Clare LGFA SFC Final Preview: Banner Ladies v Kilmihil
It is the fourth time in a row that these two sides have locked horns in the senior decider with the Banner reigning supreme in their previous three encounters.
Banner Ladies have swept all before them in the county as they amassed eight consecutive titles and are now closing in on taking that run into double figures.
The last two finals between these rivals have seen emphatic wins for the near annual champions, with a 20 point margin separating them when they met 12 months ago. It was only marginally less in 2017 with the Banner taking a 3-15 to 2-4 win, while the closest contest to date was the first of the current series in 2016 when it was the Banner victorious by 4-17 to 3-9.
There is a sense that this Kilmihil team are in a much better place in 2019 than they have been in recent years. They lost Ailish Considine to Australia in the lead up to last year’s decider, but she is available for Sunday’s showdown along with her international rugby star sister Eimear. Fellow rugby international Edel McMahon is also part of the panel, while county stars like captain Ellie O’Gorman, Catriona Callinan and Carol O’Leary will provide added leadership.
The Banner have had the shortest route possible to another decider with a new structure seeing the champions given a semi-final berth while the others battled it out for the remaining three spots. Their only competitive game to date came in that last four win over Doora Barefield where Grainne Nolan shone with 1-10 of her sides tally on the night. They had more competitive action last weekend when they took part in the All Ireland 7’s in Dublin, but the lack of game time should not be a major worry for an experienced group. You have to go all the way back to 2007 to find a Clare ladies football final that did not feature the Banner, and they are well deserving of their place as the current kingpins. It is a star studded team with county stars sprinkled throughout while the return to fitness of Naomi Carroll has been another major boost.
On their form to date, Kilmihil have shown that they are without question the team best equipped to try and deny the Banner more silverware, but whether they have improved enough from their recent attempts to do that still remains to be seen. There will be some fascinating battles all over the field on Sunday, with Niamh Keane vs Ellie O’Gorman, Laurie Ryan vs Jenny Kelly and Ailish Considine vs Clare Hehir just some of them to look forward to. The Banner’s inside line is a potent one with Carroll, Louise Henchy and Nolan all scoring threats, and they might just have enough to shade the battle with their opponents.
Kilmihil should have enough in the tank to close the gap of recent years and take this tie into the closing stages. All they can hope for is to ask questions of the champions and make them earn their crown for the ninth consecutive time. It should be a closer contest than what has gone before, but it is hard to see the Banner not coming out on top once more.
Verdict: Banner Ladies
View From The Camps
Banner Ladies: JJ O’Dea (Manager)
The Banner have been the absolute authority in Clare Ladies Football for the last eight years, having won eight consecutive titles and this Sunday they will aim to stretch their imperious run to nine.
Manager JJ O’Dea was keen to point out that this dominance didn’t happen overnight, and more importantly won’t last forever, as his side prepare for battle with Kilmihil in the county final this weekend.
“There is never any pressure when it comes to county finals, is there?” JJ joked, continuing, “You know what you’re in for when it comes to a county final. You have to perform on the day, and you have to grasp the opportunity with both hands. They (county championships) don’t grow on trees, do they?,” JJ laughed.
They most certainly don’t, but neither does talent, and the Banner have been blessed with the current crop of players in their squad, such as Clare captain Laurie Ryan and star forward Niamh O’Dea, among others.
JJ paid tribute to the hard work put in at the club by so many people since its foundation 25 years ago, and credited that work with being the reason the club is in the position it is today.
“We have a very good crop of girls at the minute and they have a very good underage policy from U-10 all the way through the club, and from this there is a constant supply coming through then. We have a great chair in Dorothy Minihan. She’s brilliant to work with and anything we need we get.
“There are girls there that play a lot of different sports and it’s about getting the blend of all those, but we really try to enjoy our football, that’s what we tell the girls and that’s most important.
“We have a few county players too and what they bring back to the club scene will always help too. It raises the standard big time,” JJ believes.
This year marks the fourth year in succession that the Banner will meet Kimihil in the final and JJ believes the West Clare side will pose a massive threat to his side this time around.
“They have two players got from Newmarket, Jenni Kelly and Carol O’Leary, and they have Ailish and Eimear Considine back too, so they have a strong side and it will definitely be a good final. It will be won by winning the dirty ball, the 50/50 ball,” JJ said.
The Banner may have to face into the final without the services of JJ’s daughter Niamh, who is facing a race against time to be fit but, one suspects if Niamh O’Dea has to watch her side from the sideline, it won’t be the end of the incredible run from her side.
Kilmihil Ladies: Ellie O’Gorman (Captain)
Kilmihil ladies football captain Ellie O’Gorman is no stranger to big occasions as she prepares to lead her side out in Sunday’s Clare LGFA senior final.
The secondary school teacher has been an ever present for the West Clare outfit in recent times and has plenty recent experience of playing the Banner in the county showpiece to call on.
She has also been there on the big days for the Clare ladies side in recent years and has played a key role in defence during their campaign.
O’Gorman says getting back into the decider was a target for the squad from the outset of the year.
“We wanted to be exactly where we are now come the end of September and we have prepared well so we are looking forward to the challenge. We have had five weeks since the semi-final so it was a challenge to keep momentum going as we had girls playing camogie and rugby along with work and college commitments so we had to try and keep things ticking over with challenge games and working on tactics and making sure everyone was right. It was a bit different because in other years there was not that big gap between the semi-final and final so it has been a positive in some ways as we had that time to get the girls together and work on those few bits” she said.
Kilmihil have proven themselves a step ahead of the rest in chasing down the Banner in recent years but will be hoping that they can close the gap even further by making the champions work for their title. Ellie admits it won’t be an easy task.
“We are under no illusions about what is ahead of us. They are going for nine in a row and we are meeting them now for the fourth year running. We know it is massive and we are trying to look back over the previous meetings with them and see what we can improve on to push on that extra little bit that we need to on Sunday. All the girls are now four years further on in their development and we have brought in some other players so there is a good mix of youth, experience, natural talent and work-rate so that is a good blend that we are hoping will pay off. There are loads of girls who have experience of county panels in both underage and senior squads so that all brings added experience and if everyone can bring their own part to the table and we get to put them all together, then hopefully we will get the right result. We have been here before and we know what the build up is like so we will be emphasising that it is just another match, it is just another 60 minutes of football and that the game will be won in that time, not anything that happens before or after. We will be focused on our own game and making sure we do what is needed to get the win. If we leave everything on the field, the result will look after itself” she noted.