I really think this could be one of the best county hurling finals that we have ever seen.
Both squads are brimming with talent and pace and power and guile, and when you add into the mix how close the two parishes are, it makes for a mouth-watering prospect ahead in Cusack Park on Sunday afternoon.
I think this will be a really tactical game. On the Cratloe side, Mike Deegan and Alan Neville will have studied Sixmilebridge’s strengths and they will have a plan to try and put a stop to them. Davy Fitz and Tim Crowe will also have been taking a good long look at their opponents and will have worked on a plan to try and take them on.
I think a major aspect of the game that Sixmilebridge need to focus on is pushing up at all times on the Cratloe players and do not give them that time to build their game from the back and get their system in motion. Cratloe like to work the short puckout and get their possession game going so I think Sixmilebridge have to push up on that and force them into going long. They will look to make it a psychical game and make it a battle between the two 45m lines, and there will be a man-marking job done on Conor McGrath.
The match ups will be as vital as ever and while some of them that might materialise may not be initially in direct opposition, how each side manoeuvres to counteract the danger will be a key concern.
Conor McGrath v Seadna Morey
McGrath has been the real life and soul of Cratloe this year. He is the man conducting their orchestra and if he is at full tilt and running at the Bridge defence he will cause serious trouble. I think the man that will be deployed on him will be Seadna Morey and that will be a massive match up in the game. If Morey can curb McGrath’s influence on the game, then the Bridge will be halfway there.
Cathal McInerney and Rian Considine v Noel Purcell and Barry Fitzpatrick
The battle of the inside lines are always pivotal but in this instance it could well be the defining one. Sixmilebridge will have to really think about who they are going to deploy on Rian Considine. He is without question the form player coming into the game and has pace aplenty along with icy composure. Sixmilebridge have solid defenders in that full-back line but they do lack a little bit of speed and that will be a concern. The Cathal McInerney we saw in the second-half against Crusheen looked to me like a man coming back to his best. He is at his most dangerous when he turns and goes at defenders and he can cause serious problems so who takes him up will be a big call.
Cathal Malone v Michael Hawes
We have seen the tactic of Malone operating in that inside line really working for Sixmilebridge. There is no doubting the ablility of Hawes, but he has been off colour a little bit this year compared to his own high standards after coming back from injury. If Hawes can get to grips with Malone, and Golden when they swap out, it will be a real bonus point for Cratloe.
Shane Golden v Diarmuid Ryan
I think that you could well see Diarmuid Ryan brought to midfield to pair up with Shane Golden. I think Ryan’s best spot is in the half-back line when he is facing the ball and attacking it, but you could Cratloe saying that Golden is the other really big player for the Bridge. When he fires, he causes serious trouble. If you get Ryan out to midfield, then Golden will have to focus a lot of his attention on the young man. If he is let loose, he can pick off scores and would be operating in an area where he can contribute to the defending too. Whoever wins that battle, should it materialise, will have a major say in the outcome of this game.
They have been the two best teams in the championship and Cratloe will be really driven by the hurt of losing last year. The other side of that coin is that Sixmilebridge do not tend to lose county finals. When they get there they really lock in. They might have a slight advantage in that they have an extra weeks hurling preparation while Cratloe were focused on Kilmurry Ibrickane. That being said, there really will be nothing between the sides and I think it is going to end in a draw and we will be looking at another day out to separate them.
It is hard to believe that come Sunday evening the Clare senior hurling championship will have come to an end for another year. Barring a draw, the Canon Hamilton will have found its new home for the next 12 months and no matter where it ends up, it will residing agonisingly close to the team that falls short.
There is a consensus that the two most impressive and consistent teams of 2019 have negotiated their way to Sunday’s decider, but both will also know that they are facing their toughest test of the campaign to date. Sixmilebridge have mixed the ruthless with the sometimes careless but while there is certainly room for improvement, they have still been grinding out results. Eire Óg and Inagh-Kilnamona both came close to catching them but neither quite managed it and that can often be the viewed as championship winning form. They are doing enough to win games without hitting top gear, but they will know that simply won’t be enough if they are to claim a 14th title.
Cratloe have also mixed the good with the bad in the earlier rounds of the championship, but the manner in which they finished against Clonlara coupled with that devastating second-half display against Crusheen suggests they are timing their run to perfection. Their loss to Kilmurry Ibrickane in the football semi-final will have been a concern but they are past masters at moving on from week to week and the sole focus this week will have been on making sure the bodies and minds are right for what is the biggest game in their club careers. County final day is always a big one but when it is against your nearest and dearest, it goes up a notch.
While there are no guarantees in sport, you can be fairly sure that this will not pan out as a straight 15 v 15 shootout. The first 15 minutes will be as much about keeping track of who is covering where as it will be about keeping an eye on the scoreboard. Davy Fitzgerald will have thought long and hard about coming up with some method of curbing how Conor McGrath , Podge Collins and Rian Considine in particular impact the game. McGrath’s resurgence in the middle of the field continues unabated and if he is given the time to deliver quality ball to the Cratloe forward line, they will make hay. Collins will be his usual busy self and the Sixmilebridge defence will have to be alert not only to the runs he is making when looking for possession, but also the ones he makes to create the space in which Considine and McInerney can operate.
Sixmilebridge will look to the first half of Cratloe’s semi-final against Crusheen as a possible blueprint in how to frustrate them. If they can flood bodies into the danger zone and force Cratloe into shooting from distance, they will go a long way towards the title. For all Cratloe’s pace, they do not have the same power that Sixmilebridge have around the middle third with Caimin Morey, Jamie Shanahan and Shane Golden all offering that psychical presence. Cathal Malone’s aerial threat is also a key asset and the dynamic he offers along with Brian Corry in that inside line will be something Cratloe have to work to negate.
Overall, the slight nod has to go to Cratloe. The basis for it is that their greater scoring threat could just prove the difference. All of their front six are capable of being the difference on the day while Liam Markham will be the anchor at the back. There will be very little in it, but Cratloe should edge it.
This game is hard to call. Really hard.
On their semi-final showings, Cratloe would to be favoured by virtue of scoring 3-17 in an awesome second half showing against Crusheen. Once Cratloe turned on the style, they were a sight to behold. Cratloe though have developed a habit that they will need to shake off for this Sunday’s county final. In their last three games, they have afforded leads to Kilmaley, Clonlara and Crusheen. Now, they have mown down all three opponents in the second half of these games, and with plenty to spare in two of those games, but Sixmilebridge may not be as forgiving should they find them in a similar position this Sunday.
Sixmilebridge are favourites for Sunday and rightly so. They have had the benefit of an extra week’s training that Cratloe haven’t due to their football exploits and they also had to battle back from four points down on two separate occasions against Inagh-Kilnamona to book their final spot. When Sixmilebridge needed them most, they had leaders all over the field and are a team that will not be beaten easily.
The reason Cratloe are being marginally favoured is due to their scoring power. Rian Considine, Cathal McInerney and Podge Collins is as strong an inside line as you’re likely to find in club hurling. They combined for 3-8 from play against Crusheen and can do similar here if they aren’t smothered effectively by Sixmilebridge.
The ‘Bridge’s full-back line of Carey, Fitzpatrick and Purcell are as clever as they come but Crusheen’s are no fools either and were made to look so in the second half of the semi-final.
This is where the game will likely be won or lost. If Cratloe supply their attack with enough ammo, the damage will be done.
Sixmilebridge, and particularly their midfield, have to make it a real battle, and then win it. Conor McGrath has been in excellent form in 2019 since his return from injury and if he is allowed to operate with freedom, then Sixmilebridge could be in for a long day. Shane Golden is an absolute workhorse and he will have a massive job on his hands to ensure the ‘Bridge give as good as they take in the middle of the park.
Caimin and Seadna Morey are key to their side’s efforts as they will need to provide cover to their full-back line but also be the launchpad for their forwards. Their inside line didn’t light the sky on fire against Inagh-Kilnamona and will need more of a return from play on Sunday and it will be up to the Moreys and Evan McInerney, among others, to give them the ball they need to hurt Cratloe.
The suspicion is Cratloe just have that bit more raw pace that can make chances out of nothing, and probably just shade the battle of the forwards. Billy Connors has also been in fine form and will look to keep that going. It will be interesting to see who is deployed to mark Cathal Malone, who was less influential than usual in the semi-final, as he is a threat if deployed on the edge of the square.
All in all, Cratloe are marginally favoured due to speed and wealth of exciting forwards but if they fall into the pattern of affording teams a lead, they won’t find this one easy to wrestle back.
Tim Crowe and Davy Fitzgerald will have this ‘Bridge side hopping off the ground and they will be a formidable challenge for this Cratloe side, but they can sneak it if they play their cards right, and the suspicion is they will.