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Tommy Reddan turns with the ball as he is closely shadowed by Tubber’s Joey Droney. Photography by Eugene McCafferty Smith O’Briens 0-17 Tubber 1-10

Stars align for Gleeson’s men


Killaloe have always had a healthy rivalry with Tipperary, with only the Shannon separating the town from nearest neighbours Ballina. Most famously depicted with memorable photos on the bridge ahead of the then novel All-Munster All-Ireland Final between Clare and Tipperary in 1997, there has always been no shortage of craic and banter from both sides on the divide.
That relationship could change on Sunday if Tipperary native Tony Gleeson can work the oracle of delivering an Intermediate hurling crown for Smith O’Brien’s in what is only the club’s second ever decider.
The Burgess clubman, who has been coaching at adult level since his teenage years is in his second coming for the Killaloe-Bridgetown based side, having coached them in 2018 and ’19 before taking a break to finish his masters degree last year.
However, the fact that he was so eager to come back on board as manager is a statement in itself of the potential that he sees in this group of players.
“I took the year out last year but that was out of necessity because I would have loved to stay with them, it’s just that I wasn’t able to give them the full commitment that they deserved. So when I got the opportunity to go back over them this year, I jumped at the chance particularly as I knew from talking to them that the hunger from the players was still there.
“The age profile of the panel is quite good, there’s a good mix of youth and experience including previous intermediate winners John Cusack and Pa Aherne so they’re a real balanced and committed group that want to win and want to progress which is what every coach wants to hear.”
Add in 2004 intermediate stalwarts Kevin McCarthy and Brendan Foley in his backroom team and it’s been a hugely encouraging return for Gleeson and Smith O’Brien’s who were forced to lick their wounds after being edge out by eventual winners Scariff after extra-time in last year’s semi-final.
“The lads went through two great battles last year against Corofin and Scariff that both went to extra-time. They eventually came out on the right side of the Corofin game having been a good few points down and it just went in the opposite direction against Scariff in a similar tight contest.
“Immediately after the Scariff game, they spoke about using that hurt for this year and that energy and determination has been very obvious from my point of view with every game we’ve played in league and championship up to now.
“You can definitely see that hurt in them and to their credit, they have channeled it in the right way and overall, it has been a hugely enjoyable year so far for the entire set-up right down to the assistance of our new stats team.”
They certainly redressed the balance by reaching their first final in 17 years a fortnight ago after accomplishing a unique double over Tulla. However maintaining their perfect intermediate final record will take a monumental effort as St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield have been the favourites to win the championship from the very outset.
“Look, St Joseph’s have been the team on everyone’s lips in the intermediate championship since the start of the year. The management team that they’ve put in place laid down a clear marker in terms of experience and ambition. This is also their third intermediate final in only a few years and they’ve scored something like 18 goals in their five championship matches so everyone know the major threat that they bring.
“All we can do is work hard and give it one big lash but just like the Tulla match the last day, we’re just treating it as just another game and another 60 minutes and that’s it.”
Not having the luxury of options of their opponents, the accumulation of games and the increasingly attritional weather conditions have taken their toll on the panel with Gleeson reporting serious injury concerns to key players ahead of Sunday’s winner-takes-all decider.
“We knew that we’d have injuries along the way but we definitely have more than we expected unfortunately. Cathal Stritch, John Cusack, Micheál Ryan and Keith Stritch are all big doubts and being four of our starting 15, we’ll try to give them every opportunity to stake a claim for a place but there’s a strong chance that at least two of them won’t make it in time for Sunday.”
With two big guns set to fall through the senior trapdoor in the coming fortnight, there has been been a more opportune time to gain promotion, something that Gleeson and Co. are acutely conscious of. However, it doesn’t change Smith O’Brien’s approach to Sunday’s final in Cusack Park at 2.45pm.
“Everyone knows the circumstances surrounding this year with two teams coming down for 2022 but being honest, we never set out our stall to reach a final, we’ve actually taken it quarter by quarter and it has allowed us to build up a head of steam.
“So Sunday is of course a massive occasion but our sole focus is performing in that first quarter against Doora/Barefield. I know it might sound like a cliche but it is exactly what brought to this stage so why should we abandon our methods now?.”

Path to the Final

Smith O’Brien’s

Round 1 at Clonlara
(Sunday, August 15th)
Smith O’Brien’s 2-21
O’Callaghan’s Mills 1-11

Round 2 at Clonlara
(Sunday, September 5th)
Smith O’Brien’s 3-21 Cratloe 0-7

Round 3 at Whitegate
(Sunday, September 19th)
Smith O’Brien’s 2-16 Tulla 0-19

Quarter-Final at O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge
(Sunday, October 3rd)
Smith O’Brien’s 0-17 Tubber 1-10

Semi-Final at O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge
(Saturday, October 16th)
Smith O’Brien’s 0-15 Tulla 0-10

by Eoin Brennan

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