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Clare Champion Hurling Analyst Fergie O'Loughlin

Off the Fence With Fergie O’Loughlin

It is a critical weekend of action as the last four spots in the race for the Canon will be filled.

There are four really good games ahead in Round 3, but the meeting of Cratloe and Kilmaley is the one that most attention will be fixed on. Both have been mentioned as championship contenders from the outset, but it is the fiasco that surrounded Kilmaley’s win over Whitegate that has had people talking most over the last two weeks. There have been numerous questions over what actually happened in Sixmilebridge that day and what effect it will have had on Kilmaley. It remains to be seen if the fallout will have had a detrimental impact on the dynamic of the management team and the preparation of the team for this game in particular, or will it be something that galvanises them for the challenge ahead?

On the Cratloe front, I still can’t believe how poor they were against Inagh-Kilnamona. They were badly organised and I just wonder how they will set up their team for this one. They may just get a slight smell of a chance with the scenario in Kilmaley but there are still questions about how they set up and what condition their players are in. I think it is now time for Cratloe to move Conor McGrath back into the forward line, and if you had McGrath inside with McInerney and Considine, it would frighten a lot of defences. They will need to have improved in almost every area from the last day and getting the right shape on the structure of their team will be key.

If you look at the Kilmaley forwards, everyone knows how potent they are. They will see a huge chance here to open that Cratloe full-back line if the space is left in front of them to exploit. Cratloe will need to pay attention to how they set up at the back to stop Moloney, O’Loughlin and Bracken from doing the damage. I am going to give the slight nod to Kilmaley on this one. If the problems of that day in Sixmilebridge has not damaged Kilmaley and everything is right in that dressing room, I think they will have too much for Cratloe to handle.

I was very impressed with Clooney-Quin two weeks ago, albeit against a poor Clarecastle side. Their tie with Feakle this weekend has the makings of a real cracker. It will be as psychical as we will see over the weekend and thoughts of 2017 will surely be reinforced by the Feakle lads for the revenge factor. A bit like we saw when Feakle played Crusheen, the space in Cusack Park might just suit the Clooney-Quin forwards that bit more than it will suit the Feakle defence. The question for Feakle is how they have recovered from such a tame second-half showing the last day. Who they detail to mark Peter Duggan is a big call for them and it might necessitate moving Eoin Tuohy from the centre-back slot to do the job if Duggan is on the wing. Likewise Clooney-Quin might have to gamble on losing some of Ryan Taylor’s impact by sacrificing him to pick up Shane McGrath because McGrath is the man that makes them tick. One area Feakle might be able to exploit is that Clooney-Quin half-back line who might struggle at times to keep the legs pumping if they are drawn out of position. Clooney-Quin will know that a much sterner test awaits that they got against Clarecastle but they should still have enough to get back to the quarter-finals.

When Eire Óg and Newmarket saw the draw both clubs would have nodded at each other and felt they had a chance of winning. It has all the makings of one that will go right to the wire and it could even go the distance before we get a winner. The manner in which Eire Óg lost to Clonlara won’t bother them too much but they have work to do defensively. David Reidy is the main man for them this year and Newmarket will know he will have to be watched. Eoin Hayes is a brilliant man-marker and he might get the nod to try and shackle Reidy. Eire Óg really need to get Shane O’Donnell more involved and get him influencing games, and maybe the key to that is leaving him inside with Danny Russell to see can they do the damage. At the other end, the match up with Aaron Fitzgerald and Stephen Kelly is one to really look forward to. Eire Óg can’t give those frees away to Colin Ryan and they will need to think about who picks him up from open play too. It really is an impossible game to call but I am just going to give the nod to Eire Óg to squeeze through but there will be nothing in it.

With all due respect to Wolfe Tones, I really think Ballyea will have licked their lips when they saw this draw. They will have refocused and will be ready to get back to playing to the strengths of their team with their best players in the right positions. For Wolfe Tones, I think they can play with a lot of freedom and have a cut off Ballyea and I am sure that is what they will be encouraged to do. Aron Shanagher will need minding and Jack Browne is the most likely candidate for that job.

Ballyea would want to be ready for the kitchen sink to be thrown at them but they should have way too much power. Tones will look to cut down the space in front of Deasy, with Daithi O’Connell maybe taking up a sweeper role, and work to try and bottle up the middle to stop those runs from Kelly. That is easier said than done though.

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