Four teams remain in the hunt for the Canon Hamilton and two cracking games are on the cards as Sixmilebridge, Crusheen, Kilmaley and Clonlara all aim to book their spot in all-important County final.
Clonlara vs Kilmaley 19/09/15 in Cusack Park at 17:00
Although they have taken different routes to get to this juncture, the goal for Clonlara and Kilmaley is certainly the same.
Unbeaten in the 2015 Championship, Clonlara have still played the same amount of games as the teams who had to travel through Round Three such as Kilmaley. That is because they drew their opening game with Clarecastle and really that was the biggest scare they have got in this year’s Clare SHC. The replay was a facile win as was their Round Two victory over O’Callaghans Mills while they were fortunate Newmarket decided to roll over in the second half of their quarter-final which allowed them ease through to the last four.
Does this mean that if Clonlara were to be tested for the full sixty minutes against Kilmaley that they would struggle or does it mean they are fresh going into this game? The latter is certainly true and so that would help them in competing with Kilmaley for the full sixty minutes if that is the case. Sean Stack is in his first year in charge of the 2008 Champions and is bringing his own unique stamp to the team that includes deploying Clare attacker John Conlon at centre-back while neither of the Galvin brothers have played a full game under the Sixmilebridge man.
Clonlara are hitting big tallies in each of their games; they have hit a total of 6-76 in their four Championship games. Crucially they are not totally dependent on one specific scorer and each day out it is a different player that is grabbing the headlines. The fact that they could afford to only bring on the Galvin brothers at half-time was key to their last eight win over the Blues but whether this will work on Saturday remains to be seen. Stack will be counting on John Conlon, Cathal O’Connell, Darach Honan, Micheál O’Loughlin, Cathal O’Connell, Domhnall O’Donovan, Nicky O’Connell and the Galvin brothers to get Clonlara into their first County final since 2009.
Reaching the last four is an achievement for Kilmaley considering twelve months ago they were in a position where they had to fight to retain their Senior status. They won that fight for survival and now they comes a bigger battle as they attempt to overcome Clonlara who could arguably be labelled the sleeping giant of Clare hurling. It has been eleven years since Kilmaley last reached the County Final and that was the last time they lifted the Canon Hamilton overcoming St Josephs Doora/Barefield in the County decider.
With a bunch of underage medals in their back pockets, Kilmaley have a team filled with confident and capable young hurlers. Mixed in with that is the experience of some key players with six members of the 2004 starting team still lining out with the current crop. PJ Kennedy and his management are trusting the youth with nineteen year olds Brian Cahill and Michael O’Malley lining out at midfield in their quarter-final win while over a third of the starting team picked up County U21 medals earlier on in the year.
Having been defeated by Ballyea in Round Two, they avenged that result with a last-gasp goal from Eamonn Bracken in extra time securing their spot in the semi-finals. Ballyea were wasteful in that outing and Kilmaley will know they won’t get the same amount of opportunities this weekend. They are minus the services of Conor Cleary, Martin O’Connor and Colin McGuane and so they will need Eoin Enright, Daire Keane, Michael O’Malley, Aidan McGuane, Michael O’Neill and Diarmaid McMahon at their best.
Based on their fire-power up front and the options on the bench, Clonlara should prevail in this one. However if this is to come down to a fight in the final few minutes Kilmaley have shown that they can pack a punch and the fact there seems to be some unity lacking with the South East Clare men would seem to suggest Kilmaley can deliver a knockout blow, that they can but if Clonlara are ever going to return to the big stage it has to be this weekend.
Sixmilebridge vs Crusheen 20/09/15 in Cusack Park at 13:00
It’s a repeat of the 2011 County Final as Sixmilebridge and Crusheen cross swords with a place in the final on offer.
Remarkably Sixmilebridge remain unbeaten in Championship and Clare Cup in 2015 and that is the clearest evidence one needs in seeing that they have been the form team in the County all year. They knocked reigning Champions, Cratloe out of the race for the Canon Hamilton in the quarter-finals with just a point to spare at the final whistle having played with an extra man for fifty eight minutes.
These sides have already met in the 2015 Clare SHC with two points the difference as the Bridge and Niall Gilligan in particular who hit 0-10 dominating proceedings. In each of their three games, they have had a different standout player for each with Shane Golden cleaning up against Éire Óg, Gilligan did the damage versus Crusheen while 0-06 from Cathal Malone proved invaluable in their quarter-final win over Cratloe.
John O’Meara’s men welcomed back Jamie Shanahan after a lengthy spell on the sidelines in their last outing and he is tipped to get a starting spot this weekend in place of the injured Alan Mulready. After letting the Canon Hamilton slip at the earliest possible stage in the 2014 campaign, the Bridge are determined to reclaim the Canon and to do that they must first beat Crusheen. Niall Gilligan, Seadna Morey, Aidan Quilligan, Cathal Malone, Caimin Morey, Shane Golden and Aidan Quilligan will be called upon to get the desired result.
Countless times in recent years, Crusheen have defied the odds despite being written off. They head into this encounter without Jason Greene while Cathal Dillon is a major doubt. They are two key defenders and with the Sixmilebridge attack on fire could prove to be costly losses. With Crusheen it is when their backs are to the wall that they really shine and they will be hoping the same will apply on Sunday afternoon.
John Carmody’s men had little fuss in their wins over Inagh/Kilnamona and Clooney/Quin. In their Round Three clash with Éire Óg they looked to be in trouble but rode out the storm and are still standing. They have lost two games all year, going down to Newmarket-on-Fergus in the Clare Cup and Sixmilebridge in the Clare SHC. One of the main reasons they lost out to the Bridge was the decision to play Cian Dillon at centre-forward which allowed Niall Gilligan to run riot. Time will tell if they have learned from their past mistakes.
Arguably Crusheen have been the most consistent team in the County in recent years, the fact that they are the only team of the Millennium to retain the County title says it all. They will need to be at their best if they’re to overcome Sixmilebridge who have serious momentum and belief behind them. Whatever master-plan the Blood & Bandages come up with, Cian Dillon, Alan Brigdale, Gearoid O’Donnell, Conor O’Donnell, Donal Tuohy, Gerry O’Grady, Paddy Vaughan and Alan Tuohy will play central parts in it.
Sixmilebridge are favourites to win the County title and rightly so. If they get going up front Crusheen will struggle to stop them, they will need someone of Seadna Morey’s calibre in the centre of the park dictating matters and secure the win. With Crusheen they are never beaten till the final whistle and if they were to win at the weekend it would be up there with their best but the Bridge have been a different beast in 2015 and that should see them through.