IT really is the decisive rubber of this football decade so far.
All because these two have been the best around in Clare, with every other team firmly in their slipstream when it comes to quality, pedigree, achievement and much more.
Kilmurry Ibrickane mightn’t have graced county final day for four years, which is something approaching famine proportions for them given the glorious decade of seven county final appearances they had between 2002 and ’12, but they’ve still set the benchmark for everyone else this decade.
Crushing county final wins in 2011 and ’12 over St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield did that, while there was also that matter of their historic All-Ireland club final appearance that kicked off the decade in 2010.
And, in those years around the start of the decade it was an emerging Cratloe side that really laid down a marker as to their future intentions where senior football was concerned.
Their first meeting was in the 2010 quarter-final in Cusack Park when the defending champions Kilmurry needed all their experience to get over the line to a narrow victory, while it was more of the same the following year in the semi-final in Lissycasey when the ‘Bricks prevailed once more.
Come 2012 they played out an epic draw after extra-time in Cusack Park, but the ‘Bricks were comfortable winners in the replay in Clarecastle, while their ‘Indian Sign’ over the men from south east Clare was confirmed once more when they scored a big win in that year’s quarter-final.
Still, Cratloe were coming and weren’t about to go away, with this persistence finally being rewarded when they beat the ‘Bricks in the opening round of the 2013 championship – a decisive nine-point success that kick-started their run to county final success.
And when they successfully defending the title in 2014 they were on a par with the ‘Bricks in terms of county title achievement this decade – a level playing field that brings us nicely to Sunday’s showdown.
That decisive rubber – the first county final meeting between Clare’s most enduring rivals this decade, as it will be their sixth year out of seven championship seasons where the famous green and red has gone shoulder to shoulder with the royal blue.
Six out of seven championship seasons that have thrown up seven games to date, but none as important as Sunday’s eighth.
This has to whet the appetites of football people – whether they’re partisan supporters of one or other of the combatants, or just neutral bystanders from the rest of Clare club football country.
It definitely has the potential to be the football final of the decade thus far.
IT’S safe to say that Kilmurry Ibrickane started preparing for this a long way back – indeed you can trace it all the way back to 18 October last. That was 2015 county final day – St Joseph’s Miltown’s day of days.
Firstly the Miltown championship winning team of 1990 were the Silver Jubilee team feted on the field, then the current crop bridged a 25-year gap to Miltown’s last championship success.
It was the best thing that ever happened Kilmurry Ibrickane – just to see their neighbours win steeled them for a huge effort in 2016, effort that has been rewarded with their canter back to a county final.
They beat Éire Óg by eight points in round one, Breckan’s by ten in round two, Lissycasey were then dispatched by 16 points before last year’s defeated finalists Cooraclare were soundly beaten by ten.
That’s an impressive march by any yardstick, something that Cratloe haven’t been able to match in their own journey back to the big day. It’s true that they opened their account with a nine-point win over Corofin, but thereafter they struggled to push beyond Lissycasey after extra-time, while their six-point win over Ennistymon in the quarter-final flattered them to say the least.
As regards their semi-final, it was a superhuman effort to come from 11 adrift to eventually prevail after extra-time. And it was a master class of football by the end with Cratloe’s forwards pummeled a Miltown team clearly caught in the headlights when thinking ahead to a county final date with the ‘Bricks.
Cratloe never lost their focus though – never lost faith in their ability and it’s this belief in their football, a quality that the ‘Bricks are also top heavy with, that puts this county final on a pedestal.
Aidan Moloney’s charges will be uber-confident. In the 23 years since their return to the top table they’ve contested nine county finals and won seven, with their only defeats coming in the ‘Battle of Kilmihil’ against the Doonbeg Magpies in 1999 and in 2005 when the Kilkee Blues turned on the style in Cusack Park.
It’s a noble record, but one that won’t faze the Cratloe boys one bit, given the way that they’re re-written the history books on the football and hurling fronts since 2009.
It means that something has to give – to Kilmurry will go the tag of favouritism given their consistency and their methodical march back to the big day, but at the same time Cratloe will be a step up on anything they’ve faced thus far.
Cratloe’s defence is perceived as being their Achilles heel after the comedy of errors that marred their opening against Miltown. If they put in a repeat performance here Keelan Sexton, Michael O’Dwyer, Enda Coughlan and company will kill them and there’ll be no way back. But Cratloe won’t be like that and with a forward line of huge ability this one could come down to a shoot-out. In that scenario, the tentative nod goes to Cratloe to do unto Kilmurry what done unto them from 2010 to ’12 – that’s to continue their own ‘Indian sign’ over their great rivals.
There was the breakthrough win in ’13, their command performance in Lissycasey last year when they hit four second half goals. The hat-trick could be up come Sunday evening, with the mantra beforehand no doubt being that ‘it’s one we have to win for Conor McGrath’.
After all, they wouldn’t be in this final without one of the great sorcerer’s of Clare GAA, hurling and football, in this or any generation. A huge motivation.
16 page souvenir supplement on the Clare senior football final in this weeks Clare People.