and Enda Coughlan to drive them.
Based on the fact that they have already won the 2016 championship and will not want to allow Doonbeg to get their hands on the silverware, Kilmurry should have enough to keep the Cusack Cup in their possession.
The game will throw-in at 8pm in Kilmihil. The winners will receive €2,000 and the runners-up €1,000 from The Clare Champion.