WITH three of the four sides emerging contently from the opening round, the stakes in the ‘Group of Death’ are upped this weekend as Ennistymon are introduced into the mix against Kilmurry Ibrickane while old rivals Miltown and Cratloe renew acquaintances. Eoin Brennan reports.
Kilmurry Ibrickane v Ennistymon
at Cusack Park, Saturday, 4.30pm (Referee C Maguire)
While neighbours Kilmurry Ibrickane and St Joseph’s Miltown know each other inside out, it’s a little less familiar territory from now on for the defending champions who will be expecting an Ennistymon ambush this Saturday.
The North Clare side were the only team to sit out the opening weekend of the championship so they will be extra eager to not only get their championship challenge underway but also make an immediate impact. After all, with Kilmurry Ibrickane, St Joseph’s Miltown and Cratloe strong favourites to take the three knock-out spots, Ennistymon will be determined to break up that cosy cartel, having contested at least the quarter-final stage for the past six seasons.
Incidentally, aside from last year’s derby exit to St Breckan’s, it has been members of this group that have ended Ennistymon’s championship interests since 2014 as Cooraclare (2014), Miltown (2015, ’18) and Cratloe (2016, ’17, ’19) have proven difficult obstacles to overcome.
In contrast, it has been Ennistymon that have dumped Kilmurry Ibrickane out in their last two championship clashes in 2015 (Round 3) and the 2018 Semi-Final.
And if that statistic doesn’t alert the holders, then the additional matter of facing Kilmurry Ibrickane legend Odran O’Dwyer who is coach of Ennistymon should get the alarm bells ringing.
O’Dwyer’s Kilmihil certainly tested the ‘Bricks in the 2019 Quarter-Final but Ennistymon have a far stronger pack in terms of strength-in-depth as well as potential, with the only drawback being a lack of experience as they look to assimilate their unrelenting conveyor belt of talent along with excellent new recruit Cathal Reilly.
With a game under their belts and the assurance of matching Miltown without long term absentees Shane Hickey and Dermot Coughlan, Kilmurry Ibrickane do have a slight advantage. However, if they can quickly get up to the pace of championship, expect Ennistymon to ruffle a few feathers for a third consecutive encounter.
Cratloe v St Joseph’s Miltown at
Cusack Park, Saturday, 7pm (Referee W King)
The last thing St Joseph’s Miltown would have wanted after such a draining derby experience is another major test so soon but in a way, it could be the best thing for them as there were certainly question marks surrounding their performance at times against Kilmurry Ibrickane.
While this weekend’s bye candidates Cooraclare have four weeks to pick through the bones of their defeat to Cratloe, it’s an opportunity for Miltown to immediate redress the balance and perhaps justify the favourite’s tag that has been placed upon their shoulders.
Facing Cratloe shouldn’t require any motivation, particularly as it was Colm Collins’ side that ended Miltown’s three-in-a-row bid last summer, thanks to a seven point second half turnaround in their backdoor Quarter-Final.
In fact, Cratloe have been the ones to dethrone Miltown on the last two occasions as following Michael Neylon’s side’s glorious breakthrough in 2015 after a 25 year absence, not even a four goal head start could get the holders over the line against a defiant Cratloe in the 2016 semi-final as they produced one of their most memorable victories after extra-time by 2-15 to 4-05.
It hasn’t been all one way traffic though as two years later, Miltown exacted full revenge at the penultimate stage by seven points on their way to winning back the Jack Daly. And if that seesaw pattern is anything to go by, it’s Miltown turn again following last year’s reverse.
More than that though, the back-to-back 2018 and ’19 winners, having been stifled by Kilmurry Ibrickane’s man-markers, were sorely second best in a dull opening half last Saturday, with the likes of Eoin Cleary and Cormac Murray ripe for a backlash this weekend.
For Cratloe, it’s the availability of their dynamic duo, Podge Collins and Cathal McInerney that will be key to their challenge as both missed last Sunday’s opener against Cooraclare.
If both are fit and in form, Cratloe could well be sitting pretty at the top of the Group of Death come Saturday evening but anything less, or even a repeat of the goal chance generosity afforded to Cooraclare, will be punished fully by a far more clinical Miltown.