OF the 500 or so Kilmurry Ibrickane men, women and children expected to surface in Ruislip on Sunday, about 25 of them cannot afford to prematurely enjoy the weekend or even the day itself. If Kilmurry keep their nerve and come 3.30pm have defeated Tír Chonaill Gaels, then the players and their management can relax. But not until the job is done.
If the Clare and Munster champions lose focus prior to throw-in, they could be relaxing for weeks to come afterwards, rather than preparing for an All-Ireland club semi-final meeting with Portlaoise.
In what will be the club’s first competitive overseas fixture, Kilmurry will also become the first Clare football club to play a championship match outside the country.
Their opponents have won three successive London county titles and include two players, Brian McBrearty and David Cannon, who have won senior championship medals in Donegal, while Ronan Walsh has a Tyrone championship medal in his pocket.
Tír Chonaill Gaels have won 13 London county titles and have played Lavey, (Derry) twice; Knockmore, (Mayo); Crossmaglen, (Armagh) twice; Nemo Rangers, (Cork); Castlehaven, (Cork); Ballinderry, (Derry); Burren, (Down); Corofin, (Galway) and Castlebar Mitchels (Mayo) in All-Ireland quarter-finals.
They were beaten by Corofin (2-7 to 0-6) last year and by Crossmaglen Rangers (0-10 to 0-6) in 2008. So far in their history, the London club have yet to win any of their 12 quarter-finals.
Odran O’Dwyer may yet feature for Kilmurry, despite picking up a knee injury in training earlier this month.
“If it’s a thing I’m right and I can play some part in the London game, I’d be delighted. If not, I’ll be there roaring them on from the sideline,” the veteran full-forward told The Clare Champion soon after picking up the injury.
However, Kilmurry manager Micheál McDermott is optimistic that O’Dwyer, who has won five senior championship medals, will be fit.
“He’s confident he’s going to make it,” McDermott said. “Odran knows how to get an injury right. I wouldn’t rule him out by a long shot. We’d be very much relying on his opinion,” he added.
If O’Dwyer is fit, competition for a starting place will increase markedly.
Will Kilmurry opt to start Noel Downes or will Evan Talty, who scored the winning point against Kerins O’Rahillys in the provincial final, force his way into the starting 15? Mark McCarthy, who has not featured since the county final, may also come into the reckoning if he is going well in training.
With Tír Chonaill Gaels reported to be confident of dispatching Kilmurry, the Clare champions must ensure that they make immediate inroads into the home club’s confidence and kick a few early scores.
Tír Chonaill’s style of play is based on the Northern model of blanket defence and if they establish a foothold in Ruislip, Kilmurry may struggle to break them down.
The key to Kilmurry retaining an interest in the All-Ireland club campaign will be their return at midfield, allied to the influence of their half-back line. If Shane Hickey, Enda Coughlan and Declan Callinan are presented with opportunities to go forward, they will present the London team with plenty to think about. Kilmurry will probably need to mix their running game with a direct one; the latter could be particularly useful if Tír Chonaill go with a defensive approach.
They must also address their recent inability to find the net. Kilmurry haven’t scored a goal since they beat O’Curry’s in the county quarter-final in Cooraclare on September 12. They have subsequently played five games without finding the net.
In what is likely to be a tough afternoon’s football, Kilmurry Ibrickane will hopefully remain standing and emerge battle-hardened for a semi-final meeting with Portlaoise on Sunday, February 21.