The race for the 2019 Clare Senior Football championship gathers pace this weekend with the round two ties down for decision.
Sunday at 3pm in Cooraclare: St Joseph’s Miltown v Kilrush
This is a clash of two sides that already have the first win of the campaign under their belts. The champions saw off a stubborn challenge from Kilmihil in the opening round, while Kilrush did likewise against Naomh-Eoin O’Curry’s.
While both sides picked up the win, Kilrush will likely have the more points to work on, as the new-look side pushed them all the way before just falling short. The concession of two very sloppy goals will be an obvious concern, while the fact they did not really create many goal chances will also be something they need to address.
The one that did come their way had more than a touch of fortune about it and had the peninsula side shown a little more composure in front of the posts late on, they could well have taken something from the game. That being said, Kilrush will take great confidence from coming through a real battle and the manner in which Liam Madigan and Gearóid O’Brien took on the responsibility of kicking crucial scores is a positive for them to build on.
Miltown will also be looking for improvements to their game as the business end of the championship moves ever closer. Getting more game-time into the likes of Conor Cleary and Darragh McDonagh is something they will look to build on, while Eoin Cleary and Graham Kelly continue to provide a real threat up front.
The Miltown defensive unit have been a formidable one in recent times, with Gordon Kelly, Enda O’Gorman and Eoin O’Brien in particular providing a solid foundation. Sean O’Brien’s kick-outs will be as vital as ever and the midfield battleground could well decide the victors. Jim Young and Darragh Bolton will go up against Conor Cleary and Oisin Looney, while Bolton will be given the license to attack from deep.
The critical question could well be if the Kilrush back six have enough to marshal what will be a potent Miltown forward line. Who they detail to pick up Eoin Cleary will be a key move, while the running threats of Kieran Malone and Cormac Murray will also have to be closely watched.
On the balance of it, it would look as if the champions may have just too much firepower in that forward division for Kilrush to handle. With the cobwebs now blown off and the knockout stages moving into sharp focus, David O’Brien will want his side moving toward top gear. Kilrush will make it a battle but Miltown should be picking up another victory to effectively seal their place in the last eight.
Verdict: St Joseph’s Miltown
Sunday at 5.30pm in Doonbeg: Kilmihil v Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s
THE newly-formed peninsula side will have taken plenty positives from their inaugural outing, despite the defeat. The fact that they took the contest to the final five minutes will give them great heart but, once more, that element of the unknown comes into play this weekend.
Naomh Eoin were the half of the house that were able to rest on the opening weekend but they begin their own intermediate campaign this time around, with what will be a tough contest against Kildysart. That game comes on Saturday evening and how the likes of Cathal Downes, Conor Magner and Niall Bonfil come through that game will be a key question. If they avoid injury and fatigue, it will be a boost to their chances.
The fact that the new side now have a game under their belt as a single entity is also a plus coming into this weekend. They now have a reference point to go to when the heat turns up on Sunday evening and their management team, led by Joe Garry, will have stressed that point.
Having ran the county champions close last time out, Kilmihil will be in buoyant mood for their remaining two ties. Their performance against Miltown would suggest that they are real contenders to make the knockout stages. That journey will become all the more difficult if they don’t pick up the points here and that will be a tangible carrot. The form of Martin O’Leary shows no sign of stopping and it could well be the experienced Séan Haugh who is given the task of picking up his former county team-mate.
Kilmihil showed the last day that there are plenty other scoring threats outside of O’Leary too however, as David Egan, David Lernihan, Ciaran Downes and Seán Crowley all got on the board.
That greater scoring threat might well prove to be the critical factor, while Kilmihil also have plenty of defensive cover with Jack Browne, Niall Reidy and Mark Coughlan all difficult to get away from. David Ryan was used in a defensive role against Miltown but will likely be released to the middle third this time around, where his ball-winning ability will be vital.
Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s will continue to learn more about their emerging team in this one but a more settled and balanced Kilmihil should have enough to get by and set up a winner-takes-all final round showdown with Kilrush.
Group Two: Saturday at 6.15pm in Ennistymon: Kilmurry-Ibrickane v Corofin
A place in the quarter-finals and top spot in the group is the carrot for the Bricks this weekend, as they look to build on their opening round win over Lissycasey. That was a victory they had to battle for on a day when conditions were difficult, but the loss of Dermot Coughlan to a hand injury dampened the win somewhat.
The form of Daryn Callinan is something they will hope carries through, after his 0-6 haul two weeks ago. Keelan Sexton could be set for an immediate return to action after his stint in the States for the summer and, if he is available, it would be an obvious boost.
Corofin had the luxury of watching their two group opponents going head-to-head in the opening round and Colm Clancy will no doubt have taken plenty of notes. They have their own injury concerns to contend with, as the promising Gearóid Cahill looks set to miss out as he continues to recover from knee surgery.
County star Jamie Malone will carry the obvious threat for the North Clare men and will be hoping for plenty of back-up from a young forward line including the likes of Cillein Mullins, Fionn Clancy and Eoin Davoren.
Experience is a valuable currency in championship football and the 2017 champions have it in spades. When the pressure was on against Lissycasey, it was the likes of Enda Coughlan and Martin McMahon that pulled the strings and those two will be key figures here again. They will be hoping for a greater impact from their midfield pairing of Keith King and Aidan McCarthy, while Callinan will need support up front to do the damage on the scoreboard.
Match-ups will be vital and it could well be McMahon who is detailed to sit in front of Malone and stop his gallop before he gets going. If his influence is kept to the minimum, Corofin will likely struggle to get towards the double digits needed to be in the shake-up. It could well be another low-scoring encounter but that greater experience in the Kilmurry squad should see them through.
Group Three: Saturday at 4.30pm in Miltown: Ennistymon v Cooraclare
Ennistymon are on the brink of another return to the last eight of the championship, after they edged the battle of the Magpies with Doonbeg in the opening round. Having weathered that storm, last year’s beaten finalists will be hoping for another positive result here.
There were plenty of ticks for Mark Shanahan and his management team to put in the pros and cons boxes after that win, with an impressive opening period seeing them stretch clear before Doonbeg’s revival pulled the game level. It could have slipped away but a strong finish eventually saw them over the line. The manner in which they dug in is something they will look to build on and knowing that a quarter-final spot and a month’s break lies ahead should be another motivating factor. The fact that their midfield pairing of Cathal Malone and David Fitzgerald now have their first championship game of 2019 under their belts is another plus and, in racing terms, they will have come on for the run.
Cooraclare are facing into their first game of the championship and do so off the back of a disappointing league campaign that saw them relegated from the Cusack Cup. That form is worrying ahead of two crunch games and they will be hoping that the break since the league finished will have seen their preparations move up a notch.
Pearse Lillis has returned from a summer in America but it remains to be seen if he is included in the starting 15, but the fact that Seán O’Donoghue is sticking around West Clare for the summer is a boost to their chances.
This is one that will likely be decided by that middle third battle. O’Donoghue and Dermot Tubridy will need to be ready for a major battle with Fitzgerald and Malone, while the Sky Blues will also need to be mindful of the threat Cillian Rouine and Michael McDonagh pose.
Ciaran O’Donoghue will likely be deployed in a playmaker role, where his ability to pick a pass will be needed. Jack Morrissey and John Looney will carry the scoring burden and if Looney can break even from his tussle with Sean O’Driscoll on the edge of the square, then Cooraclare could profit on the scoreboard.
With so many questions to answer coming into the game, it might just be a step too far for Coorclare. Ennistymon have that game under their belts and it could well prove to be the difference.
Group Four: Sunday at 1.30pm in Cusack Park: Cratloe v Éire Óg
This is undoubtedly the tie of the round and one that will go a long way to deciding the fate of the three hotpots in the group of death. Cratloe might just hold the slight upper hand after their demolition of Clondegad in the opening round, while Éire Óg are coming in cold, as they had the bye on the first weekend.
Colm Collins was not shy in singing the praises of his men after the Clondegad victory and it was a seriously impressive win. It should have led to a noticeable bounce in their step for their hurling tie with Inagh-Kilnamona last weekend, but that did not transpire and it has to be a concern coming into this one.
Cratloe will need their big guns firing on all cylinders if they are to make it two wins from two and guarantee their passage to the last eight. The margin of their win over Clondegad has probably seen them through regardless but the prize for taking top spot is one to fight for, as it will mean avoiding the other group winners in the quarter-final draw.
Éire Óg come into this game somewhat fresh, although their dual contingent were in action in a tough encounter with Clonlara last weekend. A facial injury to Aaron Fitzgerald ended his day early but the county man is expected to have made a full recovery and will anchor the Townie’s defence. It will be an attack full of scoring threats for the Cratloe defence to deal with and you can expect Colm Collins to have concocted a plan to deal with Eimhin Courtney and Gavin Cooney, who will be key to Eire Óg’s challenge. Throw in the experience of Shane Daniels and the emerging physical presence of Danny Griffin and you start to get a picture of the task at hand.
If there is an area where Cratloe might be asked the tough questions, it could well be in defence. Mikey Hawes returned from injury last weekend but with limited game time under his belt, it might be an area that Éire Óg can exploit. Seán Collins will be fresh after missing hurling duties through suspension but the match-up of Daniels and Liam Markham will see the Éire Óg man with the physical edge. If Éire Óg do take the long ball option to the edge of the square, Cratloe will likely identify someone to sit in front and hope to mop up the breaks.
There is no doubting the scoring potential of the Cratloe forward division either and Eire Óg will need one, if not two, of their best men to watch Cathal McInerney. The problem with double marking is that the man left free will be no slouch either, so it is a big call for Paul Madden and his management team to make.
Having a game under their belts could be a telling factor for Cratloe, but the sluggish nature of their performance last weekend is just a slight concern. If they are fresh and ready, they should make it two wins from two. That being said, if they give anything less than their best on the day, then Éire Óg will punish.
Clare IFC Round Two Preview
Group One: Sunday at 12pm in Gurteen: Wolfe Tones v Kilfenora
Kilfenora put one foot into the last eight of the intermediate championship after a convincing win over their North Clare neighbours, Liscannor, in the opening round, to get life back in the second tier off to the perfect start.
They showed an eye for goal on that day and with Micheál Duffy and Cian O’Dea showing good form, there is no reason why there can’t be more for them here.
Wolfe Tones are another of the teams who find themselves in the second tier after relegation last year and it will be interesting to see how they approach this one. Their hurlers edged a fiery battle with Tulla last weekend and a number of those players are set to be involved once more on Sunday.
It is understood that long time servant Gary Leahy is not involved but former county man Chris Dunning is. Young star Jayme O’Sullivan will be hoping to continue his development at full-back and Cian O’Rourke will be hoping to do damage at the other end. Victory for Kilfenora will see them through to the last eight as group winners and they should edge a tight encounter.
Group Two: Saturday at 4pm in Kilrush: Kildysart v Naomh Eoin
THIS has all the makings of a cracking tie, with two of the leading contenders for the title going head-to-head.
Having already played senior championship with neighbours O’Curry’s, Naomh Eoin turn their attentions to their own club campaign in what is their first outing at the grade. A large number of their team for Saturday’s game saw action a fortnight ago against Kilrush and that experience will stand to them back at intermediate level. Conor Downes and Conor Magner will carry the scoring threat, while Mark McQuaid and Sean Bonfil provide the defensive cover.
Kildysart were unlucky not to open their campaign with victory, when a late rally saw St Joseph’s claim a share of the spoils in the first round. Having that game as a reference point could well be an advantage against other teams, but the fact that Naomh Eoin have a large contingent involved with the senior team cancels that out somewhat.
They will need big performances from Emmet McMahon and Shane McNeilis in the middle third, while Keith O’Connor and Diarmuid O’Donnell will look to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Kildysart will be disappointed to not have seen out the game last time out but, on the other hand, it took a long-range goal to get them back into the tie with time running out. They should get the job done here though.
Group Three: Saturday at 2.30pm in Kilrush: Kilkee v Shannon Gaels
WITH O’Curry’s sitting idle this week with two points already on the board, there is plenty on the line for these two sides this weekend.
Kilkee succumbed to a more balanced O’Curry’s a fortnight ago and come into this weekend’s clash with Shannon Gaels knowing nothing other than victory will prolong their championship campaign. The departure of their management team ahead of the opening round did not help matters and it remains to be seen if they can get their focus back on track for this one.
Shannon Gaels were last in action when losing out to Kilrush in the Division 3 league final and will be hoping to have learned the lessons of that defeat. County man Darragh Bohannon will be central to their challenge, while having a target man like Michael O’Donoghue means an obvious attacking threat. With Kilkee already having lost, it means victory here for the Gaels will see them into the quarter-finals and set up a final round showdown with O’Curry’s to see who finishes top.
Kilkee will not want to go down without a fight but a more settled Shannon Gaels should get over the line.
Verdict: Shannon Gaels
Group Four: Saturday at 6pm in Miltown: Coolmeen v St Breckan’s
COOLMEEN left it late before seeing off the challenge of Éire Óg on the opening weekend, as a controversial penalty saw them take the points in a game they struggled for large periods to get to grips with.
With Cooraclare’s Martin Morrissey now at the helm, they will need to be on top form to take on a strongly-fancied St Breckan’s, who will have eyes on making it straight back to the top tier. They lost out at the final hurdle against Lissycasey 12 months ago, but held their own in the Cusack Cup to stay in the top tier of the league for 2020.
In the likes of Alan Sweeney, Dale Masterson and Joe McGann they have players of real quality, while Donie Garrihy will have them organised and focused for a title push.
Coolmeen will be hoping Cathal O’Connor can hit top stride but he will need support from those around him if they are to get the points.
St Breckan’s look to be operating at a higher level and even though this is their championship bow, they will likely get off to the perfect start.
Verdict: St Breckan’s