IN 2017, it took 36 weeks to complete the seven-round Cusack Cup campaign. It started on March 11 and concluded on November 29, when Kilmurry-Ibrickane won the competition for the seventh successive season.
While a semi-final date has not been fixed for this season’s Division 1 football league, the aim seems to be to finish the league before the first round of the Senior Football Championship. The last round is on May 27 or June 9 and, with only one semi-final to be played, Clare GAA might pull it off. The team that finishes top of the table automatically qualifies for the final, while second and third meet in a semi-final.
One of the issues raised last year was the absence of county players for a round played mid-summer. This weekend, with Clare playing Roscommon in their refixed NFL game, club teams will line out without their county players. Clubs are not enamoured about this but it seems likely that most games will be played.
Clare manager Colm Collins insists that he makes players available as often as possible and, in fact, they have played in 35 of the last 36 rounds of Cusack and Garry Cup football. However, football clubs are wary of going down the same route as club hurling teams in Clare, who have agreed to play five league games without their county men.
Ironically, Collins feels that this is a proactive approach, in that it affords clubs an opportunity to blood players, who might not otherwise get a chance to prove themselves.
“I’d question the motivation of some of this but you just have to forget about it and concentrate on your own job. We have always encouraged our players to play with their clubs, at all times. Within reason, we have encouraged players to play with their clubs. It’s not like I’m saying one thing and doing another. I come from a club (Cratloe), where we have constantly played our games without our county players. We’ve always played. If the county players are there and there is no conflicting fixture, by all means play. But I think clubs should be developing their other players and players who are on the periphery. That’s what you should be using the leagues for,” Collins maintained.
“At one stage, we (Cratloe) had six or seven players missing and we were a completely different team when that was the case. But I still think it’s not the end of the world. We unearthed players who normally would not have got a chance to play senior league. Everybody is entitled to their opinion and my opinion and what we (Clare) have done is the direct opposite to what’s going on.
“We have never, ever made an issue of this. I think that the point has been missed completely here. I think there is too much emphasis on the leagues and winning every match. I think the league should be for developing your players and your panel. My personal preference is that the leagues would be home and away so that you would have matches every weekend. What’s the worst thing that can happen here?” he queried.
Collins also noted that if county players want to play for their clubs at any time, he cannot stop them.
“If they play, they play; then the decision is mine whether or not to play them for Clare. I don’t pay their wages so I can’t be telling them what to do. I think it’s pretty clear-cut for the next three weekends. Our line all the time is for players to play with their clubs. We have never gone down this road. It’s ironic that it’s being made an issue of. Players know what the truth is. Nobody has ever intimated to any player on our panel not to play with their club. However, I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue this year. Players will be available to their clubs for all of the games in April. A bit of common sense all round and we’ll be fine,” Collins stated.
As for the games, O’Curry’s will host Doonbeg on Saturday at 4pm in Doonaha in Round 1 of the Cusack Cup. It will be an interesting experience for Doonbeg manager Daniel Ryan, who filled the same position with O’Curry’s up to last year, while Kevin Shalloo played his club football with the Doonaha-based club.
Michael Carmody is the new O’Curry’s manager, having given decades of service on the field. Carmody will bring passion and know-how to the role and, hopefully, O’Curry’s have reinforced the walls of their home dressing room, as their new manager is likely to test their fortitude in his maiden pre-match motivational speech.
The remaining three first-round games will be played at 11.30am on Sunday, with Kilmurry-Ibrickane hosting Miltown in the pick of the ties.
The clubs have shared the last eight Cusack Cups. The only problem for Miltown and every other Clare club is that Kilmurry have won seven of them. Kilmurry will be without Keelan Sexton on Sunday, while Miltown will be forced to field minus Eoin and Conor Cleary, Gordon Kelly (suspended), Seanie Malone and Kieran Malone.
Elsewhere, Lissycasey host Cooraclare, with both under new management. Michael Neylon is at the helm in Lisscasey, with Aidan Moloney filling the role in Cooraclare. He was also manager in 2009, when they last won the Cusack Cup.
Clondegad will also be without several dual players, when they host St Breckan’s in Ballynacally, while, in Division 2, Coolmeen will host Doora-Barefield at 11am. If they had Cathal O’Connor available, Coolmeen would have a great chance but could struggle without him.
Elsewhere in the Garry Cup, Éire Óg will host Kilrush, Kildysart are at home to Ennistymon and Cratloe will travel to Kilmihil. The latter tie will start 4.15pm.
By Peter O’Connell