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Cratloe begin title defence

THE race for the Canon Hamilton Trophy begins this Saturday and first into action are champions Cratloe, who face Inagh-Kilnamona at Cusack Park (throw in 1.30pm).
Just over 24 hours later, Wolfe Tones and Tubber will clash at the same venue. The remaining first-round games will be played a week later.
Cratloe face into Saturday’s game without two first-choice members of their defence from last year. Barry Duggan, last year’s captain, and John O’Gorman are both ruled out through injury while Aidan Browne, who featured in some of their games last year, and John Murphy are also struggling to shake off injuries.
Inagh-Kilnamona have a clean bill of health and will select from a full panel. This is the third year in a row that they have been drawn to play the defending champions in the first round.
Two years ago they overcame Tulla while last year they failed narrowly against Clonlara. Interestingly, after a poor start to their league campaign, they have won their last two games.
“Every time you play there is pressure but I wouldn’t think that there is any more pressure this year. We haven’t gone too well in the league but we are not panicking. There is more confidence evident in the players this year and they appear a bit more relaxed,” said Cratloe mentor Mike Deegan.
Deegan is concerned about the number of games played. “Last year was a very long one for us and it has a bigger bearing this year.
“We have a lot of lads playing both hurling and football and it takes a bit of time to recover. Personally, I would prefer not to be playing championship at this time of the year. Some of our guys have had no break at all, with inter-county and college commitments,” he said.
Deegan believes that Inagh-Kilnamona are a strong outfit. “They should have done better last year. They play a good brand of hurling. Everyone will be out to beat us but we also want to win.”
Inagh-Kilnamona manager Eugene Foudy said, “It’s a tough contest to play the county champions and it’s our third year in a row to have been handed such a task.”
Inagh native Eoin Garvey, who has done some great work in promoting hurling in Carlow, is helping out with the preparation of the Inagh-Kilnamona side at present.
They are captained this year by Conor Tierney and their line-up will include Ronan O’Looney, Tony Carmody, David Hegarty, the Arthur brothers, Patrick Kelly and Cathal Lafferty.
Cratloe will be looking to Seán and Michael Hawes, Liam Markham, Martin ‘Ogie’ Murphy, Seán Collins, Conor McGrath, Damian Browne and Cathal McInerney.
It promises to be a very close affair and while the champions have struggled for points in the Clare Champion Cup, they have shown improved form in recent weeks and should just about edge through in this one.
Wolfe Tones head into Sunday’s clash with Tubber with a full squad available for selection but the North Clare side have some injury problems and will definitely be without the services of Blain Earley and Jack Neylon.
The sides met recently in the league when Tubber were two-point winners. “That game won’t really have any bearing on Sunday’s clash. Weather conditions were terrible on that occasion and things should be much better on Sunday as far as this is concerned,” said Tubber boss Pat O’Connor.
“We are up against a very experienced team who have been at the top level for quite a while and they have taken some notable scalps. We want to be able to play consistently against the top teams and to compete against the good teams. This is a very difficult group for us and we will be up against tams that know how to win tight matches. Wolfe Tones beat us well in the championship last year,” he added.
Wolfe Tones boss John Markham expects a close game. “There is nothing between the teams and we have been gearing for this for the past month.”
The Shannon men will be looking to the experience of Frank Lohan, Brian and Daithí O’Connell, Declan O’Rourke, Bobby McPhillips and John Coen to inspire them while they are also likely to call on some of their U-21 side, which helped bring the county U-21B title to the club recently.
Eamonn Taaffe is Tubber’s most experienced player, while they will also be calling on 19-year-old Patrick O’Connor, son of the team boss, who featured in Clare’s All-Ireland winning U-21 side last year. Conor, Mark and Clive Earley and Barry O’Connor are others that the Tubber side will be looking to as they attempt to repeat their recent league victory over the Shannon club.
The form of Wolfe Tones has been rather mixed this year but they have an edge in experience and this may swing this one in their direction.
That said, Tubber have delivered some impressive results this season and Pat O’Connor is one of the most experienced club coaches around. Wolfe Tones will be favourites but a Tubber win would not be a surprise.

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