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St. Joseph's Doora-Barefield's Jack Hannan in action against Smith O'Brien's Michael Ryan and Eddie Bourke during their 2022 Clare Cup Division 1B Round 9 clash. Photograph by Natasha Barton.

No crystal ball required for Clare Cup commencement

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Similar to the demise of the National Hurling League in terms of significance in the inter-county calendar as all eyes are firmly fixed on championship fare, the new split season for all its hugely positive attributes have essentially further diminished the Clare Cup as well.
Without county seniors and initially at least Under 20’s too, the appetite for league silverware is predominantly replaced by the hope of finding new players and honing squads ahead of the summer assault on the Canon Hamilton or Paddy Browne cups.
It wouldn’t be so bad if every club had a similar level of preparation ahead of this weekend’s throw-in as even allowing for the discrepancy of some teams having bigger inter-county contingents than others, at least managers would know that their opponents are taking it seriously.
However, the chief problem is that much like Clare’s bloodless recent visit to Wexford, one can expect one-sided results that will have no bearing on the championship if those sides were to lock horns once more.
One only has to look at last Friday’s Division 1A opener between Kilmaley and Broadford as Exhibit A, with 15 points the winning margin for the defending champions.
So would incentivising the competition work? I mean the prize money on offer when The Clare Champion sponsored it was a very attractive bounty for the winners and even the runners-up. The bigger question is should the Clare Cup need to be incentivised as after all, there are only two cups that a senior team can win each year so how could any team afford to turn their noses up at a Clare Cup crown?
Unquestionably there is a need to stimulate the Senior B competition which, without the enticement of financial reward or at least a set of jerseys, has almost become a stigma to win at this stage.
With the hinted prospect of a potential admission fee for the Clare Cup from 2024 onwards, it’s the die-hards that will be hit hardest once more but realistically it would be the death knell for the secondary competition that realistically needs more profile promotion and a life support machine treatment rather than any additional barriers.
These are pondering that won’t be solved ahead of this weekend’s opening round that sees the remainder of the 1A and the start of the Division 1B, 2, 3 and 4 leagues get underway.
At the end of the day, the lure of home should win out. As with a new sponsor Future Ticketing on board and supporters eager to get behind their local team and see what developments or prospects are emerging through the ranks, the opportunity to get valuable regular game-time and testing players against experienced senior players cannot be underestimated either.

Clare Cup Division 1A Round 1

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Inagh-Kilnamona v Sixmilebridge at Inagh, Saturday 2pm
Regardless of the numerous health warnings attached to the Clare Cup’s form guide, especially at the early stages of the season, this heavyweight fixture still stands out as the tie of the opening round. Sean Stack will have learned a lot about his side’s personnel after returning to the helm of his native Sixmilebridge in 2022 while it’s an exciting new chapter for 2021 county finalists Inagh-Kilnamona as Louis Mulqueen looks to find the final piece in their championship jigsaw.

Inagh-Kilnamona Management: Louis Mulqueen (Manager); Hugh Paddy O’Byrne, Joe Ryan; Steven Cusack (S&C)

Sixmilebridge Management: Sean Stack (Manager); Adrian Chaplin, Jim Fitzgerald, Michael O’Halloran

Ballyea v Newmarket-on-Fergus at Ballyea, Saturday 3pm
Despite their clear current dominance, re-emphasised by garnering back-to-back Canon Hamilton crowns for the very first time last October, the protracted search for a replacement for three-time county winning manager Robbie Hogan certainly won’t have aided Ballyea’s already difficult annual Clare Cup woes due to a vast dual inter-county contingent. It should open the door of opportunity for the Blues who are relatively unburdened in that regard.

Ballyea Management: Leonard McNamara; Kevin Sheehan (Coach)

Newmarket-on-Fergus Management: Tomás Ryan (Manager); James Carrig, Alan Duggan, Cathal Fleming (Coaches/Selectors); Brian Clancy (Analysis); Derek Morris (S&C); John Earls (Physio)

Crusheen v Clonlara at Crusheen, Saturday 4pm
They clashed three times in 2022, with Clonlara winning the latter two in the Clare Cup Semi-Final and Senior B Quarter-Final. Clon lost the Clare Cup decider [Kilmaley} but did make amends to cement a three-in-a-row of Senior B crowns [Feakle]. In doing so, Clonlara went back to their 2008 county winning roots and Crusheen have done likewise with the return of Michael Browne, the winning manager from 2010 and ’11 alongside then players Paddy Vaughan, Gearoid O’Donnell, Alan Tuohy and Cronan Dillon.

Crusheen Management: Michael Browne, Paddy Vaughan, Gearoid O’Donnell, Alan Tuohy, Cronan Dillon, Niall Griffin; Aidan Harte, Pa McEvoy (Coaches); Conor Stack (Physio); Orla O’Donnell, Helen McMahon (Medical)

Clonlara Management: Donal Madden (Manager); Niall Hogan, Ger O’Connell, Alan Murnane, Mike Stritch; Eric Finn (S&C)

Feakle v O’Callaghan’s Mills at Feakle, Saturday 4pm
An early East Clare duel between two sides that haven’t had a settled start so far to 2023 due to managerial recruitment difficulties. They did lock horns as recently as October when Feakle prevailed in a well-contested Senior B Semi and in general they have been the more consistent side albeit that the Mills did contest the 2020 senior decider. The newly-promoted Mills, despite losing several core players, are one of only four clubs to have two teams in the top three divisions.
Feakle Management: Ger Conway (Manager); Ciaran Callinan (Coach); Stevie Moloney, Donal O’Grady (Selectors)

O’Callaghan’s Mills Management: Paul Keane (Coach); Sean McNamara (Selector); Declan Noonan (S&C)

Clare Cup Division 1B Round 1

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Scariff v St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield at Scariff, Saturday 3pm
Two of the last three intermediate champions who are currently on a high following hugely positive seasons in 2022. Scariff alongside amalgamation partners Ogonnelloe secured a first ever Under 21A title just before Christmas while the Parish finally reclaimed their senior status following a succession of heartbreaks. They also met in last year’s opener which saw St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield come out on top, with a similar result, this time on away soil, not unrealistic.

Scariff Management: Mark McKenna (Manager); Jim Minogue (Coach); Michael Long, Michael Moroney, Donal Moloney, Ger Rodgers

St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield Management: OIsin O’Brien (Manager/Coach); Liam Clohessy (Assistant Coach); Denis Maher, Shane O’Grady, Dave Morrissey, Kevin Dilleen, Vinnie Sheedy (Selectors & Assistants); Evan Hennessy (S&C); Kitman: Sean Conroy

Cratloe v Tubber @ Páirc Uí hEithir Cratloe, Saturday 4pm
A rare Conor Earley derby will not involve the man himself this time around as Cratloe and Tubber have reshuffled their managerial packs during the closed season. Two divisions separated the sides last season, with Cratloe’s demotion from the top tier and Tubber’s Division 2 title win teeing up this unique clash not seen since the North Clare side were senior almost a decade ago. The home side will be understandably favourites as they seek an immediate return to Division 1A.

Cratloe Management: Joe O’Gorman (Manager); Kieran Bermingham (Coach); Tim Danaher, Barry Duggan (Selectors); Oscar O’Dwyer (S&C); Thomas O’Connor, Dermot Quain

Tubber Management: Mike Finn (Manager); Mike Coen (Coach); Declan Ryan, Justin McMahon (Selectors); Rosaleen Monahan (Physio)

Wolfe Tones v Parteen-Meelick at Shannon, Saturday 4pm
While Clare’s newest club entity were to the fore in the recent Under 21C Championship that they should have won, an exciting first glimpse of Parteen-Meelick at adult level comes this Saturday when Denis Barry brings his side to Shannon. New Wolfe Tones manager will know all about the South East Clare side though, having played with Meelick and managed Parteen which should add an extra dimension to an already intriguing opening encounter.

Wolfe Tones Management: Conor Dolan (Manager); Gary Fitzgibbon, Alan Cunningham; Conor Shannon (S&C)

Parteen-Meelick Management: Denis Barry (Manager/Coach); Noel Ryan (Coach); Roddy McDermott, Benny McEvoy (Selectors); Paul Harman (S&C); Claire Gilligan (Physio); Brendan Fitzgerald (Kitman); Ronan Lynch, Dylan Healy (Stats)

Whitegate v Clarecastle at Whitegate, Saturday 4pm
Motivation certainly won’t be an issue for hosts Whitegate after being relegated by Clarecastle in a thrilling senior relegation play-off last September before doubling the dose (Clarecastle/Ballyea) in the Intermediate Camogie Semi-Final. Encounters between the pair have been frequent predominantly at Clare Cup 1B level and invariably in the opening round, with the spoils shared evenly in recent times with two wins apiece in the last four meetings.

Whitegate Management: Terence Fahy (Manager); Jarlath Garvey, Eric MInogue, Barry Fahy, Adrian Hynes, Dermot Hayes, Stephen Malone, David Pearl; Fiona Sampson (Physio); Cathy Kolbohm (Nutritionist)

Clarecastle Management: Eric Flynn (Manager); Colin Lynch (Coach); Colin Higgins, James McMahon, Kieran McDermott; Trevor Slattery (S&C)

Smith O’Brien’s v Clooney-Quin at Killaloe, Saturday 4.30pm
Two sides that tasted relegation in 2022, with Clooney-Quin losing their Division 1A status whereas Smith O’Brien’s suffered an immediate championship demotion to intermediate despite taking down county senior finalists Inagh-Kilnamona. In hindsight, both trapdoors may well be blessings in disguise as the absence of Clooney-Quin’s sizeable inter-county contingent wouldn’t be conducive to thriving in the top tier while Smith O’Brien’s have also lost a few key performers.

Smith O’Brien’s Management: Alex Simpson (Manager); Finbar McCarthy (Coach); Stephen Howard, Derek Conway (Selectors); Elvis Baxter (Kitman)

Clooney-Quin Management: Tommy Corbett (Manager); Barry Corbett (Coach); Tony McMahon, Ronan McMahon, Brian McAllister (Selectors); Victor O’Riordan (S&C); Kathleen Doyle (Physio); Liam Keating, Daniel Palache (Video Analysis)

Clare Cup Division 2 Round 1

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Tulla v Ogonnelloe at Dr. Daly Park Tulla, Saturday 3pm
Tulla’s surge to last year’s intermediate final certainly couldn’t have been foreseen when floored by Junior A champions Ogonnelloe in the opening round by 1-16 to 0-14. Having struggled to recover from their senior relegation trapdoor in 2019, perhaps it was the perfect wake-up call for the East Clare underachievers as it left no more room for error. They are certainly forewarned this time around but whether they are forearmed will only be realised on Saturday.

Tulla Management: Jim McInerney (Manager); Michael Cummins (Coach); Declan Hogan (Selector)

Ogonnelloe Management: Michael Sheedy (Manager); Martin Conlon (Coach/S&C); Johnny McMahon, Aidan Lynch, Billy Cunnane

Éire Óg v Bodyke at Éire Óg, Saturday 4pm
Twenty five championship places separated these sides based on their 2022 performances that saw the Townies come within a whisker of securing a first senior title in 32 years whereas Bodyke failed to reach the business end of the intermediate version following back-to-back quarter-final appearances in 2020 and ’21. Éire Óg’s vast inter-county crew in both codes has dictated new surroundings in Division 2 but they will be eager to make it a holiday rather than home.

Éire Óg Management: Mattie Shannon, Gerry O’Connor, Ronan Cooney, Barry Nugent, Liam Cronin

Bodyke Management: Sean Doyle (Manager/Coach); Patsy O’Donnell, Liam Doyle, Ger McNamara (Selectors); Jamie Fitzgibbon (S&C)

O’Callaghan’s Mills v Corofin at Hamilton Park Kilkishen, Sunday 11am
Two clubs on the rise in recent seasons with Corofin’s dual surge ending in championship semi-final finishes in both senior football and intermediate hurling while the Mills won a Junior A and contested a senior final in 2020. Being a first team, Corofin will be favourites as they look to make amends for their dual Under 21A Final woes either side of Christmas. The Mills’ chief aim will be to consolidate their Division 2 and intermediate statuses as they expect to lose key players to their flagship side.

O’Callaghan’s Mills Management: TJ McNamara, PJ O’Connell, Joe O’Gorman, Dermot Moroney

Corofin Management: Joe Cahill (Manager/Coach); Pat Curtis, John Fitzgerald (Selectors); Thomas Whelan, Darren Malone, Bernard Madigan (Stats); John Williams, Donal O’Loughlin, Geraldine Cahill, Tony Killeen, Joe Killeen (Backroom Personnel)

Ruan v Inagh-Kilnamona at Ruan, Sunday 11am
Neighbours Ruan and Inagh-Kilnamona will both be looking to redress the balance after underwhelming intermediate championship campaigns in 2022. Ruan soared to the semi-finals in 2021 but twelve month later, failed to get out of their group despite three teams advancing to the business end. Inagh-Kilnamona meanwhile have been flirting with relegation from intermediate but have the ability to be able to overcome any team on their day.

Ruan Management: Leon Quirke (Manager); Pakie Roughan, Martin Minehan (Coaches); Pat Meaney (Selector)

Inagh-Kilnamona Management: Paul McInerney, Pat Barry, Flan Barry

Sixmilebridge v Newmarket-on-Fergus at O’Garney Park Sixmilebridge, Sunday 4.30pm
An always unmissable derby, no matter what the level, but with these second strings last clashing a mer five months ago in the intermediate championship quarter-final, there will be more familiarity than most neighbouring duels.
The ‘Bridge won that day by nine points and will be slight favourites to maintain that hold in what is an ideal start to the new season before their flagship sides will compete in the final round of the Clare Cup in Mid-June.

Sixmilebridge Management: Pat Keane, Eamonn Healy

Newmarket-on-Fergus Management: Neil Ryan (Manager); Donagh Keogh, Bob Enright, Pat Freeman (Coaches/Selectors); David Barrett (Analysis); Derek Morris (S&C); John Earls (Physio)

Clare Cup Division 3 Fixtures

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Clare Cup Division 4 Fixtures

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