The 2019 hurling championship is down to the last eight and I really hope this weekend we finally see some fireworks.
To be honest we have not seen anything like that in the championship to date and we really need a weekend filled with high octane games in what is do or die territory. The vast majority of games up to now have been very poor with some really one sided results. Teams have had the safety net and maybe that has led to them being a little more relaxed. With that now gone, hopefully it will lead to a more cutthroat approach. On paper, we have some brilliant games in store but whether they live up to that remains to be seen.
New players need to stand out this weekend for the incoming county management, whoever that might be. It is a really worrying time for the next managerial team because there does not appear to be any new kids on the block emerging but maybe this weekend’s quarter final games will produce them. Whoever is going along to watch these games as the next potential Clare senior hurling manager will want to see new blood coming into play and if that doesn’t happen, I really think Clare hurling could be in trouble. Our club championships are so important and even more so for the senior hurling management because that is where you are going to see the potential new guy on the scene. The other side of that coin is that unless you are sure you are going to be that new manager, you may not be looking out for it. All clubs this weekend should be aiming to be at their very best and make it a standout few days of action.
Three of the senior quarter finals are in Cusack Park, but Feakle and Inagh-Kilnamona are heading to Sixmilebridge where the venue could well play its part. Feakle will be thrilled going there because it is a happy hunting ground for them but I am not too sure will Inagh-Kilnamona share that enthusiasm. The tighter pitch will help the Feakle backs who can be vulnerable at times when faced with open space. We saw Inagh-Kilnamona exploit the space in Cusack Park to brilliant effect against Cratloe and I am sure Fergal Hegarty would have preferred to be going back in there again to replicate that. The space will be limited in Sixmilebridge and so that will be a factor. Matchups will be critical as ever and it might well be that David Fitzgerald drops back to watch Oisin Donnellan and Jason McCarthy picks up Shane McGrath. Inagh-Kilnamona’s full forward line is their most dangerous and they will really test Feakle’s rearguard. On the other hand, the decision to move Ray Bane to the inside for Feakle was a key moment in their win over Clooney-Quin so they may opt for that once more. It will be a battle, but I think if Inagh-Kilnamona can make the most of whatever space they create, they will just squeeze through.
Cratloe v Clonlara should be the game of the weekend. Clonlara look really united this year and they are playing with real pride. Cratloe are back on track now and have had a break weekend so they will be refreshed and ready to go. Conor McGrath is directing the orchestra in the middle third and Clonlara will need to really think about who is going to be tasked with curbing his influence. On the other hand, Clonlara have the best half-back line left in the championship and Cratloe will have to work to break them up a bit. That is where Clonlara set up and launch from so whoever gets the better of the battle in that line will be crucial. The potential matchup between John Conlon and Mikey Hawes is going to be a big one and it might be an area of concern for Cratloe. Overall though, I am going to give the nod to Cratloe to come though a tight game. They seem to perform best when the safety net is gone and I expect them to do that again this weekend.
Eire Óg and Sixmilebridge promises to be another enthralling battle. Mattie Shannon and his management team have wiped the slate clean with Eire Óg and they have got maximum commitment from their group. The Sixmilebridge game plan has served them well so far and Eire Óg will need to have devised a way to counter it. Their two men inside, Cathal Malone and Brian Corry, have been in brilliant form so the Townies will have to think defensively in order to deal with it. Aaron Fitzgerald will likely be detailed to pick up Malone and will need to minimise the damage he is causing. There is a real threat across the Bridge forward line and if the majority of them click on a given day, it is hard to see how they can be stopped. If Eire Óg have the right defensive plan and show the spirit they showed against Kilmaley a few weeks ago, they have a chance. It will be a massive battle but the Bridge should come through.
Ballyea will not fear Crusheen and this is going to be a really interesting game. We have seen Crusheen putting up big scores and they have young forwards who are causing teams serious problems. The fear for them this time around is that Ballyea have really solid defenders to cope with that threat. There is huge experience there in that Ballyea defence to know how to mark their territory. If they do that, Ballyea should be getting over the line. My only concern is that Ballyea are not getting enough scores up front from the likes of Tadgh Lynch, Martin O’Leary and others. They need to get a higher return from their forward line especially from play, but they should still be coming through to another semi-final.