As the domestic season draws to a conclusion, I think great credit must be given to the clubs, players, officials and the CDSL for getting domestic soccer up and running again and bringing the season to safe and successful completion particularly as other leagues took the decision to bring their competitions to an abrupt end due to the Covid 19 crisis.
Before turning our attention to the quarter finals of the Clare Cup this coming weekend, I think it is a good time to reflect on some talking points of the past season in Clare soccer.
Probably the biggest success story this season for me has revolved around youths football in Clare and the near misses experienced by both the Clare youths team and in particular Bridge United. This is a club that has always produced players of quality and now has fantastic facilities to match, so to see their youths progress to the semi finals in both the provincial and national competition whilst maintaining their push for domestic honours is quite an accomplishment. We had a similar experience a number of years ago with Newmarket Celtic in playing a FAI and Munster junior semi final in the space of a week and like the Bridge, sadly came up short in both. The disappointment associated with such losses is very hard to take when you come so close and there are no prizes for teams beaten in semi finals either but as time passes by the realisation and sense of achievement for those players, management and the club itself will make them feel very proud of the season they just had and will surely give them the belief that the time is coming for them to get back to the summit of Clare soccer once again. It’s the least a club of such history deserves.
Speaking of summits, Newmarket Celtic once again, for the 7th time in 10 years has lifted the Clare Premier title. As a Newmarket clubman this is obviously music to my ears but the reality of the situation is that the standard in the Clare Premier is now probably at its lowest. Over the last two league seasons, Newmarket has taken 106 points from a possible 108 available having only conceded 16 goals in 36 games. I have firsthand knowledge of the quality & talent available in the squad so the previously mentioned statistics are more of a reflection on how good they have been over the last decade without being disrespectful to their achievements. When you add in the fact that they are now pursuing their 9th Clare Cup in a row it also highlights the squads durability and will to win given that its knockout football.
The top 3 teams in the league aside, in its current format the division is simply predictable and underwhelming. Case in point relating to one club who got promoted from the First Division last season who finished their league season 30 points behind the eventual champions and then found themselves in the top tier only to become cannon fodder on weekly basis offering walkovers at will. Perhaps the blame does not fall solely at the clubs but like it has been said before, it’s now time for the league hierarchy to address the issues that have been at play for quite some time and think outside the box.
Avenue United B finally and deservedly got their hands on the First Division trophy after coming so close over the last few years and who would now bet against them appearing in their 3rd cup final in since 2012? Their quarter final tie with Shannon Olympic has the potential to be the game of the weekend in the Clare Cup and it is one I fully expect them to prevail in. With the semi final draw having already been decided, Avenue’s second string has a massive opportunity to once again make another final and perhaps make it third time lucky.
Shannon Hibernians and Newmarket Celtic A square off for the second time in as many weeks with the Reds having tested the new goal nets in Riverside park 8 times on the last occasion. Shannon Hibs can approach this game with the freedom of having secured their Premier status and will have nothing to lose. However, I would be very surprised to see Newmarket fall at this stage and especially going into the game having received a stern test from a much organised Shannon town team in the last round
which will stand to them.
With the games coming thick and fast over the last number of weeks, every squad still involved in the cup is facing a difficult test. None more so than Bridge United B and Connolly, who both have had successful league campaigns and now face off tonight in order to see who will face Avenue A in the quarter final this weekend. On paper you would expect Avenue A to beat either team and I’m sure David Russell and his management team will have left no stone unturned in preparing for this cup match. The season promised much for this Avenue team and it appeared that they were making inroads on the league domination held by Newmarket Celtic. However, dropping points along the way to Turnpike and Lifford as well as losing the infamous 6 minute match put an end to their quest for their first league title since 2013. With all that being said, there is enough talent in the squad to upset Newmarket in a potential semi final and possibly re-create the same history that we saw last year in having an all club Clare final. It’s not an unrealistic shout.
The last quarter final pits Division Two side Manus Celtic A and Premier team Sporting Ennistymon. If there is going to be slip up by a Premier team then this is where it will happen. With Ennistymon’s involvement in the Clare Football championship season now at an end, it is likely that Sporting Ennistymon will be back to their full compliment and will be able to call on their experienced dual players.
It is a tough one to call but I think Sporting to shade it on penalties.
For supporters of Clare Soccer it is also worth paying attention to the Youths cup semi finals taking
place this week. The top two teams in the Youths league at present are Bridge United and Shannon
Town and if results go their way against Avenue and Tulla Utd respectively, they will set up a mouth
watering cup final which could potentially be the game of the Clare leagues season.
Finally, a word of congratulations to Shannon Town and their Under 16 team who have advanced to a semi final of the National Cup. Like Bridge United at Youths level, the achievement of reaching this stage alone of the competition is historical and after securing a home draw in the semi final against Carrigaline, they are certainly good enough to go one further.
There’s no coincidence that the clubs who are advancing furthest both inside and outside the county are the ones that have the best facilities