The Clare Cup final pairing will be decided after this weekend’s two semi-finals that are being spread out over two days, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who looks ahead to both contests.
Avenue United v Ennis Town
@ The County Grounds,
Doora, Saturday 6.30pm
THIS town derby should draw a few to Clare soccer headquarters on Saturday evening as league champions Avenue face down one of the pretenders to their throne in Ennis Town.
Ennis Town are at the summit of affairs in the Premier Division in a campaign that has bee reduced to a three-team race also involving Newmarket Celtic and Avenue United going down what will be a very congested fixture list over the coming weeks.
There’ll be nothing between these two, with a useful guide being the one league meeting between the sides this term – a tempestuous 1-1 draw that saw Avenue reduced to nine men by the end after Cian Bourke and Pa Sherlock received their marching orders.
Where the Clare Cup goes, both will have a lot to prove as they remember their last meetings.
They clashed in a quarter-final in 2012, with Ennis Town (then known as Rock Rovers) ended The Avenue’s hopes of a three-in-a-row when they won a seven-goal thriller by 4-3.
What did Rock do after that? They played Avenue United’s second string in the semi-final, but crashed to defeat, losing 4-3 on penalties after the tie had ended 1-1 after extra-time.
Avenue will be favourites thanks to their pedigree as well as they fact that they usually come very good at the business end of the year when the trophies are being handed out.
That time is now and with their very strong squad, they’ll be expected to advance to what they expect to be an old firm final against Newmarket Celtic in what would be a decider involved teams with 22 Clare Cup titles between them.
No doubt Ennis Town, whose only cup win came under the Rock Rovers name in 2008, will be bidding to write a different script. The man who could write is Stephen Hickey, who will be back to lead the attack after missing the quarter-final win over Moher Celtic.
Verdict: Avenue United
West Clare FC v Newmarket Celtic
@ The County Grounds,
Doora, Sunday 11am
CAN West Clare FC possibly do it again? That’s the big question ahead of their Clare Cup quarter-final tie against three-in-a-row chasing Newmarket Celtic? Surely not? Surely this game is just one too far for the minnows from the western seaboard?
But, make no mistake, the Third Division side will believe it possible, because fairytales do happen and West Clare are right bang in the middle of one with their run to the penultimate round.
They’ve beaten two Premier Division sides already, beating Mountshannon Celtic by 3-1 in the second round in early March before following it up with a 3-2 win over Tulla United in last Sunday’s quarter-final.
Now for the big cheese from Newmarket, who are going for that third title in a row to place themselves on a pedestal above any other Celtic team in the 50-plus years of the Clare Cup.
The sides of 1970/71, 1981/82 and 1990/91 won back-to-back titles, but three on the bounce was always beyond them. It’s the challenge for Keith McInerney’s side from a season that had already produced so much, but must be bookended with some silverware, as they attack on two fronts – in league and cup just like other semi-finalists Avenue United and Ennis Town.
It will be hard for Celtic this weekend. A clutch of key players like Stephen Kelly, Eoin O’Brien (all Newmarket-on-Fergus) and Alan Brigdale (Crusheen) are involved in senior hurling championship action on Saturday, before moving back to the big ball on Sunday morning. Dáithí O’Connell won’t be able to do that, as he’s playing for the Wolfe Tones hurlers on Sunday.
Still, Celtic should have too much firepower for West Clare, who are bidding to become the first side from back west to reach the Clare Cup decider since Ibrickane FC got there in 2002.
Meanwhile, it’s 30 years since a west Clare side first made it to the final, when Kilrush Rangers were beaten by Bridge United in the 1984 final.
And it’s 20 years since a west Clare side first reigned supreme on Clare Cup final day, when St Pat’s triumphed thanks to Tom Morrissey’s wonder goal to beat Avenue United down at the De Beers Complex.
Who knows, 20 years on maybe another county footballer in David Tubridy will be sprung by West Clare to turn this cup semi-final, just as he did in the quarter-final win over Tulla United.
Verdict: Newmarket Celtic
For full reports and reaction see next Tuesday’s The Clare People or visit our Digital Edition.