Eoin Brennan runs the rule over this weekend’s championship action
Round 2 Group 3
Cratloe v Broadford at
It has understandably been an emotional few weeks around Broadford as they come to terms with the shock of losing one of their much-loved brethren.
It’s never easy to get back on the field after such a blow but as a proud club, they will undoubtedly be channeling their emotions into getting a result for Niall this Saturday.
The fact that it’s also a necessity will only heighten the mood as anything other than a positive result would end their hopes of Canon Hamilton glory.
On the flip side, the element of surprise is gone, having pushed Ballyea to their optimum in their first outing five weeks ago. Consequently, Cratloe cannot say that they haven’t been forewarned or forearmed for what will undoubtedly be a major battle.
A win puts Cratloe into a quarter-final with a game to spare, the type of breathing space they require in order to maintain their dual challenge.
So while Broadford will throw everything at their opponents, perhaps Cratloe have the armoury to be able to weather the storm and eventually prevail by a narrow margin.
Round 3 Group 2
Sixmilebridge v Scariff
at Cusack Park, Sunday
It’s the battle of the senior and intermediate champions that should provide Scariff’s most accurate barometer of where they currently lie.
Essentially, it all depends on the ‘Bridge’s attitude approaching this final round tie though. Already assured of top spot in the group, there’s little for the back-to-back champions to play for other than wanting to maintain their current momentum.
Their mantra has consistently been to give of their all on every day however and with a month’s gap to the quarter-finals, being their last competitive test should dictate that they don’t ease their foot off the gas.
That’s not good news for newcomers Scariff who had hoped that the ‘Bridge would put their feet up and down tools for what is a dead rubber for the holders.
With the possibility of Clarecastle overturning Wolfe Tones, score difference would be vital so it will be firmly damage limitation for Scariff in order to keep Sixmilebridge as close as possible to the intermediate champions.
Clarecastle v Wolfe Tones
at Sixmilebridge, Sunday
It’s do-or-die for Clarecastle after two successive losses, with nothing but a victory enough to give themselves a chance of avoiding a basement finish and therefore amongst the relegation candidates.
It would need a razor-sharp performance akin to their relegation decider against Feakle in 2017 to pull off what would be an upset but a lack battling qualities haven’t necessarily been one of their fault-lines. To score 2-13 against the ‘Bridge was an achievement in itself but to finish with 2-21 against Scariff would have been enough to win the majority of ties.
However, one simply cannot afford to allow one player to score 1-18 so while Wolfe Tones don’t have a marksman of that prolificacy, Aron Shanagher did manage to raid for 2-9 against Clarecastle in the opening round of the 2020 championship.
That 15 point victory will have given the Shannon side confidence of doubling the dose and advancing to the quarter-finals which is needed after an almost inexplicable second half collapse against Sixmilebridge last time out.
As a result, there are doubts in both camps so a good start is a prerequisite to exploit that anxiety in their opponents.
Verdict: Wolfe Tones
Éire Óg v Feakle at Shannon, Saturday
It’s funny the way things go sometimes as Éire Óg seemed on the precipice of a premature exit thanks to a plethora of injuries that conspired to an opening loss to Newmarket while newly crowned Clare Cup champions Feakle were in buoyant mood despite having to share the spoils with Clooney-Quin.
Five weeks on and it’s the Townies that are eagerly anticipating a winners-takes-all clash with Feakle for the second time in twelve months as their treatment table has been lightened.
Meanwhile, it has only gotten worse for an already threadbare Feakle, who already without Martin Daly, lost Steven Conway in their first outing while Oisin Donnellan has also been in the wars.
Five points separated the sides last year at the quarter-final stage a position that the Ennis side would gladly take again as it would cement a return to the last eight.
A draw would be good enough for Feakle but a defeat would leave them depending on Clooney-Quin to do them a favour and narrowly overcome Newmarket.
Anything is possible as this group has already proven but a rejuvenated Éire Óg seem to have got their mojo and appetite back and therefore, it’s difficult to back against them.
Clooney-Quin at Sixmilebridge, Saturday
A biennial derby clash that has swung in both directions since 2015 albeit that the stakes couldn’t be higher this time around. A long range Peter Duggan goal saw Clooney-Quin edge the opening 2015 spoils by the minimum before Newmarket exacted full revenge at the same juncture in 2017.
Their last meeting was the Senior B decider of 2019 that Clooney-Quin won by 2-12 to 0-12 which if omens are to be believed means that it’s Newmarket’s turn to triumph.
However, what will worry Tomas Ryan and his management team most was the Blues’ uncharacteristically lacklustre display against 14 man Feakle last time out, a defeat that was as difficult to take as it was to explain.
Equally, Clooney-Quin’s seven point reverse to Éire Óg leaves their championship hopes hanging by a thread and even more significantly, currently in the danger zone to enter the relegation play-offs.
Necessity could be the perfect motivation tool for Clooney-Quin to finally put the pieces together as anything other than a win would guarantee their passage to the demotion group.
Round 4 Group 1
Whitegate v Clonlara
at O’Garney Park, Saturday
For the second successive outing, these sides approach it with contrasting confidence as following the opening rounds, Clonlara were looking upwards while Whitegate were peering over their shoulders while after the latest round of games, Whitegate are out of the danger zone whereas Clonlara suffered their opening defeat to Inagh-Kilnamona.
With only two matches remaining, this is almost last chance saloon for both to make a burst for the runners-up spot behind Inagh-Kilnamona, with Clonlara having a lot more to do in terms of improvement and cohesion in order to be realistic challengers for the Canon.
Whitegate will never bring anything less than 100% so the question marks entirely surround what Clonlara have in their locker. On paper, they have a lot to offer this championship if they can gather momentum but it needs to be delivered now in order to remain in the hunt for a business end place.
O’Callaghan’s Mills v Kilmaley
at Cusack Park, Saturday
Tales of championship heartbreak woe on both sides would take a patient psychologist to iron out.
The Mills are bizarrely the ‘Masters of Extremes’ thanks to their seesaw seasons that have seen them go from a semi-final appearance in 2018 to a relegation final in 2019 before contesting a first county final in 27 years last summer and now back in the relegation zone.
Equally, Kilmaley have sandwiched semi-finals in 2015 and ’18 with relegation in 2016 as not even a Clare Cup crown in 2019 has been able to spark a championship challenge of note since.
While Kilmaley still have Clonlara to play, they can’t really afford another slip-up following their opening defeat to Inagh-Kilnamona.
The Mills meanwhile are still pointless after three outings, with regrets and near misses in every game conspiring to frustrate them. Being their final group outing though, it’s make-or-break for the Mills who even with a win cannot guarantee their safety but without victory, are relegation play-off certainties.
Kilmaley won’t want to be in that mix and therefore, backed by a blossoming performance against Whitegate, they might be able to continue that form on Saturday.