At the beginning of the year few individuals would have correctly predicted the final four teams in the race for Jack Daly but each team will fancy their chances of progression in the semi-finals this weekend having earned their place in this stage of the competition.
Of the remaining teams the last to win the County Championship was Cooraclare back in 1997. Seven years previous Miltown won the title while Clondegad and St Breckans are both attempting to win their first title.
St Josephs Miltown vs St Breckans 26/09/15 in Cusack Park at 17:15
St Breckans are the sole side left in the Clare Senior Football Championship that have suffered defeat in this year’s campaign. They will need to make full use of the experience from that defeat come Saturday evening when they face a fancied Miltown outfit.
Written off in the opening game of the Championship, St Breckans overcame Lissycasey after extra time to put the wheels in motion for the year. They fell short against Kilrush in Round Two but rallied with wins against St Josephs Doora/Barefield and got their revenge on the Shams in the quarter-final. Winning that last eight tie says a lot about Breckans’ mentality in that they will make mistakes but crucially they learn from them.
In order for the North Clare men to prevail they will need to have done extra homework. They must acknowledge they spurned several goal chances in their last encounter and if chances come on Saturday they have to be taken. Pat Nagle, Dennis O’Driscoll, Dale Materson, Aidan Davidson and Maccon Byrne are some of the key names in the Breckans starting fifteen.
Intermediate Champions in 2013, Miltown went on to reach the Munster Final but lost by three points. Since that defeat the Michael Neylon managed side have improved in every aspect. They are one of the top Senior teams in the County and have proved they are able to match the best. Although they had a nervy final ten minutes in the quarter-final clash with Ennistymon, the fact that they survived will really stand to the Miltown men.
The twelve time Champions need to supply their talented attack with plenty of ball in Cusack Park on Saturday evening. If they are to dominate around the middle of the field it will be telling on the scoreline. They are without Conor Cleary and Seanie Malone for this tie and a few weeks recovery could see the duo return and that will be spur their teammates on. Eoin Cleary has been one of the standout players for Miltown and he will be assisted by Gordon Kelly, Enda O’Gorman, Kieran Malone and Eoin Curtin in their quest for glory.
Seeing as a place in the final both sets of players will be willing to go that extra mile with at every opportunity. The team that is willing to sacrifice more will get the ultimate reward for it. If St Breckans can quieten some of Miltown’s key players and keep their own scoreboard ticking over it will stand to them, however Miltown will need to rattle the net and they should do this which would send them to their first Senior County Final in twenty four years.
Clondegad vs Cooraclare 27/09/15 in Kilmihill at 15:30
In order to take the reins of a particular kingdom you have to slay a giant or two and both Clondegad and Cooraclare have done by defeating 2014 Champions, Cratloe on their path to the semi-finals.
In the lead-up to this game there is a lot of talk about how Cooraclare will deal with Gary Brennan. First and foremost they will need to ensure their own house is in order before they worry about the difficult task Brennan will pose. Cooraclare have scored 3-31 in three Championship games while Clondegad have hit 4-39. That shows that of the two, Clondegad are more effective in front of goal so Ger Lawlor’s side will need to incorporate a rigid defensive system that cannot be broken down easily.
The Milesians haven’t players of Brennan in their line-up but what they do have is highly-committed players who will work their socks off. So while Brennan is likely to win the aerial battle, there must be barriers in place to ensure that is all he wins. They are aware their performance needs to improve from the O’Currys game but if they bring the workrate that was there in abudance versus Cratloe then Cooraclare will fancy their chances. Rory Donnelly, Damien Burke, Pearse Lillis, Conor Marrinan and Thomas Downes will need to be at their best come Sunday.
It’s fair to say that apart from the quarter-final, Clondegad have not been put under sufficient pressure by the opposing team. They had facile wins over Shannon Gaels and O’Currys in the early stages of the Clare SFC but crucially Michael Hehir managed side have been passing these tests and they won’t care as long as the result stands in their favour.
Arguably Clondegad are now stronger than they have ever been. Their team is extremely balanced and despite having a player of Gary Brennan’s calibre they are not totally dependent on the Clare Captain. Key to their win over Cratloe was their ability to win the breaks and they will need to continue to do this while also causing damage on the scoreboard. Along with Brennan, they will be counting on Podge McMahon, Eoghan Donnellan, Shane Brennan, Tony Kelly, Gearoid O’Connell and Eoin Griffin to secure a coveted County Final spot.
Interestingly Cooraclare are the only semi-finalists who were at this stage twelve months ago and the experience of being in the last four will really stand to them. If Cooraclare can get on top from the off there is nothing to stop them picking up the win but the greater balance of the Ballynacally men may just be enough to see them through.