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Strength in numbers: Sixmilebridge have been the most impressive side in this year's senior championship, but face a local derby against Wolfe Tones in the quarter-finals this Saturday. Photograph by Eugene McCafferty Sixmilebridge 3-18 Clonlara 0-19

It’s a knockout! No room for error in Clare hurling championships

Ennis College Further Education

Eoin Brennan previews the weekend’s hurling action with quarter-finals and relegation play-offs on the menu


Senior Hurling Championship

Cratloe v Newmarket-on-Fergus at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday 3pm

Commencing Saturday’s derby-fest in Cusack Park is a rivalry that has rather cooled in recent seasons which is perhaps indicative of differing development paths.

In fact, it’s a full decade almost to the month since Cratloe and Newmarket’s last senior championship clash, one that the Blues won’t be forgetting in a hurry as 3-10 to 0-9 county final victory over their neighbours finally bridged an seemingly interminable 31 year gap to their previous Canon Hamilton crown.

In hindsight, Newmarket will be relieved to have snatched that solitary crown as they were in danger of not fulfilling their potential with a golden crop of players following final defeats in 2006, ’08 and subsequently in 2013.

Cratloe did bounce back to win their second title in five years in 2014 but that was the last senior championship glory despite further finals in 2018 and ’19.

Perhaps it’s that realisation that time is of the essence for an ageing Cratloe that has seen them excel so far in both codes so far this year. However, whatever it is, table-topping group feats in both hurling and football allied to the rejuvenation of Podge Collins, the breathtaking inspiration of Diarmuid Ryan and a multitude of scoring threats in defence and attack has made them a force once more.

This will be an acid test as while Newmarket’s front six haven’t exactly been prolific, their battling qualities, experienced core and enviable defence could make this a derby to remember.
Verdict: Cratloe

Sixmilebridge v Wolfe Tones at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday 5pm

As the only side with not only an uneaten record but an unblemished one in this year’s Senior Championship race, Sixmilebridge have undoubtedly been the most impressive and efficient candidate for the Canon Hamilton thus far.

It really couldn’t have gone much better for Sean Stack’s side, having been able to rack up big scores and even manage to blood new players into their already experienced core.

Wolfe Tones are also in the midst of a season of huge optimism but having been edged out in their group decider by Inagh-Kilnamona, they would arguably have preferred any other seeded side than Sixmilebridge.

Of course the derby factor will come into play and Wolfe Tones have an exceptional inter-county spine of Darragh Lohan, Rory Hayes, Ben O’Gorman, Aaron Cunningham, Aron Shanagher and Billy Connor.

However, the Shannon side will have to produce an unprecedented display of cohesive and efficiency if they are to topple their neighbours.

Last year, the Tones matched the ‘Bridge for the entire first half in their group clash, only to fall away as the second half developed. With the added boost of confidence and players, they should sustained that challenge longer this time around but it’s still difficult to see anything but a victory for the 2013, ’15, 17, ’19 and ’20 champions.
Verdict: Sixmilebridge

Clooney-Quin v Ballyea at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday 12pm

Considering that this is a clash of the defending champions and the 14th placed team from 2021, Clooney-Quin’s transformation from relegation fodder to business end proper has unquestionably been the story of the championship so far.

After all, it’s only two years since Ballyea pummeled Clooney-Quin into submission by 23 points in Sixmilebridge and in reality only for the 2016 and ’18 champions to let their foot off the gas, the damage could have been much greater.

However, the return of Peter Duggan from Oz, the maturing of Ryan Taylor into an inter-county star and the assimilation of a succession of underage talent has been honed by new manager Tom Corbett into an effective unit that suddenly were handing out beatings of their own, most notably a 14 point defeat of Clare Cup champions Kilmaley in Round 2.

It makes Clooney-Quin a somewhat unknown and therefore dangerous opponent for Ballyea who have had their own demons to battle over the past month.

Having impressed against O’Callaghan’s Mills and Broadford, parishioners Clarecastle made the holders battle all the way before the aberration of a 13 point group decider loss left everyone scratching their heads.

With a month to prepare for the quarter-finals, such a disappointing reverse despite arguably having their strongest side available didn’t add up. Whether it was a mere blip or something more endemic will only be known on Sunday afternoon but based on their past heroics including last years’ county final win without Tony Kelly, one has to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Verdict: Ballyea

Inagh-Kilnamona v Éire Óg at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday 2.30pm

A repeat of last year’s semi-final that Inagh-Kilnamona eventually edged (1-17 to 0-17) on their way to a first ever county senior final appearance.

One thing is for sure, it simply cannot be as tense an occasion again as the magnitude of the occasion last October certainly played its part in a tough but nervous hour.

Level eleven times and the leads changing hands on eight occasions by the turn of the final quarter, Inagh-Kilnamona were the ones to compose themselves coming down the final straight, thus denying a famous senior hurling and football final double appearance for the Townies.

Twelve months on and the shoe is firmly on the other foot now as it’s Éire Óg that have gelled better with every passing game, led superbly by the unmarkable Shane O’Donnell who immediately strikes fear into every rearguard as his first instinct is goal.

Inagh-Kilnamona meanwhile have mixed the good with the bad and have struggled to find the true form and leaders that catapulted them to within touching distance of a first ever senior crown.

Injuries have played their part as ongoing treatment for Kevin Hehir and Conner Hegarty haven’t helped their cause while defensive anchor Keith White is only available now.

He is about to receive a championship baptism of fire as with his man-marking skills, he is the most likely candidate to be Shane O’Donnell’s chaperone .

There’s much more to Éire Óg armoury that SOD though as David Reidy, Danny Russell, Gavin Cooney and Darren O’Brien will all needing watching. In the overall analysis, there are simply more question marks surrounding Inagh-Kilnamona who could easily prevail but would require their best performance of the season so far to do so.

With this being their seventh successive knock-out stage finish and having contested the last two semi-finals, Éire Óg have shown the great consistency and let’s be honest, this group need a breakthrough sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Éire Óg

Senior Hurling Relegation Finals
Clarecastle v Whitegate at Dr. Daly Park Tulla, Saturday 5pm

Relegation survival experts Whitegate and Clarecastle, having both contested five or the last possible seven demotion series, are bidding to see who is the greatest escapologist of all this Saturday evening.

Whitegate have shown the greater fight and more consistent battling qualities but the Magpies are also better than they showed against Broadford last time out, it’s just a matter of demonstrating that.
Verdict: Whitegate

Smith O’Brien’s v Scariff at Dr. Daly Park Tulla, Sunday 1pm
Their clashes have never been dull as a titanic 2020 Semi-Final bout almost went all the way to penalties, 2017 and ’18 intermediate clashes were also won by a puck of a ball in either direction.

Let’s not forget either that Smith O’Brien’s relegation in 2013, their last senior appearance before 2022, came at the hands of a relegation final defeat to their neighbours. Scariff should have the edge on balance and firepower though when it comes down to it.
Verdict: Scariff

Intermediate Hurling Championship Quarter-Finals
Ogonnelloe v St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield at O’Garney Park Sixmilebridge, Saturday 2pm

Ogonnelloe have performed heroically (especially last time out against Inagh-Kilnamona) to reach this lofty stage in their first year back at intermediate level.

However, this could be a step too far for the Junior A champions as it’s essentially now or never for the Parish.
Verdict: St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield

Sixmilebridge v Newmarket-on-Fergus at Wolfe Tones GAA Shannon, Sunday 3.30pm

A great draw for both second strings as Sixmilebridge were elevated to a seeded team while if they were to chose an opponent, Newmarket would have jumped at the chance of taking on their nearest and dearest neighbours.

A bit like Ogonnelloe, it’s an achievement in itself for them to get this far but the ‘Bridge remain the most accomplished second string in the county and they’ll aim to reaffirm that on Sunday.
Verdict: Sixmilebridge

Parteen v Tulla at Glenomra Park Broadford, Sunday 4pm
Of all 113 adult GAA championship previews written this summer, this has easily been the most difficult to call as one could make a legitimate case for both sides to prevail.

Parteen have demonstrated the most development growth so far in the intermediate championship and have everything in their locker to be able to contend for silverware but face a Tulla side in equally blossoming form.

In the end, Tulla’s added sprinkling of senior experience could be the deciding factor but don’t rule out extra-time first.
Verdict: Tulla

Tubber v Corofin at Clarecastle, Sunday 4.30pm
A second successive North Clare derby quarter-final for Corofin who will undoubtedly be using last year’s flop against Ruan as a motivational tool this time around.

Corofin’s form have been patchy though and it’s difficult to know what to expect whereas Tubber have been a model of consistency, with their gritty group victory over Doora/Barefield a prime example of their big game experience.
Verdict: Tubber

Junior A Hurling Championship Semi-Finals
Éire Óg v Clarecastle at Páirc Finne Corofin, Saturday 1pm

The Magpies had ten points to spare over their neighbours at the group stage but Éire Óg’s quarter-final victory over Banner will really have given the Townies the desired jolt for a derby rematch.
Verdict: Clarecastle

St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield v Ballyea at Banner, Sunday 5pm

Another derby showdown as respective group winners St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield and Ballyea clash in what is essentially a toss of coin affair. The Parish prevailed by the minimum in the league so perhaps can just repeat the dose.
Verdict: St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield

About Eoin Brennan

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