SATURDAY’S county football final, which throws in at 2.30pm, brings disparate parts of Clare together in pursuit of Jack Daly. Doonbeg, hugging the Atlantic coast, are zoning in on their 19th championship since 1955 while Cratloe, with the local wood their most iconic landmark, are trying to grasp Jack Daly for their first time. The fact that the clubs have only met once in senior championship, and never in a county final, adds further intrigue to this weekend’s showdown.
Ironically, this will not be Cratloe’s first appearance in a county final, although nobody is around to reveal what happened when they lost to Newmarket in the July 10, 1887 final. What is known is that Cratloe didn’t score in that game and some of their players didn’t show up because much of the Cratloe team had to herd cattle to a fair on the same day.
While nothing else may be certain about the 2013 final, it is spectacularly unlikely that Cratloe captain Óige Murphy or any of his teammates will have to hunt cattle before, during or after this year’s final.
They will have enough on trying to curb Doonbeg’s David Tubridy, Shane Ryan and Colm Dillon, while trying to free themselves from the shackles of Conor Whelan, Pádraig Gallagher and Richie Vaughan.
Putting it simply, Cratloe’s plan will be to run Doonbeg into the Cusack Park ground, while the 18-times champions will be doing their utmost to discourage Podge and Seán Collins, Conor McGrath, Óige Murphy and Enda Boyce from running as much as they would like.
Cratloe’s game is built around speed of movement, ceaseless support play and working the ball in close to goal. Long-range point scoring isn’t their strong point but utilising the support player and carving out goal chances is.
So who will pick up who? Doonbeg will surely detail Joe Blake, Páraic Aherne or Richie Vaughan to shadow the Collins brothers, while Conor Whelan will probably pick up Cathal McInerney, whose goal-scoring threat is one of Cratloe’s key components. If all of that transpires, Pádraig Gallagher could be faced with the task of keeping tabs on Conor McGrath. If Doonbeg don’t effectively man-mark these Cratloe players, they will be well beaten.
Of course, Doonbeg have aces of their own in David Tubridy, Conor Downes and Shane Ryan, while Shane O’Brien is an integral part of their set-up. Barry Duggan will surely be detailed to mark his former inter-county colleague David Tubridy, who is the classiest forward in Clare football.
Either Seán Chaplin or David Ryan will have a hazardous hour on Shane Ryan, whose unpredictability can bamboozle the best of defenders and sometimes his own team.
While midfield will be a decisive area, the battle between the Doonbeg half-forwards and the Cratloe half-backs will be central to the outcome. Óige Murphy and Enda Boyce have had excellent championships at wing-back, with both needing no encouragement to drive forward. Alongside centre-back Michael Hawes they form a potent half-back line.
However, Doonbeg have sought to reshape their half-forward line in their quest for increased work-rate and breaking-ball winning ability in that sector. Enda Doyle and Ronan Goode will put their bodies on the line on Saturday and will give this Cratloe half-back line their most testing hour to date in 2013. If either line assumes dominance in this sector, their club will have more than a few fingers on Jack Daly.
Four big men will go shoulder to shoulder in the middle of the field, with Clooney-Quin men Fergal Lynch and Cillian Duggan going toe-to-toe with Frank O’Dea and Colm Dillon, who captained Doonbeg to their 2010 final win over Liscannor.
Lynch has been having an impressive championship, while Duggan is an unfussy yet effective midfielder. Dillon and O’Dea are a very capable partnership, with both capable of kicking inspirational scores.
With Doonbeg likely to play a more traditional game and Cratloe mixing high-speed support play with intricate movement and the passing ability of Seán Collins and Cathal McInerney, another contrast will be visible on the kick-out front. Cratloe specialise in taking short, quick kick-outs, with Pierce De Loughrey highly effective in that role. Doonbeg prefer to land the kick-out in the middle of the field, backing the likes of Dillon and O’Dea to get their hands on it.
With weather conditions unpredictable, the respective free takers could have match-deciding roles to play. David Tubridy is coming into the 2013 county final in the form of his life, following his one-man demolition of Lissycasey, while Cratloe will be hoping that Cathal McInerney and Enda Boyce nail their frees from their respective sides.
While this is verging on guesswork, Doonbeg could outscore Cratloe on the points front but the men in dark blue are more potent goalscorers.
If Cathal McInerney gets into a goal-scoring position, the umpire might as well raise the green flag there and then. That goal-scoring threat may decide the outcome in what is a fascinating final pairing.
Calling a winner is a hazardous duty but Cratloe’s form through championship has held together impressively. The closest anyone has come to them so far is five points and they should have one or two to spare over Doonbeg on Saturday evening.