Sixty minutes separate Cooraclare and St Josephs Miltown from claiming Jack Daly and whoever comes out on top will bridge a significant gap, it’s been eighteen and twenty five years respectively since either were Clare Senior Football Champions.
Chances are there isn’t a person in the County who predicted that it would be Miltown and Cooraclare who would contest the decider but both are in the final on merit and with two very confident parishes behind them the expectation from each camp is to be crowned County Champions.
Looking at each side’s path to the final, it’s clear Cooraclare have come through the more difficult side with wins over Wolfe Tones na Sionna, Cratloe, O’Currys and Clondegad to boast. However Miltown’s journey has not been a stroll in the park having overcome Doobeg and Ennistymon not once but twice while it was easier than expected vs St Breckans in the last four. Throughout the Championship, the Milesians have hit a total of 7-41 and conceded 5-41 which clearly shows how important goals have been in their year and will continue to be at the weekend.
Interestingly manager Ger Lawlor has already won four Senior Championships across the country with various teams and has yet to lose a Senior County Final. Indeed the parish of Cooraclare will be praying his winning record stays intact. In order for this to happen they need to limit their amount of missed chances in front of goal, if they fail to take their opportunities it will dent their confidence whilst at the same time giving their opponents plenty of momentum. Lawlor has plenty of experienced players in their ranks but for all the games they have played none of them have featured on the biggest day in Clare football, how they react to the occasion will be decisive.
Like their counterparts, Miltown too changed their management at the beginning of the year with former Clare selector and Cusack Cup winning manager with the club in 2010, Michael Neylon taking charge. His influence has been very positive with the 1990 Champions unbeaten in this year’s campaign. It all began with a two point win over Doonbeg on the first day of August, it could be said that overcoming one of the heavyweights gave the 2013 Intermediate Champions the belief that they were good enough to compete with anyone in Clare.
The Brian Curtin captained outfit have only scored three goals in the Championship but have yet to concede a green flag with Sean O’Brien collecting a clean sheet in each outing of the Clare SFC. In total they have scored 3-44 and have conceded 0-40 in four games. With a number of players such as Seanie Malone and Conor Cleary returning from injury, Neylon and his management will have a fine pedigree of players to choose from and how they utilise the bench will be key this weekend.
When Cooraclare last tasted success in 97 they were also victorious in the Minor grade winning the B Championship with current players Michael Kelly, Conor Marrinan, Andrew O’Neill, Michael McMahon and Rory Donnelly Minor medal recipients seventeen years ago. In 2015 they were crowned Minor A Champions with the likes of Pearse Lillis, Sean O’Donoghue, Killian Roche and Jack Morrissey all Minor medallists on the Senior panel. Will this unique feat of the Milesians being successful in both grades in the one year continue?
Remarkably having played Intermediate two years ago as their standing suggests Miltown are now one of the top teams in the Banner County. It’s not about being one of the better teams for them it is about being the best and a win on Sunday will confirm this. No one can deny them their spot in the final and the momentum gained from coming back to pip Ennistymon in the last eight will be invaluable.
Key performers on Sunday will be both goalkeepers; should Miltown concede a goal their reaction will be crucial while Killian Roche has like Sean O’Brien been reliable all year. Both backlines will need to dictate matters and whoever wins the battle in the back will set the tone for every other area on the field. Cooraclare will be looking to Rory Donnelly, Thomas Donnellan, Tom Downes, Pearse Lillis, Michael Kelly and captain Conor Marrinan for big displays while player of the Championship so far Eoin Cleary along with Gordon Kelly, Brian Curtin, Eoin O’Brien, Kieran Malone and Darragh McDonagh will need to be on fire for Miltown.
This game is going to be won by the team with the greater desire, the team that is willing to put their body on the line for each tackle and doing what it takes to win possession. The lack of a test posed by St Breckans in the semi-final may come back to bite Miltown but if they can get keep the scoreboard ticking over it will deter Cooraclare. However superstitions and records aside Cooraclare’s commitment of players giving everything into the club looks like it will reap the ultimate reward on Sunday.