Group 1, Round 3
Kilmurry Ibrickane v Cratloe at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday
There wasn’t even a debate surrounding the headline act for this week’s resumption of the Jack Daly race as this is not only a top-of-the-table clash and a repeat of last year’s final but more significantly a 13th championship meeting between these overly-familiar rivals in the last 12 seasons.
Crucially however, holders Kilmurry Ibrickane have won the last four clashes, bookended by county final victories in 2016 and ’20. So while this Saturday’s result probably won’t hold any earth-shattering overall significance in terms of the group, there has never been any such thing as a half-blooded encounter between the pair.
In typically seesaw fashion between the three group favourites, both Kilmurry Ibrickane and Cratloe have drawn with St Joseph’s Miltown so far, with the defending champions fortunate to grab a draw in the end whereas it was Cratloe that let slip their advantage last time out.
It should be equally as tight this time around. But while the timely return of Cathal McInerney and Podge Collins should be doubly felt considering the losses of Shane Hickey and Dermot Coughlan for their opponents, one simply couldn’t bet against Kilmurry Ibrickane’s record to be able to grind out a result for the fifth successive time unless Cratloe can procure goals.
Verdict: Kilmurry Ibrickane
Ennistymon v Cooraclare
at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday
Despite having a game in hand on the big three (Kilmurry Ibrickane, St Joseph’s Miltown and Cratloe) in the group, this is already a must-win tie or in terms of potential relegation danger, must-not-lose territory for Ennistymon and Cooraclare on Sunday.
Both suffered six point opening defeats in Cusack Park, albeit in contrasting circumstances as Cooraclare, predominantly due to missed goal opportunities, came away feeling slightly aggrieved to have been lowered by Cratloe whereas Ennistymon simply never got off the ground against Kilmurry Ibrickane.
The return of Sean O’Donoghue provided an x-factor targetman that revolutionised Cooraclare in their opening tie while in contrast the only way is up for Ennistymon’s attacking unit that could only muster seven points and only three of those from play.
Ennistymon in particular, were far too tentative against the holders but cannot afford to be as cautious again as only the winner will be in the frame for a quarter-final berth.
Amazingly 11 points separated the sides two years ago as Ennistymon booked their place in the last eight. There should be only a kick of the ball between them this time around but Ennistymon’s greater potential for improvement could be a determining factor if they can rediscover their hunger.
Group 2, Round 2
St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield v Kilmihil
at Lissycasey, Saturday
Arguably the most important match of the entire group as whoever can prevail will be on track for a quarter-final berth with a game to spare. Kilmihil will go in as slight favourites, having built up early momentum with a six point first round victory over Kilrush that saw Ciaran Downes (1-7) and Martin O’Leary (0-5) combine for all but a single point of their 1-13 total.
Despite the momentum of their intermediate success, St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield rather underwhelmed against St Breckan’s, with the concession of three goals to last year’s semi-finalists proving detrimental to their hopes of a seamless assimilation back at senior level following a three year absence.
That contrast in firepower could be pivotal once more as a more experienced Kilmihil, led by the aforementioned O’Leary and Downes, are greatly aided by the work-rate and menace of the likes of Sean Crowley and Gearoid O’Grady.
In addition, Kilmihil can cement a second quarter-final in three years with another victory whereas a first senior championship triumph for the Parish since 2017 would completely alter the narrative in the intermediate champions’ direction.
So with effectively a place in the knock-out stages at stake, perhaps Kilmihil’s more battle-hardened senior unit can shade matters as there seems to more question than answers surrounding Doora/Barefield’s challenge entering this crunch tie.
St Breckan’s v
at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday
While Kilrush replaced St Breckan’s in the senior ranks in 2018, the sides still appear to be going in opposite directions as the Shams have found life in the top tier increasing difficult whereas their opponents remain on the crest of a wave, having immediately soared to the last four upon their return to the Jack Daly last season.
Indeed, an injection of youth has fundamentally reinvigorated all four sides in the group in recent years but St Breckan’s have created an exciting pool of talent that is the envy of their three rivals.
It’s their multitude of attacking threats that makes the Lisdoonvarna-Doolin side so potent as evidenced by their three timely goals through Joe McGann (2) and Maccon Byrne in their opening bout a month ago against newcomers St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield.
With a disappointing opening reverse to Kilmihil accentuated by subsequent managerial movements, there simply has to be a kick in Kilrush especially as they had to play for the final 20 minutes of their opener with only 14 men after the dismissal of Liam Madigan.
That said, the Shams would have arguably preferred any other opponent than St Breckan’s to try and bounce straight back off the ropes. After all, spirited as they will undoubtedly be, it’s difficult to see them raise the bar high enough to catch St Breckan’s unawares.
Verdict: St Breckan’s
Group 3, Round 2
Éire Óg v Clondegad
at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday
Two teams that failed to build upon county final appearances in the last decade are meeting in contrasting circumstances this Saturday.
Éire Óg, off the back of their 2014 breakthrough to the decider for the first time in seven years, would subsequently slump to back-to-back relegation play-offs and a five match losing streak before getting back to the right side of the championship once more after contesting four straight quarter-finals.
It’s harder to believe that Clondegad were in a county final only four years ago against Kilmurry Ibrickane as despite returning to the last eight in 2018, have since suffered six consecutive championship reverses and need to stop the rot to ensure that the slippage isn’t more detrimental.
The difference between the clubs’ current paths is that the Townies have been rebuilding with four Under 21A titles in six seasons between 2013-18 which finally seems to have come to fruition, following a devastating start against Lissycasey.
Following a flooringly disappointing first round loss to Doonbeg, it’s backs to the wall stuff for Clondegad now as ten years on from winning the intermediate crown, they certainly don’t want to be back in the second tier.
Based on those contrasting opening performances alone, nothing but an Éire Óg win seems likely, despite their ongoing injury concerns. Clondegad will be better simply because they have to be and regardless of the result, if they can unearth a rousing display it would tee up a juicy winner-takes-all final round derby showdown against Lissycasey to avoid the relegation play-offs.
Verdict: Éire Óg
Doonbeg v Lissycasey
at St Michael’s Park Kilmihil, Saturday
Delving beneath the bonnet, a lot depends on which Lissycasey turns up in Kilmihil on Saturday, the genuine title contending force of 2020 or the unrecognisably rudderless side that greeted this year’s championship opener.
Granted, they met a ravenous Éire Óg side that would have lowered most teams last time out but one only has to think back to last year’s extra-time opening victory over Cratloe to find an equally hungry display from Lissycasey.
On the flip side to that uncertainty are Doonbeg who invariably tend to maximise what they have and always leave everything on the field when it comes to championship fare.
The injection of youth has reinvigorated the Magpies who thanks in the main to talisman David Tubridy and defensive anchor Tadhg Lillis, edged out Clondegad and can now cement a quarter-final berth with a second win in a row.
Equally, nothing but victory will suffice for Lissycasey to get back to the knock-out stages where, with a slice of luck, they could have easily been contesting a county final in 2020. Their perfect run to the Garry Cup suggests that the opening round loss was an exception but Lissycasey will require a positive start to put any dent in confidence or trepidation behind them.
Whether the Éire Óg game was a blip or not will only truly be known on Saturday evening though.
In the intermediate championship, the most intriguing wrestle for supremacy is in Group 3 where newcomers Banner find themselves top of the table after edging out neighbours Éire Óg only a week on from claiming the Junior A honours.
With O’Curry’s and Shannon Gaels sharing the opening spoils, Round 2 will be much more revealing as the Gaels will be expected to overcome Éire Óg’s second string, with the best barometer of the Banner’s progress coming against a battle-hardened O’Curry’s who will hold the slight favourites tag.
Vying for tie of the round however will be the potential group decider between Coolmeen and Corofin in Group 2, having recorded comprehensive opening victories over Wolfe Tones and Naomh Eoin who also clash to essentially ward off the threat of relegation.
Last year’s finalists Corofin will be expected to top that group as will Kildysart in Group 1 who can secure their place in the last eight with victory over Liscannor while Kilfenora will join them by also maintaining their perfect start against Michael Cusack’s.
In the Junior A Championship, the Group 3 top of the table clash between Killimer and Ennistymon is the pick of the bunch but expect the majority of the quarter-final berths to be filled with a game to spare.