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The Jack Daly cup will be presented to the winners of the 2019 Clare SFC. Pic by John Kelly

Clare SFC Quarter-Final Line Up To Be Completed This Weekend

Clare Senior Football Championship Round Three Preview

Group One

Tuesday at 7.30pm in Cooraclare: St Joseph’s Miltown v Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s

This is a tie that pits the champions against the new boys as the peninsula amalgamation round off their maiden senior journey with their toughest assignment yet. The pity here is that while it should be a game that will further add to the experience basket for the westerners, that is about all there is to it. Miltown are already safely through as champions while Joe Garry’s outfit will finish bottom of the group regardless of the result. There was some talk of this game being brought forward by a week to allow Naomh Eoin and O’Curry’s to focus on their own intermediate campaigns but that fell through. It means that both sides will have been in action just a few days previously and it remains to be seen how much value they place on this fixture, given that it is a dead rubber.

The same dead rubber scenario applies for Miltown who will likely make wholesale changes to their starting 15 with a quarter-final spot already secured. David O’Brien has added nicely to his panel this year and with 39 players listed in the match program for the group stages, he is not short on options. The other side of that coin is that the champions have blown lukewarm and cold so far in the championship with a narrow win over Kilmihil followed up by an eventually comfortable one over Kilrush. With the quarter-finals now just a fortnight away, it leaves a decision to be made by management as to whether they assess their options in the higher numbers or stick to the strongest 15 with a view to building momentum and confidence ahead of the knockout stages.

Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s have been competitive in their opening two contests so far with both defeats only becoming apparent in the dying embers. The problem here will be the same as it has been all year in that managment will not know who is available for the game until just before throw-in. With both sides of the house in action on the same weekend for the first time this year, it will be a doubly anxious wait.

All things being equal, everything points to a Miltown win. They are still unbeaten despite not hitting top gear but with a squad and management team packed with experience, they will know that the bar goes up from here on out. That unbeaten run will continue.

Verdict: St Joseph’s Miltown

Saturday at 2.30pm in Cooraclare: Kilmihil v Kilrush

A game with everything on the line in what could be one of the more competitive ties of the weekend as the last two intermediate champions lock horns. After all the permutations and uncertainties, this one boils down to the ultimate winner takes all. A place in the quarter-finals is on offer for the victors and a relegation battle awaits for the losers. There is of course the possibility of a draw, but their greater scoring difference would see Kilmihil through in that instance.

Kilmihil have shown marginally the better form over the two games to date, with a battling performance against Miltown in the opening round before eventually seeing off the challenge of Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s two weeks ago. The performances of both Kilmihil and Kilrush against the peninsula side could be the form line to go on for this one. Kilrush were hanging on in the closing stages of their contest in round one and needed some big scores from their key men to get over the line. Kilmihil were tested too by the amalgamation, but there was not the same level of uncertainty about the result. While both sides lost out to Miltown, Kilmihil pushed them all the way while Kilrush struggled to keep pace as they were well beaten albeit without the services of county star Stephen Ryan.

The midfield battle will be crucial as always with David Ryan and David Lernihan lining up against Jim Young and Darragh Bolton. There is experience and youth in both those combinations, while Dan Keating and Con O’Brien are both likely to also spend time in the middle of the park. Lernihan and Bolton are ball carriers for their respective sides and will be central to setting up their attacking platforms.

Ciaran Downes showed his prowess in front of goal against Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s and will likely be picked up by Matthew Moloney. On the other side, David Egan will be an obvious match-up for Liam Madigan while Jack Browne looks the best bet for taking on Gearoid O’Brien. Kilrush will have Stephen Ryan back in their starting 15 for this one and it remains to be seen in which line he is deployed.

Martin O’Leary continues to be the go to man for Kilmihil in terms of scoring and Ross Cullinan will need to alert to the challenge he brings. If Kilrush can get on top in the middle third to cut down the supply into O’Leary then they will have a great chance of taking the win.

It is a game that really could go either way and it will take a spark of magic to make the difference. On the balance of what both sides have produced to date, a hesitant nod goes to Kilmihil but there will be nothing in it.

Verdict: Kilmihil

Group Two

Saturday at 4.15pm in Cusack Park: Lissycasey v Corofin

With Kilmurry Ibrickane already safely through as group winners, the last remaining quarter-final spot is on offer for the winners while the relegation mire awaits the losers.

Both sides have one game under their belt with Lissycasey last in action a month ago when narrowly losing out to Kilmurry in the opening tie. Corofin were soundly beaten by the Bricks a fortnight ago and the manner of that defeat is what will concern them most. It was a game they never got in to and the task for Colm Clancy and his backroom team will have been to try and move on as quickly as possible with this crunch tie in store. The game against Kilmurry was essentially a free shot but they would have hoped to at least have been competitive. They will need to improve on discipline if they are to sustain a challenge across the 60 minutes here and Jamie Malone needs to be the man driving the challenge. The continued absence of Gearoid Cahill through a knee injury is a tough one for them to recover from.

Lissycasey will be rueing missed chances that could well have seen them over the line against Kilmurry in their first outing. Just two points separated the sides on a day when conditions were less than ideal, and Ger Bobby Kelly and his management team will taken a lot of learning’s from it. On paper, Lissycasey look that bit more balanced but they need to transfer that to the pitch.

As ever, keeping Jamie Malone quiet will be a key factor if Lissycasey are to advance and Ryan Griffin looks the most equipped to pick up the county man. If Griffin can limit Malone’s influence, Corofin will struggle to do the damage on the scoreboard. It also looks as if Lissycasey will have the psychical edge in the middle third of the field with Gerry Moran, Niall McCarthy and Matt O’Shea forming a strong backbone to protect the pathway to Killian Normoyle’s goal. Niall Kelly, Conor Finnucane and the emerging Aaron Griffin are all more than capable of troubling the scoreboard, and that could be the crucial factor. It is a relatively inexperienced Corofin defence and they may just struggle to cope with a more balanced Lissycasey attack. Using the space in Cusack Park will be a key factor here too, but it should be Lissycasey who come through to the last eight.

Verdict: Lissycasey

Group Three

Sunday at 5.30pm in Kilmihil: Cooraclare v Doonbeg

This is the ultimate West Clare derby where the stakes simply could not be higher. With Ennistymon safely through to the last eight with two wins from two, this is a season defining showdown for both these sides who will be confident of victory regardless of what has gone on previously. Form can often go out the window in these games and it could well be the same again here.

Cooraclare will certainly be hoping that it will, with the Milesians struggling for form and confidence this year. They are still awaiting their first win of the campaign in league or championship and showed no signs of progress in their loss to Ennistymon a fortnight ago. There is no doubting the talent available to the Sky Blues but it appears that a lack of confidence is having a major impact on performances. They managed just 0-8 against Ennistymon in their opener and if that is to be the sum total of their scoring tally again, then they will be heading for the relegation battle.

Doonbeg followed up their Garry Cup success with a spirited performance, albeit in defeat, against Ennistymon four weeks ago. The Magpies had been carrying a number of injury concerns and the month’s break will have been a welcome one to get the bodies right ahead of this showdown.

The midfield battle is one that could well be decisive but Cooraclare will need a lot more from Sean O’Donghue if they are to get a platform in this game. It remains to be seen who will partner him in the middle with Dermot Tubridy, Colin McNamara and Ciaran O’Donoghue all options for the job. The placing of Caoimhin Donnellan will also be critical after he had a defensive brief last time out.

For Doonbeg, it still remains to be seen where Colm Dillon can have the greatest impact and it could well be that it is on the edge of the square. His aerial presence was key in turning the tide against Ennistymon and Cooraclare could well struggle to match him psychically in that role. They will need fresh legs around the middle third to keep pace with Sean O’Donoghue’s surging runs and Shane Ryan might well be the man to take that on. As ever, David Tubridy will play that withdrawn role while also taking on the scoring burden. They will also look to exploit the pace of Eoghan Tubridy and Paul Dillon, while a strong half-back line with the likes of Paraic Aherne and Eoin Conway should provide a steady foundation.

All the form lines point to a Doonbeg victory but the layoff for a month will be a concern. That being said, the manner of defeat for Cooraclare two weeks ago is arguably more concerning and it is hard to see where they make the improvements to get back on track. Increasing the intensity and work-rate is a basic starting point, but it might just be too little too late.

Verdict: Doonbeg

Group Four

Saturday at 5.45pm in Cusack Park: Eire Óg v Clondegad

The maths on this one are relatively simple. Only a victory by eight points for Clondegad will see them through. Any other result will mean they head for the relegation battle while Eire Og and Cratloe march on to the last eight.

Mikey Hehir’s side are currently sitting on -11 in the scoring difference stakes after their opening round loss to Cratloe and face a mammoth task to overturn that. Winning championship games are never easy but knowing that it has to be by that margin makes it all the more difficult. There are positives for Clondegad coming into this game with James Murphy and Joe Neylon back available after missing out on the opening round. On the negative side, there are serious doubts over the fitness of county star Cillian Brennan after he suffered a head injury during Ballyea’s loss to Sixmilebridge which led to him missing out on last weekend’s win over Wolfe Tones. If he is out, it could well be a fatal blow.

Eire Óg sent out a real signal of intent with an impressive win over Cratloe a fortnight ago and they will be eager to build on that and seal top spot in the group. Eimhin Courtney and Gavin Cooney shared 0-12 between them last time out while the power and pace of Ikem Ugweru and Aaron Fitzgerald caused endless problems for the Cratloe defence. Fitzgerald is likely to be detailed for marking county captain Gary Brennan this time around while Cathal Darcy looks the best placed to be given the task of shackling Tony Kelly.

The fact that Clondegad know nothing more than a convincing win will do means they have no option but to go with an all out assault on the Eire Óg goal. It might mean a constant bombardment of long ball to Brennan on the edge of the square, but that will leave them vulnerable elsewhere. Eire Óg have pace to burn in the middle third with Colin Smyth and Dara Walsh while Conal O’hAinifein and Liam Corry will keep the Clondegad defence honest.

Eire Óg will look to do their damage on the break through the inevitable gaps that will appear when Clondegad’s attack breaks down. On all known form to date, the Townies should secure top spot.

Verdict: Eire Óg

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