Sixteen teams gather at the starting line as the Clare Senior Football Championship commences this weekend. Just one will claim the Jack Daly while the remaining fifteen will fall at various hurdles in the race for Jack. Páraic McMahon looks ahead to the weekend action.
A total of seven games take place in Round One of the Clare Senior Football Championship this weekend with the remaining tie of Doonbeg vs Miltown delayed till the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Winning at the weekend is a big incentive for all teams as it automatically ensures they regain their Senior status for 2016. The backdoor still gives teams an opportunity to have a say in how the Championship unfolds but the first round is always viewed as a chance to lay down a marker and dispel any relegation worries.
Clondegad vs Shannon Gaels 25/07/15 in Cooraclare at 15:00
The honour of kicking off the 2015 Championship falls upon the men of Clondegad and Shannon Gaels. Having come so close to relegation last year, Shannon Gaels are standing closest to the edge of the cliff that would see them drop down to Intermediate. A defeat at the weekend could be the start of their fall from this cliff and so they will need to bring their A game to prevent this.
Michael Liddane is now in charge of the Gaels having replaced Martin Keogh and Amy O’Shea. He will be looking to Fergal Kenny, Michael O’Donoghue, Shane Tubridy, John Paul O’Neill, Noel Kennedy and Darragh Bohannon to set the standard.
Clondegad are considered by many to be the coming team in Clare but since their promotion from Intermediate in 2011 they have yet to defeat one of the big teams. In order for them to get the respect from the big teams, they must first overcome one. They came up short to Kilmurry/Ibrickane at the quarter-final stage in 2014 and the aim must now be to get back to that stage and go further.
That journey begins in Cooraclare where Gary Brennan, Podge McMahon, Brian Carrigg and Eoghan Donnellan will play key roles, Shane Brennan is still overcoming a collarbone injury and this game may come too soon for the Chartered Physiotherapist. The men from the village of Ballynacally should have too much for a Gaels outfit that won’t throw in the towel until the final whistle.
Éire Óg vs Ennistymon 25/07/15 in Miltown at 17:00
Learning from past mistakes is how the human race progresses and bouncing back from physical and mental pain can be the making or breaking of teams. Éire Óg suffered hurt when losing the County Final and Cusack Cup Final in 2014, how they recover in this year’s Championship will determine their reputation for years to come.
With James Hanrahan and his management team staying on it appears the Townies are eager to learn from the last twelve months and claim a first County title since 2006. It’s within their capability but they need to show more drive, first they must worry about the challenge of Ennistymon and this is an ideal opportunity to lay out their stall for the year. Dean Ryan, Ciarán Russell, Davy O’Halloran, Conor Brennan, Eoin Glynn and Eimhin Courtney are the players that will lead the Ennis club’s challenge.
For too long now Ennistymon have been happy with underage success. The excuse that players need time to adjust to the Senior grade has now ran its course and 2015 is now or never for the men from the market town. Since 2009 their Championship has only lasted for three games each year, there has to be a realisation that they have more to offer and now is the time for them to deliver.
They have the youth and the experience so it is about doing themselves justice. Laurence Healy, Oisin Vaughan, Joe Dowling, David Davenport and Enda Ralph are some of the talented footballers within their ranks. They have a difficult test this weekend and they may just come up short in this one.
Lissycasey vs St Breckans 25/07/15 in Miltown at 19:00
Two teams that failed to leave any mark on the 2014 Championship go toe to toe in the second match as part of a Miltown double-header on Saturday evening. Since 2012 St Breckans have lost their first round game each year leaving them under extra pressure to perform with the threat of relegation constantly hanging over them.
Trained by Neil Hawes, St Breckans have given younger members of the panel big roles in recent years with the likes of Aidan Davidson, Maccon Byrne and Dale Masterson showing bags of potential. Having conceded 2-12 and 2-14 in their Championship outings last year, it is key that they are limit the amount of scoring opportunities as the heads drop when the opposition get on top. Along with the young brigade, Denis O’Driscoll and Pat Nagle are crucial to the North Clare club.
Kilrush man Aidan Daly is now in charge of the Lissycasey men succeeding Tyrone native Barry Donnelly. Daly will be looking for the 2007 Champions to bring their League form into Championship. League form doesn’t count for much when it comes to the Championship but the fact that Lissycasey are playing two divisions higher than Saturday’s opponents will be of huge advantage.
In their three 2014 Championship games, the Lissycasey men lost two and their exit at the hands of Éire Óg in Round Three has surely left some battle-wounds and a win in Miltown would do some good to ease the healing process. They are constantly blooding new players into the mix and recent underage success bodes well for the future. Joe Hayes, Martin O’Connor, Niall Kelly and Conor Finucane will be called upon for big displays. Lissycasey’s greater balance should see them to victory.
Cooraclare vs Wolfe Tones 25/07/15 in Clarecastle at 19:00
In what looks like the game of the day on Saturday, the 2014 Intermediate Champions face a side who reached the last four of the Senior competition only to lose to the eventual champions by four points.
Cooraclare have been relegated from the top tier of the League already this year but there is a difference between League and Championship. A team doesn’t become a poor one overnight and the Milesians haven’t either, they just need a stirring display to boost confidence and silence the doubters.
A change to the management has seen Michael Garry resign and Ger Lawlor succeed him. Cooraclare are used to being written off but with players like Rory Donnelly, Declan McMahon, Michael Kelly, Killian Roche and Pearse Lillis in their ranks it would be foolish to dismiss the Sky Blues.
Wolfe Tones have experienced the joys of County Championships and the lows of suffering relegation in the last few years. They are now aspiring to have more positive than negative experiences and maintaining their Senior status is their primary goal. The Tones get a perfect opportunity to achieve this against an opposition who will be filled with doubts following a disappointing Cusack Cup campaign.
One issue from the Tones’ Intermediate success was that it took them two attempts to shake off the challenge of Corofin in the County Final. At Senior level they cannot afford to pass up on opportunities to secure victory. Gary Leahy is the talisman for the Tones and he is ably assisted by brother Darragh, Chris Dunning, Ross O’Connor and Johnny Bridges.
It will be a tight game but Cooraclare should come out on top at the end of sixty minutes. Avoiding relegation is a big concern for the Shannon club and if they’re defeated on Saturday they should still bounce back to secure their status for 2016.
Kilmurry/Ibrickane vs Cratloe 26/07/15 in Lissycasey at 13:30
They say ‘there are no guarantees in life’ but when it comes to the Clare Senior Football Championship, an annual meeting between Cratloe and Kilmurry/Ibrickane is almost guaranteed.
Since Cratloe escaped from the Intermediate ranks in 2009, they have met Kilmurry/Ibrickane every year except 2014. The records show that Kilmurry/Ibrickane have won three of these clashes with the current dual champions boasting one single Championship victory over the Bricks since 2009.
Cratloe begin their three in a row conquest without the exuberant Podge Collins. Nonetheless the likes of Conor McGrath, Cathal McInerney, Sean Collins, Sean Chaplin and Pierce DeLoughrey still remain and will be central to their cause.
Having watched on as Cratloe captured success in 2014, Kilmurry/Ibrickane will take to the field with fire in their bellies focused on knocking the champions from the perch. They will feel they let their standards slip last year losing to both Éire Óg and St Senans Kilkee in the one campaign.
It’s been three years since the Bricks got reacquainted with Jack Daly as he nestled in the comfortable surroundings of Setrights Tavern for the best part of two years. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and Kilmurry need a win on Sunday. They will look to Enda Coughlan, Peter O’Dwyer, Keelan Sexton, Martin McMahon and Mark McCarthy to get that win.
While Cratloe have tasted great success in recent years Kilmurry/Ibrickane have watched on from the sidelines. This may just be enough to drive the Bricks on to victory and remember in the Championship meetings between the sides it stands 4-1 in favour of John Connolle’s side who look like they will increase that figure to five this weekend.
St Senans Kilkee vs O’Currys 26/07/15 in Doonbeg at 14:00
For both St Senans Kilkee and O’Currys they will view Sunday’s game as a great chance to maintain their Senior status for 2016.
Heading into the clash O’Currys have been dealt a mammoth blow with the confirmation that former Clare great Ger Quinlan tore his right cruciate and knee ligament which looks like it will end his twenty two year career. Players of Quinlan’s calibre are quiet rare and his absence will be felt by the Doonaha club.
Dinny McMahon’s side reached the quarter-finals and had eventual champions Cratloe under severe pressure in that clash. They’ve been relegated from the Cusack Cup and with Quinlan absent it will be up to Sean Haugh, Eoin Troy, Jim Downes, Nigel Murray and Sean Murphy to try fill the huge gap left in his wake.
Kilkee caused the shock of the 2014 Championship with a one point win over Kilmurry/Ibrickane. However from here their season went downhill and now is their chance to put the record straight.
Managed by Peter Muldoon the Saints will be counting on David Russell, Michael O’Shea, Darragh Kelly, Evan Garvey and Darren Owens to get their season off to a winning start. They haven’t reached the knockout stages since 2011 and they need to prevail to bring some momentum into the side.
Local derbies bring out the best in club players and it is a chance for both sets of players to really step up to the mark in Doonbeg. Kilkee alloyed by Quinlan’s absence for O’Currys will be expected to come out on top in this tie.
Kilrush Shamrocks vs St Josephs Doora/Barefield 26/07/15 in Kilmihil at 15:00
At the beginning of the year both these sides would pick out securing their status as their main objective and each team will be confident of doing so this Sunday.
Jimmy Murray’s Kilrush welcome back a couple of players previously unavailable due to emigration and the return of some key players will be a boost to their entire panel. Whether or not it will be enough to inspire them to victory remains to be seen.
The Shams reached the quarter-finals in 2013 but suffered two consecutive defeats in the 2014 Championship losing to Cooraclare and O’Currys. Their experience of competing in a relegation battle twelve months ago will inspire them to avoid a similar scenario. Darragh Bolton, Jim Young, Matthew Moloney, Gearóid O’Brien and Liam Madigan will need to be on fire for the twenty one time champions.
Reaching back to back finals in 2011 and 2012 left Doora/Barefield with the reputation of the coming team in Clare. Three years on and the County is still waiting. Having gone the last two years without featuring in the knockout stages they have fell down the pecking order with four defeats in their last six Championship games.
Mark Rafferty is no longer in charge of the Parish with the duo of Colm Clancy and John Conroy now patrolling the sideline. The pair will be looking to Alan O’Neill, Stephen Collins, Christy O’Brien, Cathal Duggan and Sean Flynn to get Doora/Barefield off and running in the 2015 Championship.
It will be a very tight contest and there will only be a kick of the ball in it when the game is in the melting pot. It may just come down to whichever team will cope best under pressure in such a situation and it appears that the Shams will be the team to do that.