The race for the last semi-final spot in the Clare senior football championship comes to a head this week, with four teams still left in the hunt to take the last remaining berth.
The winners of this week’s two playoff ties will do battle once more on Sunday afternoon for that semi-final place.
Derrick Lynch looks ahead to the action
Clare SFC Preview
Miltown v Cooraclare
A repeat of the 2015 final is in store where the prize for the winners is one more shot at reaching the last four of this year’s championship.
There has been plenty changes in both squads since that decider, while the fortunes of the two clubs have also taken different paths.
Miltown have added back to back titles in 2018 and 2019 to go along with that victory while the Sky Blues have embarked on more of a rebuilding process by integrating a number of their younger talent into senior berths.
Both sides will come into the tie knowing that there is plenty improvement still to come from their previous championship performances. Miltown had to dig deep to see off the challenge of Doonbeg a fortnight ago when goals proved to be the crucial scores, and while the victory was ultimatley comfortable on the scoreboard there are still gears that the defending champions have left to move through.
Cooraclare went the long way around in booking their spot in this playoff round as they saw off Kilrush after extra-time. It was a game that they will have been glad to win but the manner in which they allowed the game to almost slip will be the most concerning. David Russell’s side looked to have moved into a commanding position with time running out but the concession of the last four scores of the game saw the Shams bring it to the added period.
As ever, match ups will be key and the potential showdown between county teammates Pearse Lillis and Eoin Cleary will tell a lot about the story of the game. Both have been key figures in recent games with Cleary pulling the strings for a lot of what Miltown create. The clash of Cormac Murray and Declan McMahon will also be a central one, while Gordon Kelly will likely be tasked to cutting down on the time and space given to Ciarán O’Donoghue in the Cooraclare attack.
The emergance of Micheál Garry has been a real positive for the Sky Blues this year and his move to the edge of the square has added another dimension to their threat up front. His likely opponent will be Aidan McGuane who is one of the best man markers in Clare football at present. Seanie Malone could be handed the task of keeping tabs on Jack Morrissey while it remains to be seen who Cooraclare deploy in the middle third to counteract the influence of Conor Cleary.
Miltown appear to have the most scope for improvement and will rightly carry the favourites tag into the game. It has all the potential to be a major banana skin for the champions who cannot afford any more slip ups, and while it won’t be a routine assignement, they should have enough quality to get over the line.
Clondegad v Cratloe
Two sides who desperately need to find form clash here in a winner takes all battle to stay alive in the race for Jack Daly.
It has already been well documented that it has been a challenging few weeks for Cratloe and it rang true last weekend as they bowed out of the hurling championship with defeat to Eire Óg.
It was not so much the loss as the manner of it that will hold the most concerns for Colm Collins with a lethargic final quarter proving fatal as they faded out of the contest. There are few teams better at refocusing on a renewed challenge over the last number of years than Cratloe, so recovery will have been the chief focus this week.
Cathal McInerney’s return to action last Sunday was a welcome sight for all GAA fans in Clare but it remains to be seen if the sharpshooter is fit enough to play a full part here. His absence from the forward division is a concern for the south-east Clare men who found their scores hard to come by in their opening round loss to Lissycasey. Conor McGrath will be the director in the middle third once more while the power of Shane Gleeson and class of Rian Considine will also be key elements. Sean Collins will also return after missing the first round due to suspension and his experience will add to the Cratloe arsenal.
Clondegad have had a long wait to get this second round underway after their narrow defeat to Kilmihil on the August Bank Holiday weekend. They will likely have used that time to try and figure how they came out on the wrong side of the scoreline that day but they may still not have come up with the answer. It could well be attributed to wastefulness in front of goal with 12 wides along with two spurned goal chances with all those misses now placing them firmly in the last chance saloon.
Midfield has been an area where Cratloe have struggled to assert real dominance in recent years and it could be an area Clondegad exploit with Gary Brennan and James Murphy. None of Cratloe’s kickouts will go long, but the powerful running of Brennan will create problems for the Cratloe defence. Morgan Garry and Eoghan Donnellan will be key figures too with Cillian Brennan likely to be the man to pick up Podge Collins at the other end of the field.
How Cratloe will have reacted and recovered from last weekend’s loss is going to be a key element and they will need to make a fast start here to try and get on top early. If they end up chasing the game against a powerful Clondegad unit, it could prove a difficult task for what looked liked tired bodies.
It has the potential to go right down to the wire and the longer Clondegad can keep punching holes, the greater impact fatigue will have. They simply cannot afford to miss the number of chances they did last time out, but that lack of match sharpness is also a concern.
Cratloe have been to the well plenty times in the past and in many ways, their hurling woes could well prove to be the making of their football ambitions.