Near neighbours Sixmilebridge and Clonlara go to war this weekend in the Clare Senior Hurling Championship Final, Páraic McMahon previews the action.
Sixmilebridge vs Clonlara 11/10/15 in Cusack Park at 15:00
Countless hours have been put in both sides on and off the training field all year in the hope of reaching this stage. Now Clonlara and Sixmilebridge are just sixty minutes away from getting to the promised land, the position that they aspired to be in when doing physical training in the dark and muck or gym sessions in the pre-season.
The dream is nigh for one side but for the other they will know that the Canon Hamilton will reside only nineteen kilometres away for the winter of 2015. The burning question on everyone’s lips is whether or not the Cup will be lifted afloat by the O’Garney River or close to the Limerick border.
It’s an achievement in itself, the fact that Sixmilebridge have went unbeaten all year in the Clare Cup and the Championship. They will be more determined than ever to ensure that their one slip up all year does not come on the biggest stage.
Their Championship commenced as a strong second half display saw them pull away from Éire Óg. Next up was Crusheen in Round Two and the Bridge never looked to be in serious trouble in that game. Near neighbours Cratloe stood in their way in the quarter-finals and in a close game, Sixmilebridge held on for the win against the fourteen man County Champions. The key moment of their Championship came in their semi-final win over Crusheen as they weathered the storm that the North Clare men brought with them in the second half and in the past the ten time Champions would have buckled but they only grew stronger and the confidence they picked up from surviving the Crusheen fightback will really strengthen their mindset today.
In recent years the general consensus on Sixmilebridge was that they were overly reliant on the evergreen Niall Gilligan. This year that hypothesis is not so accurate, granted Gilligan is continuing to have a bearing on proceedings but he is greatly aided by new addition Cathal Malone plus the returning Jamie Shanahan while Alan Mulready was in flying form up until a recent injury and add to that the positive influence the youthful trio of Conor Deasy, Alex Morey and Brian Corry have brought to their attack.
At the back John O’Meara’s side give very little away, Caimin Morey at centre-back sets the tempo while the ferocity that Aidan Quilligan, Tadhg Keogh and the Fitzpatricks bring to the table is hard to match. Then in the middle of the Park, Seadna Morey and Shane Golden constantly run at the opposition and this can create several scoring chances for the pair or the forwards if effective.
Like their counterparts, Clonlara are unbeaten in the Clare SHC, but interestingly they have two extra games under their belt following replays with Clarecastle and Kilmaley.
Their year began with a draw v Clarecastle as they took the foot off the pedal but they made no mistake the second time of asking with an eight point win and followed this up with comprehensive wins over O’Callaghans Mills and Newmarket-on-Fergus. Once again like Sixmilebridge, their defining moment of the year so far, was in the semi-final. Having come up short in their last four semi-final appearances, there was a psychological element to that stage but now that they conquered it their self-belief and determination can only grow.
One of their more lesser known players at the start of the campaign was Clare U21 panellist Michéal O’Loughlin who has been the best player of the 2015 Clare SHC while Cillian Fennessy has shown real leadership at the back as has newcomer Garrett Kennedy which shows while they have plenty of outstanding talent it is not just confined to the men getting regular game-time with their County.
John Conlon is beginning to make the centre-back role his own while Domhnall O’Donovan and Cathal O’Connell are proving very effective at winning the breaks. Players of the calibre of Darach Honan, Nicky O’Connell and the Galvin brothers have the ability to change the game while the likes of Cormac O’Donovan, Oisin O’Brien and Ger O’Connell haven’t put a foot wrong all year.
Several areas could be pinpointed in assessing where the game will be won and lost. Simplistic as it sounds, it will be the team who does or is allowed to do the most damage on the scoreboard that will come out on top. Bear in mind Clonlara have played two extra games than Sixmilebridge, but they have scored 11-106 in the 2015 Championship in comparison to 6-54 from the O’Garney men. Clonlara’s forwards have a natural instinct to pounce for goals and they must aim to beat Derek Fahy early on.
At the other end, Sixmilebridge’s forwards are scoring a higher amount of points from play and they will look to keep the scoreboard ticking over as each score will be vital in this contest. Having played one hundred and twenty minutes more of hurling in the Championship, Sean Stack’s men have conceded twenty nine points extra, 6-83 as opposed to the Bridge’s 6-54 throughout the crusade. With some lethal attackers at either end, damage limitation will be crucial and seeing how each side attempt to restrict the influence of key attackers will be very intriguing.
Only six members of the Clonlara starting team have tasted success at Senior level with the club. Every member of the Sixmilebridge fifteen has except for Cathal Malone. This may make the South East Clare men hungrier to succeed but when it comes to Clare hurling there are few teams more determined and ravenous than the Bridge boys so they will have to find their hunger from somewhere.
The Sean Stack effect will be interesting and the threat he imposes on his native Sixmilebridge is fresh in their mind following the 2013 Munster Club Final. Clonlara will need their County men at their best if they’re to cause an upset but the Bridge always up their game on the big day so a huge performance is required from Clonlara. Having gone the year unbeaten it doesn’t look like Sixmilebridge would let this come to an end on a County Final of all days but if anyone can beat them, Stack can and provided they get the goals Clonlara will win if not it’s title number eleven for Sixmilebridge.