It is a new look Clare SFC in 2019 with 12 teams competing for the top prize
Group One: St Joseph’s Miltown, Kilmihil, Kilrush, Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s
Round One: St Joseph’s Miltown v Kilmihil; Kilrush v Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s; Round Two: St Joseph’s Miltown v Kilrush, Kilmihil v Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s; Round Three: St Joseph’s Miltown v Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s, Kilmihil v Kilrush.
St Joseph’s Miltown are the defending champions and on all known form this year, they have no intention of letting that title slip. The Cusack Cup and Jack Daly are now sitting together at Hennessy Park and there is a very strong possibility that scenario won’t change come Christmas 2019. The presence of the last two intermediate champions in the same group adds to the intrigue as both will be confident of taking a top two spot. That intrigue is deepened with the addition of the newly formed Naomh Eoin-O’Curry’s group team, with the clubs bidding to transfer their strong underage development through to the senior ranks.
It is difficult to see Miltown not coming through this group in top spot as their star only continues to rise following on from last year’s success. They will be asked plenty questions by their three opponents but they will likely have the answers too. On the face of it, it should be the champions who take top spot.
That leaves the other three teams battling it out for the last remaining quarter-final berth from the group, and will likely come down to the final round before that one is sorted out. If the men from the peninsula manage to gel together in what has been a relatively short run-in for them, then they could well take a scalp. It is going to be a very difficult task though with both clubs involved also having an eye on their own intermediate campaign.
It could well boil down to the final round clash of Kilmihil and Kilrush in order to determine who joins Miltown in the knockout stages and by point of the year, injuries and other factors could also come into play. A more balanced Kilmihil side might just shade that particular battle.
Winners: St Joseph’s Miltown; Runner-up: Kilmihil
Group Two: Kilmurry Ibrickane, Lissycasey, Corofin.
Round One: Kilmurry Ibrickane v Lissycasey; Round Two: Kilmurry Ibrickane v Corofin; Round Three: Corofin v Lissycasey.
Kilmurry Ibrickane will carry the favourites tag in this group where they have recent history with both opponents. The Bricks got the better of Lissycasey in the last eight of the championship in 2016, while 12 months ago saw them overcome Corofin at the same stage. On the face of it, the favourites tag is justified and they should come through with two wins from two as group winners. The 2017 champions simply have too much experience and will know how to game manage at crucial junctures.
That will leave the second quarter-final spot on offer between the other two sides in the group who meet in the final round. Both Lissycasey and Corofin will see this as not just a great opportunity to reach the knockout stages, but also to avoid the dreaded relegation battle. In terms of league form, Lissycasey saw their time in the Cusack Cup come to an end while Corofin just missed out on making the Garry Cup semi-final. Curbing Jamie Malone’s influence will be massive and with Gearoid Cahill on the comeback trail from injury, the county star will carry the majority of the scoring burden. Lissycasey’s greater balance might edge it but there are a lot of variables to unfold between now and then.
Winners: Kilmurry Ibrickane; Runner-up: Lissycasey
Group Three: Ennistymon, Doonbeg, Cooraclare.
Round One: Ennistymon v Doonbeg; Round Two: Ennistymon v Cooraclare; Round Three: Doonbeg v Cooraclare.
Their run to the final in 2018 will mean Ennistymon are fancied to be in the shake-up once more this year. If that proves to be the case, they will have to negotiate what looks to be a very balanced group. The traditional West Clare rivalry between Cooraclare and Doonbeg will mean that any thoughts of pains or aches in the lead up to it will be put to one side while the old adage of form going out the window will come into play.
It will be a group with plenty twists and turns and it could well turn out that scoring difference comes into play. Ennistymon are the seeded team and as such will carry the favourites tag in terms of securing top spot, but they will need to put a disappointing Cusack Cup exit to one side. Doonbeg and Cooraclare are passing each other out as they essentially swap league positions, with the Magpies crowned Garry Cup champions while their neighbours were relegated without a win. That form is worrying but championship always brings a different tempo and Cooraclare will be hoping they can start afresh. With David Tubridy continuing to be consistently brilliant, that could well be the extra edge Doonbeg require to make it a Magpie double.
Winners: Ennistymon; Runner-Up: Doonbeg
Group Four: Cratloe, Clondegad, Eire Óg
Round One: Cratloe v Clondegad; Round Two: Cratloe v Eire Óg; Round Three: Clondegad v Eire Óg.
The Group of Death tag was never more apt as three of the main players in the race for Jack Daly will go at each other’s throats for the right to stay alive in the championship. Cratloe were beaten semi-finalists last year, Clondegad were beaten finalists in 2017 and in 2014 it was Cratloe taking on Eire Óg in the final. There is more recent history to draw on for Clondegad and Cratloe with the South-East Clare men coming on top by the minimum when they clashed 12 months ago at the second round stage.
It is a massive year for Cratloe who will be looking to maintain their assault on both fronts and in some ways, having these two in their group might help negate those concerns somewhat. The reason for that is both Clondegad and Eire Óg will have similar concerns with a huge number of dual players in both squads, so they will be also be susceptible to the injury/fatigue factor.
To that end, it might be Eire Óg that find themselves a little more vulnerable due to the scheduling. Both their group rivals will have a month off from football duties while the Townies will be week on week at the business end of the group. It might just leave them at something of a disadvantage in having their final group games coming in succession, but then again Cratloe face the same concern in the scheduling of their first two games.
Eire Óg have lost key men in Dean Ryan and Ciaran Russell and while they have some excellent young talent coming through, a dual assault needs every hand working. For that reason, they might just struggle to cope with the demands.
Winners: Clondegad; Runner-Up: Cratloe