CLARECASTLE will host one of the most eagerly awaited games of the 2013 Clare Senior Football Championship when Cratloe and Éire Óg meet in the county semi-final on Sunday.
Perhaps it should be rephrased slightly as ‘one of the most eagerly awaited games of this week’. Since the football championship re-started after the All-Ireland hurling final, there has been a desperate rush to get it over with. The same applies to the club hurling, which shows the GAA’s prerogative lies with the inter-county scene.
Still, the winners of this game won’t worry about the big picture. They won’t have time, as the county final is scheduled for the following weekend.
It seems like another age when Éire Óg knocked reigning champions Kilmurry Ibrickane out of the championship on September 15 in Kilmihil. Their 2-5 to 0-10 win reverberated around Clare football for a day or two but has been all but forgotten about since. Had Éire Óg another game within two weeks of that win, perhaps they would have built up some momentum. As they approach this weekend, they will be more hopeful than confident that they have got their preparations right.
On the other hand, Cratloe have a settled team with perhaps just one position to be fought for. Conor Ryan was injured for their 11-point defeat of Cooraclare, while he was brought on at half-time against Kilrush last Sunday. If fully fit, Ryan may start against the Ennis men, with Liam Markham probably moving to wing-back, where he did well in the second half against Kilrush.
Éire Óg’s panel has been weakened by the loss of Seán Corry and Ciaran Russell to long-term injuries. Since that win over Kilmurry in mid-September, the club has won the Junior A Football Championship and qualified for the U-21 A semi-final.
Although their minors were beaten in the A semi-final by new champions Lissycasey, Éire Óg have, up to now, enjoyed an excellent season on the football field. But have they enough to counter Cratloe’s movement, running game and exceptionally high fitness levels?
First off, Éire Óg have the strongest panel Cratloe will have met since their opening round 0-11 to 0-4 defeat of Kilmurry Ibrickane on August 3, albeit that Éire Óg panel has been weakened by the loss of Corry and Russell.
Importantly, Éire Óg have forwards who can hurt Cratloe. Eoin Glynn, Graham Glynn, Eimhin Courtney and Shane Daniels can do damage on a good day, while they have capable defenders in Donie Lyne, Conor Brennan and David Russell. If Darren O’Neill is fit to start at midfield, that would be a huge bonus for James Hanrahan’s team.
Last Sunday, Kilrush were somewhat effective in stemming Cratloe but they didn’t offer sufficient threat up front. Éire Óg will have to marry an effective defensive set-up with not forgetting to pose problems at the other end for Cratloe. They will have to try and impose their game on Cratloe, defend in numbers but break forward in equal numbers. If their support play breaks down, Éire Óg will be in trouble.
Cratloe were not overly impressive against Kilrush. They only scored one point in the closing 20 minutes, while Fergal Lynch, with two points, was their top point scorer from play. They also had to rely on a lucky first-half goal from Seán Collins for a five-point interval lead, having played with the breeze. Éire Óg will feel if they can avoid conceding goals and restrict the number of scoreable frees given away, they will have a great chance. Cratloe are not noted for scoring points from distance, which Éire Óg will be well aware of.
If Éire Óg were to establish a lead, it would be very interesting to see how Cratloe respond. They have won their three championship games to date by seven, 11 and five points.
It is difficult, however, to see beyond Cratloe. Some of their players are amongst the best conditioned in the county, while their work-rate, when they don’t have the ball, is huge. This will be their third successive game, while Éire Óg haven’t played since September 15. That momentum could be the key to helping Cratloe in the county final the following weekend.