Clare Senior Hurling championship begins

Newmarket on Fergus players and officials celebrate after defeating Cratloe in the 2012 Clare County Senior Hurling Final at Cusack Park,

IT’S safe to say that there’s never been a senior championship as intriguing as the one that’s about to open out before the 20 teams that will be taking their chance in the marathon that is the race for the Canon Hamilton Cup.
That’s before a ball has been pucked.
Marathon because between now and late October there will be 44 games (excluding replays) before it’s all over; marathon because with the potential for a 15-week gap between the first and second rounds it’s a case of every team being in it for the long haul.
Intriguing, unprecedented even, because with five teams to be relegated from the senior ranks at the end of it all as the championship numbers are culled back to 16 for 2014 safety nets are few and far between.
Indeed, the Senior B will be the most intriguing of all – the most cut-throat of all, with the only safety net being to top the group and reach both a Senior A quarter-final and Senior B final at the same time. Anything less and you’re firefighting relegation.
Intriguing because in keeping with previous years it’s another open championship – with eight different champions over the past nine years it couldn’t be any other way.
Of course Newmarket-on-Fergus are favourites – champions for the first time in 31 years last year. Now to see if they can follow in the storied tradition of the great Blues teams of the past and win back-to-back titles.
One title was never enough down Newmarket way – that’s why they’ll be out to elevate their status that little bit higher in the pecking order of the Hall of Fame down Fr Murphy Park way.
Newmarket teams of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ’60s and ‘70s won back-to-back titles – the teams of the ‘20s that included such illustrious names as John Joe ‘Goggles’ Doyle, Jack ‘Jumbo’ Higgins and Mick O’Rourke; the teams of the ‘60s and ‘70s when ‘Puddin’ Cullinan, Liam Danagher, Paddy McNamara, Jimmy McNamara et al ruled Clare’s hurling world.
The 2012 win was celebrated as if it was Newmarket’s first, win another and they’ll be empire building once more.
But there are a slew of other contenders. Clonlara will feel they left last year’s semi-final against Newmarket behind them; Cratloe will feel they didn’t do themselves justice in the final; Sixmilebridge will feel they didn’t do themselves justice all year and that now it’s time to turn three under 21 A titles in five years into what would be a first championship win in 11 years; Crusheen will be out to cement their status of the team of the decade by winning a third title in four years.
And there are others. Inagh/Kilnamona have threatened in recent years. Could 2013 be the year when they finally storm the citadel, while what of the Éire Óg Townies.
They haven’t won a championship in 23 years, yet they’ve been racking up huge scores in the Clare Cup – now to see if league form equals championship form as they square up the challenges of Senior B.
It’s ten years since a Senior B side reached a county final – that was Ballyea, so could the Townies be the bolters a decade on, or O’Callaghan’s Mills who are the only team with a 100 per cent record in the Clare Cup.
The marathon that’s about to begin will tell all.

See our 16 page supplement in this week’s Clare People

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