CRATLOE are “a shining example to all clubs because of how much they value the club scene” is the view of Kilmallock manager and former Clare hurler, Ger O’Loughlin.
“I have the utmost respect for the lads from Clare. When I needed lads to answer the call during my time at Clare manager, they responded and they were still in their teens. They have come on so well.
“It will be a huge task for us to overcome the game they play, as there are so many areas they could beat you in. It will be a huge obstacle for us,” said the Clarecastle man, who helped his club win the Munster title in 1997.
O’Loughlin continued, “When we set out this year, the primary target was to win the Limerick title. It’s not easy to get out of Limerick, as there are four or five strong contenders. We were absolutely delighted to get through that campaign and we had a few tight matches.
“We suffered a heavy defeat from Na Piarsaigh in the first round and we were underdogs going into the final against them. They were the defending Munster champions and were a bit unlucky in the All-Ireland last year. They looked to be going from strength to strength.
“They might have been a small bit complacent in the final, as they didn’t get a real test in the semi-final and this worked to our advantage. On the day, we showed more of an appetite,” said the All-Ireland winning corner-forward with Clare in 1995 and 1997.
With the Limerick title safely secure, they faced Sarsfields from Cork in the provincial semi-final.
“We got into the driving seat with 10 minutes to go and we should have pushed on. We gave them soft scores and were lucky to hold on. It was a game that looked, at times, to be going from us. Sars were physically strong and they had major ambitions but I must compliment our lads, as they never gave up. It could have gone either way.”
O’Loughlin pointed out that Limerick hurling is going through a great spell.
“They are knocking on the door and not a million miles away from major honours. We [Clare] caught them in the All-Ireland semi-final two years ago. They have a very good blend of high quality young fellas coming through. If they get the bounce of the ball, they will stand up to the major contenders for the next couple of years. One cannot underestimate what they have.”
The All-Star winner is impressed with the contribution of the inter-county players on his club side.
“The inter-county lads are really driven. It’s been 20 years since Kilmallock won a Munster club. This group have come from U-14, through U-16. They have contested Féile finals, they are ambitious and I hope we can give it the extra push to try and bring back the title.”
Asked if it will be difficult for him to be up against a Clare club in the final, O’Loughlin replied, “When you start out in a campaign, you don’t envisage it could happen. It could be worse, as I could be facing my own club, which would be an awful dilemma altogether.
“Look, I have a job to do and will give it 150%. I want to try and get the best out of Kilmallock. It’s not ideal but, this year, I had to face a team I was training for a few years in Adare and that wasn’t easy.
“You grow a great allegiance when involved for a few years. In an ideal world, I would love if it didn’t happen. The Kilmallock club will be behind us and we will be doing all we can to win the title.”
A few years ago when he was in charge of Adare they contested the Munster final and looked to be on the way to winning the title when they held a five-point lead over De La Salle from Waterford. At the end of the day, they ended up on the losing side. “We left it behind us,” he lamented.
He said he is not underestimating Cratloe and added, “You could not get better boys together to keep players’ feet firmly on the ground than Brian Lohan, Alan Neville and Joe McGrath”.
O’Loughlin said Sunday’s match is going to be a great tussle. “It has all the ingredients for a great contest. Cratloe deserve fantastic tribute for keeping both codes going. It’s very hard to keep it going week in and week out but young fellas enjoy this. If they continue this on, you would think that there would be burnout and that would be a concern. For now, they are full of energy. They are really enjoying it and they have no problems with playing both codes.”
He concluded by saying that he expects Sunday’s final “to be a very close affair with little, if anything, between the sides”.