Clare Senior Hurling Quarter-Final Preview: Sixmilebridge v Eire Óg
It is a first championship meeting since 2015 for this pair with Sixmilebridge running out comfortable 2-19 to 1-10 winners in that opening round tie.
The Bridge have been impressive in their run to the last eight racking up 6-36 in their two championship wins over Clarecastle and defending champions Ballyea. Their new management team of Tim Crowe, Davy Fitzgerald and Paddy Meehan have hit the ground running as they look to capture the title for the fourth time this decade. Their previous wins came in 2013, 2015 and 2017 and if you believe in patterns then another in 2019 could well be on the cards.
Eire Óg have also been enjoying a positive championship season after a disappointing Clare Cup campaign saw them fail to gain promotion from Division 1B. They belied that form with a battling victory over Kilmaley in the opening round but lost out to Clonlara a fortnight later. They bounced back to form with a solid victory over Newmarket last time out and with the football side of the house enjoying the crest of a wave at the moment, there will be a positive mind-frame on Clonroadmore ahead of this showdown.
A key factor in the tallies that Sixmilebridge have been amassing to date is the manner in which that scoring burden is shared around. There are attacking threats throughout the team with Seadna Morey, Jason Loughnane and Caimin Morey all capable of doing damage from distance while Jamie Shanahan, Cathal Malone and Brian Corry are also causing problems for opposition defences. The threat of Malone and Corry in the inside line is a potent one and the free-taking of Alex Morey ensures any indiscretion will be punished.
Eire Óg will need to ensure they get the match-ups right and Aaron Fitzgerald will have a key role to play. He looks to be an obvious psychical match for Cathal Malone while Liam Corry could be detailed to pick up Corry. The middle third will be as crucial as ever and Sixmilebridge will know they need to curb David Reidy’s influence. It could well be Shane Golden that is released to pick up him while the potential clash of Seadna Morey and Shane O’Donnell is one to look forward to.
On their form to date, it is hard to back against Sixmilebridge. It also has to be measured against the fact that it was a poor challenge from Clarecastle on the opening day while Ballyea looked out of sorts four weeks ago. Eire Óg are carrying good momentum and that can often play a part. The Townies will need to start this game quicker than they did against Newmarket and are more than capable of taking it down the home straight. It might not be enough to see them over the line with a more balanced Sixmilebridge tipped to edge a battle.
Sixmilebridge: Tim Crowe
When you’re favourites for any competition, there will be a target on your back and it is the job of manager Tim Crowe to make sure Sixmilebridge evade as many bullets as they can. The first such projectile will come in the form of Éire Óg this weekend.
Tim appeared to be looking to the past for inspiration, as his side prepare to do battle this weekend.
“I was doing a bit of research into the history of the fixture and I discovered the unusual statistic that the two sides managed to meet four times in county finals in 11 months. They met in the 1982 final and it was a draw, so there was a replay, which Éire Óg won. In 1983, the sides met again and it was a draw once more, with the ’Bridge winning the replay. I thought that was a nice stat,” Tim said.
He will be hoping when he looks back on Saturday’s clash with as much fondness but he’s downplaying his side’s achievements so far.
“We’re just delighted to still be in it. The line is so thin between winning and losing and you’ve to feel sorry for the other teams that didn’t make it through. It’s a 24/7 job from everybody – 16 teams set out and only one can win. As ABBA said in the 80s: the winner takes it all,” Tim joked.
Sixmilebridge have scored a total of 54 points in two games, a stat that’s sure to make the Townie back-line uneasy. Crowe says the month he had with his players between round two and the quarter-final has afforded him a chance to develop his team’s game plan and fitness that bit more and still having two weeks to focus on Éire Óg.
“There is one slight worry with the four-week break and history will show that, last year, three of the four semi-finalists came from section B of the draw. We see it at inter-county level too in Munster and Leinster, that teams coming off a break can be vulnerable,” he suggested.
The suspicion is that Sixmilebridge’s vulnerability in this regard will be minimal, when you consider the top-class coaches and management around the squad. An already strong squad will be aided by the return of Alan Mulready, Paidí Fitzpatrick and Cathal Lynch to the fold and Crowe’s side will take all the beating in the race for the Canon Hamilton.
Eire Óg: Mattie Shannon
Eire Óg started their season with a bang when they beat Kilmaley in an extra-time thriller, the perfect catalyst to make a run into the last eight of the senior championship.
There is undoubtedly a feel-good factor around the Ennis club at the moment, as their footballers are also through to the last eight, after a very strong performance against Clondegad last weekend.
The hurlers will look to extend this feeling further when they take on favourites Sixmilebridge at 4pm on Saturday in Cusack Park.
Manager Mattie Shannon is pleased that his squad have achieved their first objective of the year and confesses the task at hand is tough, but not insurmountable.
“At the start of the year, when you sit down to set goals, this is where you want to be. Éire Óg have been in the quarter-finals the last few years and we were keen to get back there again this year. We went the long way around to get here, but we’re here and that’s what matters. Taking on Sixmilebridge now, who are probably everyone’s favourites after two impressive wins, won’t be easy. Everyone saw their performance against Ballyea and every year expectations are high below in Sixmilebridge, perhaps even more so this year with the high-profile management team in place. They have been impressive so far, particularly in beating last year’s champs, putting in a ruthless display. We know it is a tough task at hand but, in the end, these are the challenges you want and we will see where we are come 6pm on Saturday evening,” he said.
While many of the hurling squad have been mixing it with football week-on-week, Sixmilebridge have had a month off. The gaps between games is something that doesn’t concern Mattie too much though.
“There is a luxury of being a one code club in that you get a few extra nights of training each week. When you’re in a dual club, as we are, it is about recovery from week-to-week and it’s about building energy levels back up. When you’re winning games, I don’t see it as a disadvantage, as there’s a good vibe about the place. The hard work is done throughout the year and it’s all about preserving energy from here on in,” Shannon concluded.