CUP final day is always a special occasion in Clare.
Adding to the excitement ahead of this Sunday’s Clare Junior Cup final is the fact that holders Newmarket Celtic are not just seeking to retain the title but to be crowned cup champions for a record sixth year in-a-row.
Standing between them and that achievement are their neighbours and great rivals Bridge United, who have some close to beating them on a number of occasions in recent years only to come up short on most of those occasions.
Two years ago, these clubs met in the cup final, when many of those who will line out this week were in opposition. Last year, Bridge United put in a massive effort to win the Premier League title, only to be pipped on the final day by Newmarket, who were retaining the title. This year, Newmarket lost out on final day, when they went down to Shannon Town, having led by two goals.
Having struggled a bit at the start of the season, Bridge United eventually finished in third place in the league.
Newmarket have a very strong panel from which to select their squad for Sunday. They have two current Irish junior internationals in Stephen Kelly, recently named as the Irish junior player of the year, and Eoin Hayes, the club captain.
Add to those Paddy Purcell, captain of last season’s Oscar Traynor winning panel, Dave McCarthy, Eoin O’Brien and All-Ireland winning hurler Colin Ryan, who has been a regular with both club and county this season, and it’s very difficult to predict anything but a Newmarket win.
That said, Bridge United also have a strong panel from which to select their team. It includes Darren Murphy, who has represented Clare at Oscar Traynor level, Kieran Quinlan, an experienced member of the squad, Derek Fahy, Jon Okoro, Mike McNamara and team captain Darragh Fitzgerald.
They will be the first to admit that they are still hurting from not having won the league title a year ago, having led from the start to the final day.
They have seen how red-hot favourites Newmarket went down to Shannon Town on the final day of this season’s league two weeks ago and will have taken heart from that.
Newmarket, who have had little break in the past three seasons, may be a bit tired and the Bridge will hope to capitalise, should that prove to be the case.
On the other hand, Newmarket know that this is their last chance for silverware this season and having enjoyed so much success in recent years, they won’t want to end this campaign without a title.
Their greater experience should give them an edge and while it’s likely to be a close affair and may well require extra time, Newmarket get the nod to bring this title home for a sixth successive year.
By sports editor Seamus Hayes