It will be a clash of neighbours when these two go head to head for the first major hurling honours of 2019.
For Kilmaley, it would be a third title to follow up their successes in 1981 and 2001 while the Combo go in search of their maiden crown.
Both sides were impressive in reaching this stage with Kilmaley topping the group standings, just one point clear of their nearest rivals. Kilmaley have suffered just one loss this year, with that reversal coming early on against Clonlara on the same weekend that they had annexed the U-21 A crown. The Combo suffered two defeats en route to the decider, including a 3-16 to 0-13 loss against Kilmaley on the last weekend of May when both sides lined out without their county contingent. That result will have little or no bearing on this weekend’s showdown as both squads are in a much different gear now with championship on the horizon. This pairing is one that we have seen on a more regular basis at underage level in recent times so it is no real surprise that they find themselves now facing off on this stage.
With championship preparation in mind, both will have taken plenty positives along with improvement points from their respective semi-final wins last weekend. For Kilmaley, you don’t really need to look far beyond the statistic of 20 wides over the course of their win over Broadford to see what John Carmody and Donal Madden will be focusing in on. They never looked like they were in danger of losing to the south-east Clare men but poor shot selection left their opponents in the game until the closing stages. If they could manage to even cut that figure in half this time around, then the firepower is there to do real damage on the scoreboard. Goals will also be important in this one, and the fact that Kilmaley created no clear opportunity for a green flag the last day out will be something they need to address.
Inagh-Kilnamona’s victory over Sixmilebridge in the last four came after a tough battle and they could be more battle-hardened because of it. The manner in which they fought back from conceding a soft goal showed huge character and signified another step in the maturing of this group. With the amount of underage talent at their disposal, Fergal Hegarty’s charges will be on many people’s shortlist to challenge for championship honours this year. With the likes of Aidan McCarthy, Kealan Guyler and Niall Arthur to deal with up front, this could be a key battleground in the contest. The Combo have shown that they know how to find the green flags and the matchups of their forward line with the Kilmaley defence will be critical. Daire Keane, Conor Cleary and Tommy Barry put in a solid performance for Kilmaley in the half-back line last time out, while a lot of the momentum Inagh/Kilnamona built came from their half-forward line of McCarthy, Arthur and Evan McNamara.
Kilmaley will need to curb the influence of David Fitzgerald as the county man mopped up possession in his own half-back line to great effect. He could be forced into more of a defensive role this time around with Mikey O’Neill, Ken Kennedy and Eoin Enright all to be dealt with. The midfield battle will be a fascinating one as the return of Ger Arthur from his stint overseas gives Inagh-Kilnamona another option in that middle third. Mikey O’Malley and Cathal Darcy will get through plenty work but will need to put in a huge shift to cut down the amount of possession sent to a dangerous inside line.
When the sides met in this year’s U-21 hurling semi-final, it took extra-time to find a winner and there is no reason to suspect that anything will be decided in a hurry this time around either. If both sides hit form this could be a real shootout while their recent history and proximity adds more spice to an already tasty prospect. Discipline will be critical as Niall Arthur and Cian Moloney are both excellent free-takers while Pa Kelly continues to prove a scoring threat even on his own 45m line. Local bragging rights will erode any notion of either side holding back with the championship in mind, and a hesitant nod goes to Kilmaley to edge what should be a thriller.