Half a loaf is considerably better than no bread as following the postponement of last year’s secondary adult club competitions, a condensed county league schedule is set to commence this bank holiday Monday.
Four of the seven football leagues begin their campaigns on the first day possible of the government’s Covid-19 guidelines, with all divisions in both football and hurling limited to five matches which are based on last year’s fixtures.
With no promotion or relegation at stake, the county leagues are primarily intended as a reintroduction to playing action following a minimum eight month absence.
However, while clubs will be without their inter-county contingents, there’s still silverware on offer to retain a competitive edge remains intact as following the completion of the group stages, the top team in each division will be crowned champions.
Cusack Cup – Division 1 Football League
v St Joseph’s Miltown at Quilty, Monday, 3.30pm
(Referee: C Maguire)
It’s a post-lockdown ritual at this stage it seems. After all, after Miltown edged the ‘cauldron of tension’ that was their two game Jack Daly Final of 2019, ten months, a revenge mission in the opening round of the il-fated 2020 Cusack Cup and a new pandemic later, it seemed inevitable that the neighbours would lock horns for a juicy championship opener in August that saw the ‘Bricks win the day and subsequently the championship honours to boot.
Outside of the obvious derby and familial connections, it’s still technically a battle of the reigning championship and league champions.
With a new surface at Páirc Naomh Mhuire perhaps the perfect setting for what promises to be the headline act of the latest return to play.
Éire Óg v Ennistymon
at Éire Óg, Monday, 12pm
(Referee: J Hickey)
After a false start and finish to their proposed 2020 clashes, Éire Óg and Ennistymon finally lock horns on Monday to begin the new season in earnest. When their 2020 Cusack Cup opener was postponed, these sides couldn’t have foreseen that there wouldn’t be ample time to rearrange the fixture.
However, it was a case of lightning string twice for this pair as following disappointing championship exits, their Senior B decider never materialised either at the backend of September. And true to form, it was followed by another lengthy lockdown until now.
With an eight strong contingent at senior inter-county level alone (Conall Ó hÁiniféin, Darren O’Neill, Gavin Cooney, Ciaran Russell, Ikem Ugwueru, Aaron Fitzgerald, Shane O’Donnell, Liam Corry), the Ennis Townies will have to delve deeper than most during this truncated league.
Fundamentally however, here’s hoping the fixture finally goes ahead this time around for all our sakes.
Clondegad v St Breckan’s at Ballynacally, Monday, 2pm (Referee: W King)
Contrasting 2020 seasons may seem like a lifetime ago by this stage but until replaced by fresher memories, they’ll linger for a little while longer just yet.
Of course, St Breckan’s will be keen to imbue some of last year’s gold-dust after soaring back to senior level with a newfound swagger that along with Lissycasey, lit up the championship summer to reach the last four of the Jack Daly race, only two years on from finishing in the bottom four.
Clondegad meanwhile will be eager to put 2020 firmly in their rearview mirror following a fragmented and ultimately winless campaign.
Their last major joy came in the Cusack Cup when contesting the 2019 final and they will require a similar run to rebuild confidence once more as that’s one thing the Lisdoonvara side aren’t lacking in.
Doonbeg v Kildysart
at Doonbeg, 12pm
(Referee: N Quinn)
Amazing as it seems, Doonbeg and Kildysart meet for the third successive league game on Monday albeit that there has been a gap of almost two years between the first and last.
Of course, it’s a repeat of the 2019 Garry Cup Final that saw the Magpies raid for a goal either end of the second period to dramatically snatch a 2-11 to 0-14 victory.
However, Kildysart’s long-awaited return to the Cusack Cup was marked by a victory as they unleashed a 2-8 to 2-5 retribution on Doonbeg in one of the only first round matches to be played in March 2020.
With two new management teams in place, it’s a clean slate for both, starting with an early barometer, especially for the visitors who are eager to make the top flight their home in both league and championship come the end of 2021.
With a healthy blend of five senior and three intermediate sides, this year’s Garry Cup race remains intriguing.
There may be no promotion on offer for the senior contingent but momentum and silverware more than make up for it, with the form team from 2020 undoubtedly being Lissycasey who stormed into the championship to reach a first semi-final in seven years.
John Ryan’s side travel to fellow senior side Kilrush on Monday, Kilmihil host O’Curry’s while there’s also a repeat of last year’s Intermediate Semi-Final between Shannon Gaels and eventual winners St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield.
However, the tie of the round could well be the clash of Cooraclare and Corofin.
The latter comfortably took the spoils in the corresponding fixture last year and would almost join their opponents in the senior ranks only to be dashed by the Parish in the intermediate decider.
Mick Lillis returns to his native soil to coach Cooraclare which should give the hosts a much-needed lift for 2021 but it’s an equally important season for Corofin who can’t afford to languish at intermediate level for too long.
Perennial Division 3 favourites Cratloe, Intermediate quartet Coolmeen, Kilfenora, Wolfe Tones and Naomh Eoin along with juniors Killimer, St Senan’s Kilkee and Ennistymon make up a veritable united nations in Division 3.
Coolmeen will be hoping to hit the ground running once more, having secured a famous minimum victory over eventual senior finalists Cratloe in the opening round of last year’s league, only to see the competition grind to an abrupt halt.
The clash of Kilfenora and Naomh Eoin should also provide an early barometer while Killimer host Wolfe Tones and Kilkee host the highest ranking second string Ennistymon on Monday.
by Eoin Brennan