The glamour tie this weekend may be the senior hurling final, but, here, Michael O’Connor shines a light on why the Junior B final on Sunday morning is so important to the finalists.
When renowned GAA commentator Syl O’Connor was elected chairperson of Sixmilebridge GAA club last winter a list of objectives – as with all newly elected officials – was probably on his table to be implemented.
Outside of winning the senior championship Sixmilebridge had the matter of getting hurling activity for a lot of hurlers from 18 to 43.
This was achieved with four adult sides that were competitive and now they lie on the cusp, if successful in Tulla on Sunday morning, of fielding sides in senior, Intermediate, junior A and Junior B this season.
Up the N85 Paul Gannon has been plotting and planning all season to bring home Junior B silverware.
Following their historic appearance in the 2021 senior final there were hopes of going a step further, however, a step back was taken as Inagh-Kilnamona fell at the last eight stage.
They survived in the intermediate championship so this band of young men aided by a few old boys are the last chance for bonfires this year at adult level – unless you count Under 21 – as winter closes in.
Both sides in most ways are a mirror image of each other. Inagh-Kilnamona have 12 under 23s starting on their team with captain Chris O’Looney, Joe Gallagher and Paul Leahy the elder lemons but not so old either.
En route to the decider Paul Gannon’s men accounted for Bodyke, Smith O Brien, a Tubber team of whom many were thinking were going to be in contention to get to the semi-final.
Corofin were their opponents in the last four tie and was a tense affair against their neighbours requiring extra time. Being a third string outfit in Inagh-Kilnamona is very important for the club according to team manager Gannon.
“We have been successful in underage hurling the last half decade and there was a need for this new group of hurlers to play immediately at adult level.
“We hope that they will progress to intermediate and senior level as all clubs do with their younger players in the seasons to come.”
Gannon added, “We train twice a week as a separate entity and a game at the weekend when scheduled. They have worked so hard to get here and with a number of them going to schools such as Ennistymon who in 2022 were dual Munster C champions they have been busy at all grades with the club.”
Down the motorway and a little diversion to the left we meet Terence Chaplin and the former Clare minor hurling manager has been ultra-thorough in his squads efforts.
There is no element of doubt when chatting to Bridge hurling followers that following the narrow defeat to Scariff in 2021 that they want the 2022 version and no debate needed.
Just like Inagh-Kilnamona youth is the vibe when attending training. When asked would Sixmilebridge field a fifth adult team Syl O’Connor asked “ do you want me to lose my hair worrying about that. Four is hard enough.”
Chaplin commented, “In the Sixmilebridge first 15 we have 12 players of a youthful hue with just Paul Fitzpatrick, David O’Connor and full forward Tommy Liddy holding the veteran status.
“Indeed, Fitzpatrick holds Munster club medals from the start of the century as a young 19-year-old. David Kennedy who made a place for himself on the Bridge senior side this season was corner forward last year in the junior panel before going on to win All Ireland colleges with Ard Scoil Ris in the springtime.”
“This movement upwards for David is the reason why Junior B and its like are so important for player development.”
Terence added, “The Sixmilebridge Junior B and C sides trained together all season as the same for the Senior and Intermediate squads which allowed for strong numbers at each session.”
Reaching the final Sixmilebridge scored an emphatic win over Clonlara at the semi final stage. They also played Clonlara and Whitegate in the group stages qualifying to meet Smith O’Brien’ in the quarter finals.
The Sixmilebridge manager ended his comments by saying, “There are a lot of teams required for Sixmilebridge hurlers. We might not always have them early season but once championship arrives and the summer is upon us we have the numbers. It is important for the club to cater for this requirement.”
Junior B hurling final: Inagh-Kilnamona v Sixmilebridge in Tulla
Verdict: A high scoring affair looks on the cards based on the averages from both teams enroute to the decider. Youth on both sides it could come down to the old heads to steer one side or another over the line. Sixmilebridge might just have enough firepower up front if Inagh-Kilnamona fail to curb their potential and Syl will have to get his fifth team ready.