THE ongoing shift in the balance of power on the club hurling scene in Clare was highlighted again last weekend. Those who might have thought that Clonlara’s rise to the top was just a flash in the pan were made to sit up and think again when the Clare champions moved a step closer to retaining the senior championship and league titles by beating Newmarket last Sunday.
It’s now 29 years since Newmarket last won the blue riband of Clare hurling and for a club that completed three three-in-a-rows and one four-in-a-row in the ’60s and ’70s, this is a lifetime.
All clubs will meet a lean period but for a club with Newmarket’s list of successes, to be so long without a senior title is a major concern. They have had their share of successes at underage level in modern times. Indeed, it’s because of their wins at minor A and U-21A level, that expectations have been so high for their senior team in the past half dozen years but they have come up short on each occasion.
As has been proven at inter-county level – and Limerick are a case in point – U-21 success does not automatically transfer on to senior level. There is little doubt but that Newmarket have some excellent young hurlers but making the step up to senior is proving particularly difficult.
Yet, Clonlara have managed to follow on from great underage successes to their present position where they are undoubtedly worthy Clare champions. This time two years ago, they were preparing for the intermediate final and opinions were divided as to whether or not they could win that game.
Questions have been asked many times in the past two years about their ability to play at the top level and each time they have been answered “yes”. Last Sunday’s win was, arguably, their best in that time. Newmarket’s march to the semi-final had been more impressive but when the pressure was on, the current stars of Clare hurling, the O’Donovans, O’Connell, Conlon, Honan and Moloney delivered yet again, just as they had done in Clare’s magnificent march to the All-Ireland U-21 title.
It’s not that long ago since Clonlara and South-East Clare neighbours Cratloe were battling it out at junior and intermediate levels. Now, if Cratloe can manage to beat Kilmaley this week, they will play for the biggest prize in Clare hurling.
Just as Newmarket’s failure to win major honours at senior level is a major talking point amongst GAA followers in the county, so too is the fact that Clarecastle struggled to avoid relegation from senior this year, Éire Óg failed to win promotion to senior level and the poor form of St Joseph’s, Doora-Barefield in the senior championship.
Clarecastle and Éire Óg each had one player on the All-Ireland-winning Clare U-21 hurling panel while St Joseph’s had none and these clubs are based in the parishes with the biggest population. These statistics would appear to back up the claim by club officials that the large majority of those living in these parishes continue to maintain their involvement with clubs in their native parishes.
That said, however, the reality is that, for the present at least, the powerbase in Clare hurling has moved away from the traditional areas and, on the evidence of Clonlara’s performance last week, they seem determined to hold on to their new-found status for some time to come.