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Cratloe and favourites Barefield to advance

Cratloe return to Cusack Park on Saturday evening, where they will take on Ennistymon in a crunch Group 1 encounter. While the Cratloe club’s recent tidings emanating from the County Grounds have been fairly positive, last Saturday their hurlers were stunned by an inflamed Tubber, who felt that the county champions had tried to pull a fast one on them. So this week Colm Collins and the Cratloe footballers will be making sure that they don’t manage to similarly fire up Brendan Rouine and his Ennistymon team.

Ennistymon’s Wayne Griffin highlights the panel’s strength in depth. Photograph by Declan MonaghanThe best display of attacking, open football seen in Cusack Park in 2009 was Cratloe’s U-21 A final win over Ennistymon. That evening, Cratloe were immaculate in both their football and the speed of their movement. Lissycasey found them too hot a fortnight ago as well. Although well beaten against Doora-Barefield in their opening championship game, Cratloe are now nicely positioned to make a meaningful impact on the 2010 championship.
They must win, while a draw would suffice for Ennistymon. Ennistymon beat Lissycasey comprehensively in round one, while they drew with Barefield two weeks’ ago.
On their day, players such as goalkeeper Shane Keane, Laurence Healy, David Murphy, Joe Dowling, Danny Rouine and Seán McGonigley are capable of producing decent displays, while Ennistymon proved the last day, with the introduction of Ronan Linnane and Wayne Griffin, that they have panel depth.
Ennistymon will need all of that depth to cope with Cratloe men such as Barry Duggan at full-back, Óige Murphy in the half-back line, Conor Ryan at midfield, the Collins, Conor McGrath, Cathal McInerney and Liam Markham in attack.
Ennistymon will have to try to impose themselves physically on Cratloe and limit the amount of space available to their flying forwards. If Ennistymon don’t manage the latter, they will be in for a rough evening in Cusack Park.
Both of these clubs are still in the process of building senior teams that should be very capable of mounting a sustained championship challenge in the coming years. Yet both would feel that if they got a run going this year, they are capable of at least reaching a semi-final.
This weekend, largely based on their demolition of Lissycasey in Cusack Park, Cratloe should nail down their place in the last eight.
If Cratloe win and St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield do likewise against Lissycasey in the Éire Óg grounds, both will be involved come the knockout stages.
Throughout 2010, St Joseph’s have been one of the most consistent teams in Clare. First off, they won promotion to Cusack Cup football for 2010, although they were beaten in the Garry Cup final by Kilrush. In their championship games to date, Barefield beat Cratloe and drew with Ennistymon in Corofin last Sunday week.
There are variable permutations but the most straightforward one, from Barefield’s viewpoint, is to win on Saturday and prepare for a quarter-final.
They will be definitely more motivated than Lissycasey, who cannot improve on their position at the bottom of Group 1. The 2007 county champions will be involved in a relegation semi-final against Kilkee, Miltown or Liscannor in the coming weeks. Their manager, Declan Conway, has stepped down this week, citing “family commitments” so Lissycasey will be without an official manager for the remainder of their campaign.
Even if Cratloe lose to Ennistymon and finish on two points alongside Lissycasey, the fact that the South-East Clare team won the game between the sides, leaves them ahead of Lissycasey.
Therefore, St Joseph’s captain Kevin Dilleen is bound to lead the more enthused side into battle. Barefield will look to goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe, Seán Flynn, 2009 Clare minor captain Stephen Collins, Cathal O’Sullivan and Enda Lyons to lead them.
As long as St Joseph’s don’t take the result for granted they will win and look forward to another big game in two weeks’ time.
Lissycasey will have to steel themselves for that aforementioned relegation semi-final.


Kilmihil to win bottom-of-table battle
The game of most interest in Group 2 involves two teams who are already out of the senior championship. A win for Kilmihil or Wolfe Tones on Sunday evening at the Éire Óg grounds will guarantee senior status for 2011. The winner will also qualify for the semi-final of the senior B championship, while the losers will have to prepare for a relegation semi-final against the bottom team from Group 3, which is currently O’Curry’s.
Kilmihil will be looking for a big performance from Mark O’Connell. Photograph by John KellyWolfe Tones were narrowly beaten by Éire Óg in their opening championship game, while they lost by six points to Shannon Gaels two weeks ago.
They missed vital goal chances in both games. Stephen Monaghan pointed a penalty against the Ennis club, while Wolfe Tones spurned three or four goal chances against Shannon Gaels.
However frustrated they may be at those misses, it won’t equal Kilmihil’s at losing their first championship game to Shannon Gaels, whom they led by seven points 10 minutes from full-time.
Had Kilmihil won that game, their year could have panned out significantly differently and much more positively. Since then, they have been relegated to division three in the league and also lost their second championship game against Éire Óg in Lissycasey.
While they were 10 points down at half-time, Kilmihil missed a number of early frees, which could have settled them. On a more positive note however, Anthony Downes played well when introduced and will almost definitely start against Wolfe Tones.
Kilmihil will again look primarily to Timmy and David Ryan, along with Mark O’Connell and centre-back Rory Molhally. Perhaps they might opt to place one of the Ryan’s in the full-forward line in an effort to pose more threat in that area.
Wolfe Tones list of forwards is impressive but players such as Kevin Cahill, Chris Dunning and Stephen Monaghan really must perform this weekend to secure their clubs status.
Both teams will be very keen to ensure that they won’t have to prepare for a gut-churning relegation semi-final but perhaps Kilmihil will have the edge in the desire department and  thereby maintain their status, two years after achieving promotion so impressively.
The second game in Group 2 pits Éire Óg against Shannon Gaels at 6pm on Sunday in Lissycasey. Both teams have won their two opening games and are definitely in the last eight. The winners here will play the Group 3 winners, which is likely to be Doonbeg, Cooraclare or Kilrush, while the losers will play the second team in the same group.
Éire Óg played very impressively for 30 minutes against Kilmihil and led by 10 points at half-time. Their second-half performance wasn’t as slick and, in fact, Shannon Gaels had a similarly uneven hour against Wolfe Tones. They led 1-10 to 0-2 early in the second half but ended up winning 1-10 to 0-7 following a lacklustre last 20 minutes.
At the back of their minds both clubs know that they will have a bigger game to prepare for in the quarter-final and whoever has the best attitude to this weekend’s game will win and top the group.

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