Derrick Lynch looks ahead to the next round of the Clare senior hurling championship where eight teams will see their season come to an end.
Inagh-Kilnamona v Newmarket on Fergus
They might have been in different pots for the second round draw, but both sides will come into this tie with plenty positives to glean from their opening rounds.
Newmarket were on the wrong side of the result against Clonlara on the opening evening, but it was a result that was not decided too long before the full-time whistle. Club veteran Colin Ryan led the scoring stakes on the night with eight pointed frees, while Eoin Guilfoyle, Colin Guilfoyle, Stephen Kelly and James Liddy all chipped in too.
The worry for Newmarket will be the over-reliance on the ever reliable Ryan to take those chances from placed balls, with 1-6 of their tally coming from play last time out. By contrast, Inagh-Kilnamona racked up 2-9 from play in their clash with Clooney-Quin, with Aidan McCarthy accounting for 1-10 of their total including 0-7 from frees.
If Inagh-Kilnamona can stay disciplined in defence, Newmarket could struggle to create enough scores from play to make any significant headway on the scoreboard. Match-ups will be key, and who Inagh-Kilnamona will deploy to pick up Ryan will tell a lot in the story of the game. Jason McCarthy could be the man for that role, while the clash of Enda Barrett and David Fitzgerald will also be key. Inagh-Kilnamona will have to be that bit sharper in front of goals, with 17 wides racked up last time out.
With the cobwebs now blown off, it remains to be seen which side will have come on more for the run. In that respect, it could well be Inagh-Kilnamona who have more scope more improvement. Eamonn Foudy was solid on his first major outing between the posts, while the likes of Kealan Guyler and Conner Hegarty will also have learned plenty. From Newmarket’s point of view, there will be no major surprises in what to expect and that added sense of creative spark for the Combo could well prove the difference.
Ballyea v Clooney-Quin
On paper, Ballyea are worthy of the favourites tag for this one but will know the danger of taking anything for granted.
The loss of Peter Duggan has been well documented at this stage, but the 2017 beaten finalists are also planning for this one without stalwart Fergal Lynch. The former county minor manager was forced off injured after suffering a broken hand in their opening round loss to Inagh-Kilnamona so they are robbed of another hugely experienced outlet.
A positive for Clooney-Quin is the spread of scorers on the evening seven different names on target, but the worry will be that just 0-4 of their 0-14 haul came from play. They will need much more from the likes of Ryan Taylor, Seamus Conroy and Jimmy Corry if they are going to keep their interest in the 2020 championship alive.
Ballyea’s defence is solid with Jack Browne and Paul Flanagan directing the operation and they coughed no clear goal chances against a lively Crusheen attack. Clooney-Quin will need those green flags to come out on top here, but it is difficult to see where they will come from.
The clash of Taylor and Tony Kelly at midfield is going to be a crucial one with the 2013 Hurler of the Year in outstanding form with 0-7 from play against Crusheen last time out. Taylor will ensure that Kelly does not get the same level of time and space that he enjoyed in the opening round but he will still play a critical role.
Gary Brennan and Niall Deasy will be central to the cause once more for Ballyea while Morgan Garry showed real promise as a danger in the inside line. It will be another battle but that is what this Ballyea side seem to enjoy, and they should march on the last eight.
Sixmilebridge v Whitegate
On first viewing, the clash of the defending champions against a team that contested the relegation semi-finals last year should be an easy one to call.
That form is franked by the showings of both sides in the opening rounds where Sixmilebridge overcame the dismissal of Alan Mulready to overcome a tough challenge from Eire Óg. Whitegate were on the wrong side of the result against East Clare rivals Feakle and will need to show huge improvements in order to keep their year alive.
On closer inspection, it has the capability of being an intriguing clash as Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald comes up against one his backroom team in the south-east in the form of Whitegate stalwart Brendan Bugler. The Sixmilebridge style and particularly the way Fitzgerald sets teams up will be something Bugler knows plenty about so that will be an interesting sideshow.
Even with that inside knowledge, it is still hard to see what area of the field Whitegate can get on top of in order to build a platform for victory. The ‘Bridge were always comfortable last time out and the use of Alex Morey to protect between the defensive lines is proving a key element. It is a strong half forward line where Jamie Shanahan and Cathal Malone offer a psychical outlet while Shane Golden provides the midfield engine.
Bugler will get plenty back up from the likes of Eoin Quirke and Ian Fahy, and the East Clare men will battle on their backs. When the dust settles, it should still be the champions holding on to their crown.
Cratloe v Eire Óg
This one is a repeat of the 2016 quarter-final which saw the south-east Clare men come out on top.
Both sides have undergone plenty changes from that day, with Conor Earley moving from wing-back to manager for Cratloe. His first outing in the Bainisteoir bib was an impressive win over Kilmaley in the opening round and they will be hoping to build on the momentum of that day.
New recruit Shane Neville adds another attacking outlet for Cratloe with the former Tipperary underage star hammering home the final nail with a well-taken goal late on. Cathal McInerney’s return to full fitness may not come in time for this one so Neville’s prowess up front is welcome. Conor McGrath and the Collins trio are all key men while Mikey Hawes experience and Liam Markham’s defensive distribution are all vital elements in the Cratloe potion.
Eire Óg will have a mixture of regrets and positives from their loss to Sixmilebridge, with Matt Shannon and his management team having plenty learnings to take. The placing of Shane O’Donnell in the middle third is something they are likely to review with the prospective astronaut unable to fire any rockets that far away from goals. The decision to leave Ciaran Russell in a deep defensive role while playing against 14 men is another tactic that may well have played a vital role.
There was no David Reidy to call on and it remains to be seen if the sharpshooter is fully fit for this knockout tie. Missed chances from scoreable frees hurt Eire Óg against the ‘Bridge and they simply cannot afford to pass those up.
The pace of the Cratloe attack is likely to test the Townies defence where Russell and Liam Corry will be the chief operators. McGrath’s influence between the lines and a greater scoring threat should see Cratloe come through a real battle.
Wolfe Tones v Kilmaley
If the form from the opening round carries through, then it will be the Shannon men who enter the game as favourites.
The manner of their 4-19 to 0-16 win over Clarecastle has to be tempered by the fact it was a youthful Magpie outfit that were put to the sword. That aside, 4-13 from play in any championship outing is a serious return so the tails will be up for Ray Divinney’s outfit.
Kilmaley coach Niall Romer was first to admit after their loss to Cratloe that they had plenty to work on but the time for talking is now well and truly over. This group of Kilmaley players have promised so much in recent year but with only a Clare Cup medal to show at senior level there is a real danger that a golden generation will pass without adding to their Canon Hamilton haul. It was not so much the defeat as the performance that will have created cause for concern in Kilmaley and they will know that anything near that level again will see another year pass by.
Wolfe Tones have attacking options to trouble most defences with Aron Shanagher almost unstoppable when hitting full flight. The Cunningham duo of Aaron and Jack give plenty back up with energy in the middle third from the O’Connell’s and Rory Hayes. It is a threat that Kilmaley will have to work hard to counteract and the psychical presence of Shanagher is a formidable one.
If Kilmaley click, they are a match for anyone but they will need to be much more organised and composed than their first showing. If they are, they should come out on top. Anything less simply will not do.
Feakle v Clarecastle
In many ways, Clarecastle’s loss to Wolfe Tones a fortnight can nearly be discounted as having any real link to form.
The Magpies went into that clash without regulars Bobby Duggan, Pat Kelly, and Stephen Ward while it is understood that Stephen O’Halloran played through the pain barrier for the cause.
The positives will be that if those players are back for this showdown, they will be linking up with the youngsters who got their first outing and they will have learned plenty from it. Cian Galvin and Darragh Healy are in that contingent while the likes of Lee Brack and Colin Brigdale are also relative newcomers to the senior scene.
The other side of that coin is that they are coming up against a settled Feakle side who will have taken great heart from their opening round win over Whitegate. The East Clare men are well seasoned at this level and will be hopeful of getting back into the business end once more.
The concern for Mike Guilfoyle’s men has often been the fact that Shane McGrath’s frees are all too often their chief scoring threat, with the diminutive midfielder notching 0-11 of their 0-21 haul last time out. The remaining 0-10 was shared between seven different scorers so that is something they will look to build on.
The Feakle inside line of Steven Conway, Martin Daly and Raymond Bane is both pacy and powerful while the supply will be of a high quality when it’s coming from McGrath and Eoin Tuohy. There will be need to be plenty effort around that middle third by Clarecastle to try and choke the supply and it could be a telling factor. Con Smyth’s absence through injury will be a significant factor in that area.
All games will be result on the day and this could well be one that requires that added period to sort it out. A hesitant nod goes to a slightly more experienced Feakle, but it is only a hesitant one.
Clonlara v Broadford
The battle for south-east supremacy pits the 2019 intermediate champions against a side that last won championship honours in 2008.
It also sees Clonlara native Jimmy Browne coming up against his own club but there will be no room for sentimentality with championship survival on the line.
Broadford lost little in defeat on their senior bow against O’Callaghan’s Mills and could well have been in the winners pot if they had been that bit sharper in front of goals.
Clonlara were also involved in a real battle in the opening round but they were on the right side of the result after late scores saw them eventually over the line against Newmarket.
Form will often go out the window in derby ties and while that local tension is sure to play a part, this has all the makings of an open contest. Both sides had nine different scorers in their first round games so that spread of a scoring threat means it should be an exciting tie.
Clonlara should have 2020 captain Cathal O’Connell back in the starting line up after he missed out on their opening round win, and his energy and experience in the middle third will be vital. Broadford won’t be lacking in this department either, but the challenge now for them is to maintain a sustained effort. They made a blistering start to the game two weeks ago, but faded after half-time to hand the initiative to the Mills.
Clonlara will be eager to get back to the knockout stages, and their greater senior experience may be the telling difference.
O’Callaghan’s Mills v Crusheen
This is another tie where both sides will be pleased with the showing in their opening round games, despite suffering different fates.
The Mills edged a tight East Clare derby with Broadford but the biggest concern for Donach O’Donnell will be the fitness of Colin Crehan after the All-Ireland champion handballer was forced off injured last time out. He had just pounced for a crucial goal moments before so his influence up front will be something they will hope to call on.
Both these teams will be solid in defence where the Cooney’s and Pat Donnellan are the anchors for the East Clare men. Crusheen have built their reputation over the last decade on being mean in defence and with the Dillon’s and Brigdale’s are always formidable opponents.
It could boil down to which team has that extra spark in the final third, and on that basis Crusheen would appear to have the slight edge. The performances of Ross Hayes, Breffni Horner and Jamie Fitzgibbon two weeks ago were cause for optimism.
It has the potential to be another one that goes all the way, but Crusheen may just edge it.