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Intriguing battle for supremacy awaits in evenly matched final

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Eoin Brennan believes Ballyea’s guile and experience may just see them over the line against Éire Óg in the Clare Senior Hurling Championship Final

Much has been made of the rarity of Ballyea and Éire Óg’s clashes but while the concentration has been on the Townies’ early spanner in the works of Ballyea’s momentous 2016 season, what hasn’t really been dwelled on was that Ballyea actually relegated their neighbours in 2008.

Five points down with only minutes remaining in their understandably anxious relegation decider in Clarecastle, Ballyea somehow pulled it out of the fire to devastate Éire Óg and leave them in the tricky waters of intermediate for three seasons.

The question is how would Ballyea’s narrative have altered had they been the ones to go down as with a rich crop of talent coming through, it was essential for Tony Griffin and Co. to hang onto their senior status by whatever means neccessary.

Fast forward 14 years and the neighbours lock horns once more for the ultimate hurling honours in Clare and far from being the underwhelming relegation candidates of the late noughties, both sides exude confidence, leadership and most significantly, major winning know-how.

It’s not coincidental that both sides possess a pantheon of inter-county stars in either hurling or football that provide an assurance and physical presence to make this a gladiatorial heavyweight clash not witnessed since the titanic county final battles of the mid to late ‘90s when Clare clubs were kings of Munster and beyond.

Their similar statures, unselfish collective team ethic in having an abundance of tireless worker bees trying to supply the queen bee or in this case, the attacking royalty of Tony Kelly, Niall Deasy, Shane O’Donnell, David Reidy and Danny Russell.

Defensively both are also rock solid, so in many ways, this is a final of inches as Ballyea and Éire Óg embark on a war of attrition in the middle third to see which warrior can prevail.

Puck-outs will be essential, match-ups pivotal, goals will be at a premium while both benches will also be tested to see which side might be able to land the killer blow.

How do Ballyea try to curb a rampant Shane O’Donnell that has amassed a whopping 3-25 in just five outings? Do Éire Óg try to pin down back-to-back All Star Tony Kelly or zonally shadow Ballyea’s talisman? Where will David Reidy operate? Who is best placed to match Niall Deasy’s superb final record?

All questions that will only be answered at 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon as this is arguably the most evenly-matched final pairing in over a decade. The only modicum of separation is the fact that Ballyea have been down this road three times before in the past six seasons and hold a perfect final record to boot if you exclude the drawn decider against Clonlara in 2016.

That said, Éire Óg unquestionably carry major momentum between their footballers and hurlers as they bid to garner a first double for the Townies since 1914 and having taken so long to deservedly contest a county hurling final, they will be acutely aware that they need to grasp this golden opportunity with both hands.

Ballyea’s added sprinkling of guile and experience at this lofty stage allied to a never-say-die attitude that saw them win from behind in all three previous finals does give the champions the edge though but whichever way the pendulum ultimately falls, it is expected to be a final that is talked about long into the future.

Venue: Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday 3pm
Referee: Jarlath Donnellan, Wolfe Tones
Verdict: Ballyea

About Eoin Brennan

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