Clondegad v Cooraclare @ St Michael’s Park, Kilmihil, Sunday 2.30pm
Cooraclare and Clondegad have taken the scalp of county champions Cratloe, but know that it’s all about which team can now push on to the next level and reach the county decider. A first ever final frontier for Clondegad or first in 18 years for Cooralare? Between them it is.
YOU know that feeling when a shock is in air and then it actually happens.
The tremors of giddy excitement; the sound of the crowd; the whispers from one to the next as if they’re consulting with one another to corroborate that what they’re seeing is actually happening.
So it was when Clondegad were cutting through the Cratloe defences and racking up their winning scores; so it was when they actually did the deed — dumped the county champions.
It was seismic; it was scintillating stuff from the underdogs and as their supporters, neutrals and the Cratloe faithful observed it all from the covered Kop on the River Fergus side of Cusack Park they Clondegad players out on the field could have been forgiven for bursting into spontaneous song in the teeming rain.
There in lies the biggest obstacle that Clondegad have to face from here on in — giddy excitement and expectation can be imposters in any dressing room out to win a championship.
Put simply it has to be parked, because the job of work really starts here, because after defeating the three-in-a-row chasing champs, no better team than Cooraclare to pounce.
Clondegad are favourites — firm favourites for that matter, on the back of league and championship form as they move closer to what their fellow parishioners Lissycasey achieved back in ’07.
That was the Cusack Cup/Jack Daly Cup double.
Cooraclare are in the long grass though, still somewhat unheralded despite the fact that they’ve come to this semi-final via the front door of winning all three championship games to date.
Yes they had a wretched spring and early summer campaign with their only return from the Cusack Cup being a draw on the opening day to St Joseph’s Miltown before they slumped to six successive defeats and relegation.
But proof of the chasm between league and championship has come footballing home with Cooraclare in 2015 — a team transformed between the two competitions, so much so that there are those out in the Milesians country that think their name is written on the cup.
In their three games they’ve found a way — each game being of a similar shade to each other; they could just as easily have lost to Wolfe Tones, Cratloe and O’Curry’s, but all the time got home by the minimum margin.
That says as much about their character as their football and what they learned along the way — by osmosis almost — could conceivably give them the platform to explode come this business end of the season.
Certainly they’re creating enough chances to win a county championship — the day they convert much more than they miss and they’ll have really arrived as a serious force in Clare football once more.
After 18 years they hope, by bridging a gap that stretches back to Carron in ’97 when the last contested and won a county title.
Youth has been given its fling thanks to the contribution of county minors like Pearse Lillis, Sean ‘Yank’ O’Donoghue and Jack Morrissey to name but three, while the seam of experience is provided by the likes of Rory Donnelly, Thomas Donnellan, Michael ‘Tucker’ Kelly, Thomas Downes et al and they have a gameplay that’s been honed over the last few years and will present Clondegad with something they’ve never really encountered before.
That’s the packed defence. Cooraclare turned to it after being routed by Cratloe two years ago, but in ’13 and ’14 it meant they offered barely anything in attack.
This year the results say differently, with the speed that comes with youth and the greater awareness among everyone involved what the other is doing making the Milesians a different proposition.
That said, Clondegad are a different proposition as well. All because they’re the team to beat.
Dominant in their first two games against Shannon Gaels and O’Curry’s, they moved onto a different level with their performance against Cratloe with the Brennan brothers, Eoghan Donnellan and Tony Kelly being their driving forces.
They can be the same in this game, while if former countymen in the goalscorer from the last day Paudge McMahon and Brian Carrigg can their games it’s hard to back against them.
But there’s also the pressure.
Remember Clondegad were favourites in three county intermediate finals that they lost before finally getting over the line at the fourth attempt.
They won’t want that to come back and haunt them in their first county senior semi-final appearance since 1948.
Path to the semi-final
25 July @ Cooraclare
Clondegad 2-11 Shannon Gaels 1-7
15 August @ Doonbeg
Clondegad 2-16 O’Curry’s 0-11
13 September @ Cusack Park
Clondegad 1-12 Cratloe 0-11
25 July @ Clarecastle
Cooraclare 1-11 Wolfe Tones 1-10
16 August @ Clarecastle
Cooraclare 1-9 Cratloe 1-8
12 September @ Doonbeg
Cooraclare 1-11 O’Curry’s 1-10