PREVIEW: Clare SFC Round One

PREVIEW: Clare SFC Round One

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Who will stand behind the Tulla Pipe Band in County Final day? The race begins this weekend. Pic: John Meyler
Who will stand behind the Tulla Pipe Band in County Final day? The race begins this weekend. Pic: John Meyler

Round One of the Clare Senior Football Championship commences this weekend, Páraic McMahon previews the action.

Saturday June 18th:
St Josephs Miltown vs Wolfe Tones in Cusack Park at 11:00

Two teams with opposite 2015 campaigns kick off the Clare Senior Football Championship on Saturday morning. Miltown play their first game in Clare as County Champions while Wolfe Tones who flirted with relegation last year only to come out on top versus Shannon Gaels in the relegation final to hold on to their status. Winning this encounter would put any relegation doubts for this year to bed so the Tones will be determined to do just that.

In saying that Miltown suffered relegation in 2011 so they will be as keen to get a result to ensure it is silverware that they are fighting for and not their status. Michael Neylon’s side will be the more confident of the two sides because of the success attained in 2015 and the expectation is on their shoulders to produce a performance worthy of the title-holders. Eoin Cleary has been one of the top players for his County so far this year, if he can maintain this standard at club level it will be a big boost to Miltown, elsewhere Gordon Kelly, Sean Malone, Kevin Keavey and the Curtin brothers will be key players for the West Clare men.

Wolfe Tones' Darragh Leahy. Pic: John Meyler
Wolfe Tones’ Darragh Leahy. Pic: John Meyler

There is potential within the Shannon man but whether that will bear fruit in the first round remains to be seen. In their opening game last year, one point was the difference as they fell to Cooraclare who would later go on to contest the County Final, this highlights the importance of winning the first game as the momentum from an opening day win cannot be understated. Concentration is key for the Tones, maintaining their focus for sixty minutes and keeping their discipline is needed to ensure they put it up to Miltown. John Riordan will be looking to the Leahy brothers, Gary and Darragh along with Ross O’Connor to get them off to a winning start.

Playing at county level is a big asset when it comes back to the Clare SFC and Miltown have three players who have been playing at a higher standard whereas Wolfe Tones have no Senior panellists. Expect that to be one of the differences between the teams and it should be enough to see St Josephs Miltown book their place in the winners section of Round Two.

O’Currys vs St Senans Kilkee in Doonbeg at 15:00
Neighbours, friends and foes, call it what you want, it’s a repeat pairing of last year’s first round clash that saw O’Currys stroll to a six point win.

There’s a sense of déjà vu about this one but Kilkee will be motivated by their failings in this encounter eleven months ago. Ger Quinlan looks set to miss out as he has yet to return from a cruciate ligament injury, elsewhere there are doubts over the fitness of Tom Downes, Sean Haugh and Cathal Downes. If they’re minus this quarter it will be telling for the Daniel Ryan managed outfit. Seeing as he togged for the Clare Seniors in Killarney last weekend, Sean Haugh is tipped to line out for his club on Doonbeg this Saturday. Goals were crucial in their meeting last year as O’Currys hit two while Kilkee scored none. If they are to replicate the dose they will need to rattle the net more than once. The men from Doonaha and Carrigaholt will be counting on the Downes’, Sean Haugh, Michael O’Shea, Ollie Quinlan and Eoin Brew to set the tone.

Kilkee are an ageing team and there’s not a huge amount of players coming through from the underage ranks in the club. Based on that, it is essential really in a sense that their senior team put together a good run of form that could inspire the next generation of Blues and get more people playing gaelic football in the coastal town. There’s always a big game in the Saints, they shocked Kilmurry/Ibrickane in 2014, last year it was Doonbeg who they sent fighting for their status. The eighth time County Champions will be relying on Michael O’Shea, David Russell, Evan Garvey, Darragh Kelly, Barry Harte and Darren Owens to ensure they get revenge on their neighbours.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, Doonbeg is the ideal location for Kilkee to plate that dish. Saturday needs to be their big game, fuelled by the motivation and hurt of last year should be enough for the Blues to prevail but it will be a lot closer than their July 2015 meeting.

St Breckan’s vs Kilrush in Miltown at 17:30
An increase in wasps and midgets, farmer’s tans, conversations revolving around the weather and the meeting of St Breckans and Kilrush in the Clare Senior Football Championship, summer just wouldn’t be the same without it. Take last year for example as they met twice in the race for Jack Daly and both sides picked up a win so it will be all to play for in Miltown on Saturday evening.

Having got a taste of the last four, surely St Breckan’s will come back fighting and hungry to go further. The North Clare men are under new management for the campaign ahead with Neil Hawes no longer involved as Brian Conway takes charge of the team that seems to have the right mix of youth and experience. Given their exploits in 2015, the younger players will be a lot wiser this year and that should be evident in their style of play. Breckans will need big displays from the evergreen Dennis O’Driscoll, Dale Masterson, Liam Tierney, Aidan Davidson and Maccon Byrne.

St Breckan's and Kilrush renew acquaintances this weekend. Pic: Gary Collins
St Breckan’s and Kilrush renew acquaintances this weekend. Pic: Gary Collins

Kilrush stand alone at the top of the history books when it comes to the amount of Clare Senior Football Championships won. But history is history and the current crop should be eager to get to meet Jack Daly and not to be reading about past exploits. Yes it is very early to be mentioning the Shams and Jack in the same sentence but the 2012 semi-finalists must have an objective for this campaign. First and foremost their objective should be to retain their status and they can do that by defeating St Breckan’s who they witnessed in the last four last year in a game that they could have competed in. John Hayes, Gearoid O’Brien, Liam Madigan, Matthew Moloney, Rory O’Connor and Davy Downes are vital cogs in their engine.

This is a game that could go either way at the sounding of the final whistle. Based on their exploits last year, Breckans should be hungry to go further and this along with some exciting young players at their disposal may just be enough to see them overcome Kilrush.

Lissycasey vs Ennistymon in Cooraclare at 19:30
It’s the meeting of two teams who will be confident of retaining their status so this clash is going to tell us which of the two have the makings to be championship contenders.

Under the management of Aidan Daly, Lissycasey operated under a strict defensive regime and whether or not they continue to play with this style now that Daly is no longer in charge remains to be seen. They suffered a shock extra time defeat to St Breckan’s last year but recovered to defeat Éire Óg before bowing out to O’Currys in the third round. Going into the tie they are without the injured Martin O’Connor and Seamus Collins who is the United States, both are two of their livelier defenders and their loss will be felt at the weekend. All over the field Lissyscasey have talented footballers such as Joe Hayes, Niall Kelly, Ryan Griffin, Conor Finucane and Oisin Hanrahan. Their inability to score goals and create chances has proven costly when being ultra-defensive.

Michael O'Malley (left) will be absent for Lissycasey. Picture: John Meyler
Michael O’Malley (left) will be absent for Lissycasey. Picture: John Meyler

After years of promise and no action, Ennistymon showed signs of life in 2015 as they took the scalps of Kilmurry/Ibrickane and Éire Óg. They made the last eight but were eliminated by the eventual champions. The North Clare outfit have been successful at underage level and these players are slowly making the step-up to senior and a long run in the Clare SFC is needed to boost their development. Their last campaign showed them they were good enough to compete with the so-called best teams in the County but crucially it gave them belief, a positive start is what’s needed to set them on their way. Cathal Crowe will be hoping Danny Rouine, Enda Ralph, Laurence Healy and the McConigley’s are on form at the weekend. Time will tell if Clare Senior Hurling panellists David Fitzgerald and Kevin Hehir will be lining out with Ennistymon at the weekend.

It has the makings of a good game as both sides should have ambitions of impacting on the Championship as a whole. Ennistymon appear to be the better attackers and if they can produce the football they are capable of they will be the more happier of teams on Saturday night.

Sunday June 19th:
Cratloe vs Corofin in Cusack Park at 12:30
What a way for Corofin to return to the Senior ranks as they take on one of the top teams in the County.

Colm Collins is in charge of the Cratloe side who will be out to make a statement to all of Clare and beyond that they want Jack Daly back. That’s made a little more difficult as Clooney/Quin duo and midfield pairing Cillian Duggan and Fergal Lynch have returned to their native club, their presence in the middle of the field was central to Cratloe’s success in 2013 and 2014. Cathal McInerney is an injury doubt while Conor Ryan and Michael Hawes are also ruled out. Exiting at the quarter-final stage to Clondegad will have hurt them and a win on Sunday morning would go some way to easing that pain. It will be the first Clare SFC appearance for ex-Donegal man Antóin McFadden, he along with Podge Collins, Conor McGrath, John Galvin, Liam Markham, Pierce deLoughrey and Sean Collins will be the men leading the Cratloe cause.

Cratloe's Conor McGrath. Pic: John Meyler
Cratloe’s Conor McGrath. Pic: John Meyler

With some key men missing and others being trialled out in new positions, this will be Corofin’s best chance to cause an upset. A new pairing at midfield for their opponents means Corofin have to win this battle-ground, if they do it could set the tempo for all over the field. They come into this tie as champions, it may be from the Intermediate grade but at this moment in time they are title-holders, Cratloe are not and they have to play with the confidence and arrogance of champions, failure to do this and Cratloe will feed on their nerves and punish them at every available opportunity. Managed by Clare’s only football All-Star, Seamus Clancy, one would expect the North Clare side to go in to this tie expecting to win and not hoping to compete. Their last outing is one to forget however as they lost rather convincingly to St. Mary’s Cahirciveen 4-21 to 0-01.

One of Clare’s stronger footballers Jamie Malone is the main man for Corofin, his displays for the Banner in their two Munster Championship outings have been surprisingly poor and if Malone was in flying form anything could happen for Corofin but he hasn’t been and Cratloe are collectively too strong a team for the Intermediate Champions.

Éire Óg vs Kilmurry Ibrickane in Labasheeda at 12:30
To some this game may appear as the clash of the round, they would have been correct if it were two years ago but now it’s the fight between the favourites for Jack Daly and an inconsistent side in transition.

The Townies head into this tie on the back of a poor league which saw them relegated to the to the Garry Cup, their lot in the 2015 Clare SFC culminated in a relegation semi-final so they have gone from being genuine contenders to a team who could easily struggle against the top teams. Add in the retirements of Eoin Glynn and Stephen Hickey who have been two of their star forwards while Offaly native Saran Butler has also hung up his boots. Darren O’Neill was one of their main ball-winners but is unavailable for Sunday’s tie as is Graham Glynn. Needless to say this is an Ennis side in transition so how they perform against Kilmurry/Ibrickane will be very interesting but they will be counting on Dean Ryan, Eimhin Courtney and Conor Brennan.

Éire Óg's Liam Corry in full flight. Picture: John Meyler
Éire Óg’s Liam Corry in full flight. Picture: John Meyler

Aidan Moloney’s charges come into Round One on the back of a fantastic league in which they are currently unbeaten in the Cusack Cup and on course to win the title for a sixth time in succession. They have welcomed back Declan Callinan and Mark Killeen so it’s certainly a case of contrasting fortunes. Kilmurry/Ibrickane haven’t featured in the showpiece event of Clare football since 2012 and for a club like theirs that is an incredibly long wait. Enda Coughlan is ruled out with a hamstring injury but with Keelan Sexton, Shane Hickey, Martin McMahon, Michael Hogan and Keith King, Coughlan’s loss shouldn’t be too much of a factor.

Passion has been lacking in the displays of the Ennis club for too long, if that ignites on Sunday they will be in with a shout but Kilmurry have been on fire as of late and they’re expected to quench the Éire Óg threat with a couple of points to spare.

Doonbeg vs Clondegad in Labasheeda at 14:00
One of the tougher weekend games to call draws to a close Sunday’s double-header in Labasheeda with both parties expecting to win.

Doonbeg are keen to right the wrongs of the campaign gone by, that being the one in which they competed in the relegation semi-final as opposed to the championship semi-final. Now is the time to set the record straight and what a way to do it than beating Clondegad who themselves will be targeting another last four finish. David Tubridy is back at full fitness and can orchestrate matters from attack, he will have assistance from Colm Dillon, Páraic Aherne, Shane Ryan and captain Shane O’Brien. They need to get going from the throw-in to upset Clondegad.

If it’s about righting wrongs for Doonbeg, then Clondegad will be out to go one step if not two further than 2015. They lost out to Cooraclare in a game everybody had them backed to win, everybody except Cooraclare that was. Clare’s talisman, Gary Brennan is without doubt their central figure but to overcome the Magpies he will need players such as Podge McMahon, Eoghan Donnellan, Conor Gavin, Shane Brennan and Brian Carrig to step up to the mantle. They may be without their representatives on the Clare Senior Hurling panel which would have a big impact for John Connole’s side.

Clondegad's Shane Brennan. Picture: John Meyler
Clondegad’s Shane Brennan. Picture: John Meyler

Either team could come out on top here but the Magpies will feel they have a point to prove and may just have enough strength in depth to ensure they are nowhere near a relegation semi-final in 2016.

St Josephs Doora/Barefield vs Cooraclare in Lissycasey at 18:00
Talk will turn to Round Two immediately after this encounter in Lissycasey as teams will begin to ponder who will be next up and the different permutations that may arise.

Neither of these teams will be looking past Sunday but for Cooraclare they’re out to win and bounce back from their last championship outing which of course was the County Final defeat to Miltown by four points and it was missed chances that killed off their hopes of glory. No doubt it’s been dissected and replayed for the past seven months but now the Milesians are back with Ger Lawlor still at the helm this is their opportunity to put out a message that they’re going nowhere only back to the top for the first time in nineteen years. Younger players in their squad are that bit older and last year’s campaign will stand to the entire panel. They are without Thomas Downes and Damien Burke through injury while Pearse Lillis is suspended. In their absence it will be left to Sean O’Donoghue, Killian Roche, Michael Kelly, Conor Marrinan, Rory Donnelly, Andrew O’Neill and Jack Morrissey to lead the Coorclare challenge.

Sean Flynn attempts to block Dale Masterson. Pic: Gary Collins
Sean Flynn attempts to block Dale Masterson. Pic: Gary Collins

It’s the curious case of St Josephs Doora/Barefield and their fall from grace in both codes. They’re now intermediate in the small ball while despite reaching successive County Finals in 2011 and 2012, push has never come to shove for the footballers. Granted they’ve suffered from the departure of key players but surely the Parish are better than what they’ve shown in the last three years as they failed to make the knockout stages. Surely with such a wide catchment area a club of their stature cannot complain of departures but it seems to be they’re looking for excuses and once this enters an organisation, success quickly vanishes. Colm Clancy is bainisteoir once more of Doora/Barefield and he will need solid performances from Ivor Whyte, Sean Flynn, David O’Brien, Alan O’Neill, Steven Collins and Kevin Dilleen.

Never-say-die is a characteristic that one would attribute with Cooraclare, in the very recent past it’s not something you would say about St Josephs. The heat of championship is something the Milesians thrive on and as the action draws to a close they should have four to five points of an advantage over the Parish.

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