It is another huge weekend of Clare club hurling action with the last quarter-final spots in the senior and intermediate championship up for grabs, while the relegation battle is also heating up.
Clare Senior Hurling Championship Round Three Preview
Cusack Park on Saturday at 2pm: Newmarket v Eire Óg
The honour of getting a bumper afternoon of action at HQ underway falls to the Blues and the Townies, in what could well prove to be the most competitive game of the day.
Newmarket come into the tie off the back of what will have been a morale boosting victory over O’Callaghan’s Mills last time out and following their brief flirtation with relegation in recent years, that anchor has now been lifted which will take a huge amount of pressure off their shoulders.
Eire Óg will also come into the game with a positive mind frame despite suffering a defeat to Clonlara a fortnight ago. They may have come out on the wrong side of the result but they will have taken a lot from it after a solid performance. There were chances to bring the game down the final straight and while it was a six-point loss on the scoreboard, the game was competitive for long spells.
This is probably the hardest of all the weekend’s senior games to call and it could well come down to which team can limit the opportunities they cough up to the oppositions free-takers. Colin Ryan is as dangerous as ever from the placed ball, and from open play he is just as much of a threat so closing him down will be a massive task for Eire Óg. Liam Corry or Aaron Fitzgerald would be strong options to try and shackle Ryan, while Colin Guilfoyle will also need minding by one of those two. Where Newmarket place Guilfoyle could be crucial, and if it is in the half-forward line then expect plenty puck outs to be heading his direction.
For the Townies, David Reidy will once more be standing over the frees and while a few went astray two weeks ago, the Blues defence will know that any indiscretion in their own half will be duly punished. Once more the question for Eire Óg is how best to utilise the attacking threat of Shane O’Donnell. It will be a psychical back-line for the Blues with James McInerney, Noel Frawley and Enda Barrett providing solid cover. With the expanses of Cusack Park available to Eire Og for the first time this year, using that space to find ground for O’Donnell to operate in will be critical.
If there was to be one area that this game might swing on, it could be who has the most pace to exploit the space in HQ. On that front, the nod would have to go to Eire Óg. Eoin and Cathal Hayes will cover plenty ground for Newmarket around the middle third, but Eire Óg might just have the more balance in that area to make the most of it. It certainly won’t be decided long before the final whistle, but Eire Óg should just edge it.
Verdict: Eire Óg
Cusack Park on Saturday at 3.45pm: Ballyea v Wolfe Tones
The champions were left reeling after their reversal at the hands of Sixmilebridge a fortnight ago and looked like a team in need of time to hit the reset button.
In that respect, the fact that Clondegad were not in action last weekend in the football championship will have been a godsend for Kevin Sheehan’s men, with the vast majority of their dual contingent enjoying a championship free weekend. They did have some of their squad involved with Kilmihil and Cooraclare but the chance to breathe and refocus will do them no harm at all.
Wolfe Tones will be hoping to build on the momentum of their victory over Tulla last time out when a determined second-half display saw them over the line in a fiery encounter. That was a game played under severe pressure with a relegation battle awaiting the losers so now that the monkey is off the back the Tones will be breathing a little easier.
In reality, avoiding the battle for the drop will have been the main focus for the Shannon men this year and now that they have ticked that particular box, there will be a sense of bonus territory about this tie. There is nothing for Wolfe Tones to lose in trying to take down the champions and they will likely set out to take them on from the front foot. The return of Rory Hayes was instrumental in their win over Tulla as he provided solid cover to the back six while his use of possession meant quality ball was delivered to Aaron Shanagher. Ben O’Gorman notched 0-5 from the half-back line while Daithi O’Connell and Cian O’Rourke asked plenty questions of the Tulla defence.
The Ballyea challenge will once more be led by the Kelly-Deasy axis that has served them so well over the last few years. The greater pace and power around the middle third with Kelly & Gary Brennan will likely be too much for Tones to handle. Rory Hayes could well be tasked with going toe to toe with Kelly while Barry Loughnane looks an obvious match for Brennan, but it will be tough to keep them from influencing the game. Paul Flanagan and Jack Browne will keep it tight at the back, and if Shanagher is marshalled, it will mean Tones will struggle to do the damage that will be needed on the scoreboard.
All things being equal, this should be the game that gets Ballyea’s title defence back on track. They will be eager to hit the ground running and their management team will have worked to address the shortcomings from a fortnight ago. They have been in this position before where the safety net is now gone and with bigger challenges awaiting in the last eight, they will want to send out a message that their eye is back in.
Cusack Park on Saturday at 5.30pm: Clooney-Quin v Feakle
There is plenty recent history to draw on for this one, with their dramatic clash in 2017 going to extra-time. When the dust settled, it was Clooney-Quin who came out top before bringing Sixmilerbridge to a replay in the decider. The curve on the graph went sharply in the other direction for Feakle who were relegated back to the intermediate ranks before bouncing straight back up 12 months later.
It has been a mixed bag for both these sides in the 2019 championship with Clooney-Quin losing an extra-time thriller against Ballyea while they recorded a comfortable win over Clarecastle in round two. Feakle got off to the perfect start with a gutsy victory over Newmarket but were held to just a point in the second half of their round two loss to Crusheen.
On the face of it, it would seem as if another tough test awaits the East Clare men. Peter Duggan shows no sign of his form dipping and while Eoin Tuohy looks the obvious match-up to try and curtail him, the 2018 All-Star will still go well into the double figures on the scoreboard. The potential match-up of Ray Bane and Fergal Lynch on the edge of the square will be psychical while Shane McNamara and Oisin Donnellan should be an interesting one to watch too.
There will be plenty pace around the middle for both sides with Ryan Taylor and Shane McGrath offering that injection of acceleration when needed but it would appear that Clooney-Quin may just be that bit more balanced on that front. Mike Corry and Donnchadh Murphy will be watching breaks and Feakle will also need to be ready for that threat inside from Cillian and Martin Duggan.
East Clare derby encounters like this can often be fiery and it will be surprising if there are not a few flashpoints before the full-time whistle. There is a lot at stake and it will be all about who can best adapt to the conditions. Feakle will ask plenty questions over the hour, but Clooney-Quin should have the answers.
Cusack Park on Sunday at 12pm: Cratloe v Kilmaley
When the shortlists for the potential 2019 Clare senior hurling champions were drawn up, these two sides featured prominently as likely winners. The stark reality for both now is that by 2pm on Sunday, one of them will be facing an idle winter as the race for the Canon continues around them.
There are sideshows and side stories aplenty to this one, with their semi-final meeting 12 months ago only decided by the minimum. It has been a difficult few weeks of internal strife for Kilmaley, and the question now is whether all that has transpired provides the spark that reignites them, or will it prove to be the storm that lingers?
The big challenge for Kilmaley on Sunday is putting all that to the back of their minds and focusing on what is considerable job of work. For all their underage successes and all their brilliant players, Kilmaley are yet to put the silverware alongside the potential. The Clare Cup win earlier in the year should have been the catalyst to push on, but they were brought crashing back to earth with defeat to Eire Óg in round one. The ghosts of that performance looked to have been exorcised with a ruthless disposal of Whitegate two weeks ago, but events during and after the game have left many questions to be answered. There is no doubting the talent available to Kilmaley but Sunday is the day that has to translate into a performance that gets them back into the contender’s category.
It has been a difficult few weeks on the field for Cratloe, as they followed up a nervy win over Whitegate with an underwhelming loss against Inagh-Kilnamona. Defeat to Eire Óg in the football championship last weekend made it a second weekend on the trot that they have come out the wrong side of the result so getting confidence and energy back will be the order of the week. Confidence should not be an issue because everyone in Cratloe and beyond knows the talent they have in their squad. On their day, they can blow teams away in both codes and they have proven that over the last number of years. The real issue for Cratloe will be getting the energy levels restored. The overriding feeling from their defeats to Inagh-Kilnamona and Eire Óg was that it was a Cratloe team who looked to finally be suffering the effects of a gruelling schedule as they struggled to keep pace and were opened up with relative ease. It remains to be seen if Diarmuid Ryan is ready to return from his shoulder injury while there are also understood to be concerns over Shane Gleeson after he suffered a hand injury. They are two huge players for Cratloe and if they are out, it will be a huge blow to their chances.
With all those elements mixed into the pot, it should lead to a cracking game in Cusack Park with a real championship feel to it. Whoever comes out on top will hit the quarter-finals with renewed confidence and purpose and could well look back on this tie as the starting point for their title bid. Kilmaley will be eager to get back to on-field matters and if they can take the contest to the last ten minutes, they might just have the fresher legs and greater strength in depth to see it through.
Clare SHC Relegation Semi-Final previews
Broadford on Saturday at 3pm: O’Callaghan’s Mills v Whitegate
It has been an alarming fall from grace for the Mills who were semi-finalists in a much different context 12 months ago. They will face a Whitegate side who are no strangers to the relegation mire and at this stage of the championship, experience of how to handle a different type of pressure can often prove crucial.
Both sides come into the game off the back of poor defeats in round two with Whitegate being completely outclassed by Kilmaley while O’Callaghan’s Mills were left rueing a poor second-half display as they lost out to Newmarket.
On paper, O’Callaghan’s Mills have all the quality and will need to combine that with a high level of work-rate. They will need Gary Cooney at his very best but it may not be enough with Whitegate tipped to battle through.
Sixmilebridge on Saturday at 6pm: Clarecastle v Tulla
It is a road well travelled at this stage for Clarecastle as they face into yet another battle to avoid the drop. 2017 saw them get the better of Feakle at the final hurdle while in 2015 it took victory over Tubber to keep them in the top flight.
Tulla have always managed to keep their head above water in picking up at least that one win to keep them out of the quicksand but now must summon what they can to avoid having to worry about the final no one wants to be in.
The signs up to now have been marginally more encouraging for Tulla than the Magpies, with Ray McInerney’s side going down in a battle with Wolfe Tones. Clarecastle have struggled to really get any momentum going so far with two poor performances against Sixmilebridge and Clooney-Quin ending their championship ambitions.
At this stage it will be more about who wants it more than hurling ability and pride will be the order of the day. Tulla will be stung by the manner of their loss to Wolfe Tones and should have enough in the tank to see them over the line.
Clare Intermediate Hurling Round Three
Newmarket on Saturday at 1.30pm: Cratloe v Inagh-Kilnamona
After their senior sides did battle a fortnight ago, the second strings go head to head here for a place in the quarter-finals.
Cratloe edged a tight battle with Clarecastle last time out to avoid entering the relegation battle, while Inagh-Kilnamona suffered a five point loss to Smith O’Briens.
With the Combo’s flagship side already through to the last eight of the senior championship, they will be hoping they will have two quarter-finals to look forward to in a fortnight’s time. It looks as if they will have too much for a Cratloe side who will be happy to have maintained their status.
Newmarket on Saturday at 3pm: Sixmilebridge v Corofin
There will have been some soul-searching for Corofin after they were blitzed by their neighbours Tubber in the previous round as they shipped a 23 point defeat.
Sixmilebridge recovered from an opening round loss to Smith O’Brien’s as they were 12 point winners over their neighbours Newmarket.
On that form, confidence will be low in the Corofin camp while a Bridge team with designs on winning the title will be now back on track. That could be the decisive factor.
Tulla on Saturday at 2.30pm: Parteen v Killanena
Both sides will feel this tie is a real opportunity to push on to the last eight and it could prove to be the tightest of the round.
Parteen were impressive in their opening round win over Bodyke but were undone in a shootout with Scariff last time out. Killanena were beaten by Inagh-Kilnamona in the opening round but bounced back well to overcome Eire Óg by 10 points a fortnight ago.
Parteen have put up good scores in their opening two rounds and have hit 7 goals to date. If they maintain that type of scoring form, it could prove to be the difference.
Tulla on Saturday at 4pm: St Joseph’s Doora Barefield v Bodyke
The Parish were undone by a late rally from Broadford in their round two clash with Conor Tierney’s goal as time was running out looking like the decisive score. The concession of those late points will have stung and Seanie McMahon will no doubt have warned his side there is no more room for error from here on out.
Bodyke were almost the victims of a late rally themselves as they held off a fast finishing Ruan in the previous round with two late goals almost turning the tide. They will be relieved to have hung on as they recovered from their opening round loss to Parteen, but the task does not get any easier this weekend.
Verdict: St Joseph’s Doora Barefield
Clare Intermediate Hurling Championship Relegation Semi-Finals
Ballyea on Saturday at 6pm: Ruan v Eire Óg
Ruan looked to be down and out against Bodyke before a late goal flurry almost saw them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Eire Óg have been struggling to adapt to life in the second tier after winning last year’s Junior A championship, and Ruan should edge through here.
Shannon on Sunday at 12pm: Newmarket v Clarecastle
Whichever of the two second strings come out on top here will have ticked the season objective box in securing their status.
Clarecastle have shown marginally the better form in suffering two relatively close defeats while Newmarket look to be struggling with just 0-13 to show from their two championship outings.
Providing none of their contingent are required for first team action on Saturday afternoon, Clarecastle should come through.