Eoin Brennan runs the rule over this weekend’s action as the Clare senior football championship kicks off
Round 1 Group 1
Éire Óg v St Breckan’s at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday 4.30pm
Easily the headline act of the opening weekend as depending on how the sides approach it, this heavyweight showdown will either be a timely evaluation of where these Jack Daly contenders are or a cautious must-not-lose affair led by fear rather than ambition.
With three to emerge to the last eight from this group, it should be closer to the former and certainly much nearer in terms of scores than last year’s semi-final masterclass from Éire Óg that stifled a normally swashbuckling St Breckan’s before they could get into their stride.
The Townies are still the team to beat but going on the hurling version, may need a bit of time to blow off the cobwebs of their meticulous gameplan as they’ve had no competitive opportunities to put all the pieces together until Saturday.
ACL injuries for Liam Tierney and Conall Ó hAiniféin cancel each other out in terms of influence.
St Breckan’s recent Cusack Cup crown will have bolstered their belief but it will take the early scalp of the Townies to really enhance their senior title credentials as in a similar scenario last year, Éire Óg shot out of the starting blocks to dismantle Lissycasey.
Verdict: Éire Óg
Corofin v St Joseph’s Miltown at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday 6.30pm
Much more importance placed on getting off to winning ways in this tie as with the county champions Éire Óg and their Cusack Cup equivalents St Breckan’s the favourites to emerge unscathed, it could well come down to the result between this pair to confirm the third quarter-final qualifier.
Inevitably, St Joseph’s Miltown have the edge on experience, with back-to-back titles as recent as 2019 but the miles on the clock since the 2015 breakthrough have already started to impact over the past two seasons.
Already without defensive lynchpin Gordon Kelly and Enda O’Gorman, Miltown simply cannot afford to ship further losses in their essential spine of the Cleary brothers Eoin and Conor, Conor Murray or Seanie Malone if they are to legitimately return to the shake up for honours.
One could suggest meanwhile that Corofin are the form team, having swapped places with their opponents in the Cusack Cup for 2023.
Corofin’s Garry Cup Final victory over Lissycasey comes off the back of last year’s intermediate crown so they will be expecting a major bounce in their first return to senior since 2019 and it’s up to Miltown to be ready for a battle.
Verdict: St Joseph’s Miltown
St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield v Cratloe at Wolfe Tones GAA Shannon, Saturday 3pm
It’s the official opening ceremony of the 2022 County Senior Football Championship and one of the most intriguing ties of the entire weekend as it evaluates one of the up-and-coming potential contenders with a proven powerhouse attempting to remain near the helm.
While Doora/Barefield have made big strides, are still mopping up underage titles and have a solid foundation now at senior level, they are still lacking that extra sprinkling of marquee talent capable of unlocking the door back to a first county final in a decade.
Their collective is strong though and they will certainly throw everything at Cratloe to see how near or far they currently lie in the rankings.
2020 finalists Cratloe should be fresh from a two week break following their opening hurling victory over Clarecastle and with the addition of Kevin Harnett, Michael Brennan, Conal O’Hanlon, Tommy Rooney and Billy Sheehan to their noted hurling core, it might just be too early in the campaign for the Parish to face the might of the 2013 and ’14 champions.
Lissycasey v Kilmihil at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday 12pm
Having amazingly never met in a senior championship tie until 2020, that breakthrough has greased the wheel for more regular derby outings between the pair, starting at high noon on Sunday.
Sod’s Law dictated that the first clash came during the COVID lockdown so at least supporters can relish the derby atmosphere this time around as these sides look to get their campaigns off on a positive footing.
Lissycasey, despite finishing with 13 men, prevailed by 1-14 to 2-7 in Kilrush two years ago on their way to a first senior semi-final in seven years, a feat that they replicated last year, even if they failed to learn the lessons of their previous last four outing against Kilmurry Ibrickane.
In fact, Kilmihil fared far better against the ‘Bricks at the quarter-final stage which should make this opener a real fight to the finish line.
Lissycasey’s superior conveyor belt of talent could be the difference though in getting an early leg up in the group along with the obligatory bragging rights of course.
Kilmurry Ibrickane v Doonbeg at Hennessy Memorial Park Miltown Malbay, Sunday 12.30pm
Almost criminally, it’s 12 full years since Kilmurry Ibrickane and Doonbeg’s last senior championship clash so therefore this much-anticipated renewal of an age old neighbourly rivalry couldn’t be any better timed to get the juices flowing in the latest Jack Daly race.
That 2010 Semi-Final showdown will be still be vividly remembered though as Doonbeg ended Kilmurry Ibrickane’s reign as county and provincial champions with a minimum 1-6 to 0-8 victory on their way to what proved their last Clare crown.
Kilmurry Ibrickane have contested seven of the eleven finals since, capturing five titles along the way which gets them to within two of the Magpies’ overall senior title haul of 18.
Under John Keane, Kieran O’Mahoney, Conor Whelan and Padraig Gallagher, there has been a renaissance in Doonbeg this year and they will need every drop of inspiration to hold off a Kilmurry Ibrickane side still smarting from their disappointing county final performance against Éire Óg.
With the assimilation of youth into their panel along with the return of Dermot Coughlan from injury and travels, Kilmurry Ibrickane can freshen up their side as their experience spine should still be able to negotiate this long-awaited revenge mission.
Verdict: Kilmurry Ibrickane
Ennistymon v Clondegad at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday 1.45pm
A first ever senior championship showdown between Ennistymon and Clondegad that presents an early crossroads for two sides that haven’t exactly fulfilled their Jack Daly promise.
They did contest successive finals in 2017 (Clondegad) and ’18 (Ennistymon) but rather than being the catalyst to drive on their development to the next level, it appears to be the sole exception to an unfortunate series of moral victories and inconsistency ever since.
Based on their continued underage dominance, Ennistymon should have the greater scope to make a real impact in this year’s championship race but while Clondegad have been closer to the drop than the top in recent seasons, they have sufficient quality to overcome any side in the championship on a given day.
If either are to make a title bid, a win here is simply a prerequisite, with Inagh-Kilnamona’s inter-county contingents assistance to Ennistymon perhaps outweighing that of Ballyea’s to Clondegad which could be the ultimate separator.