The next two weekends provide a pivotal juncture in the Clare Senior Hurling Championship as advancement as well as relegation places become abundantly clearer. Eoin Brennan looks ahead to the first half of Round 2, with five games going ahead this Saturday and Sunday.
Senior A Championship Round 2
Clonlara v Inagh-Kilnamona @ O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge, Sunday 12pm (Damien Fox, Clooney-Quin)
It’s only the second ever senior championship clash between Clonlara and Inagh-Kilnamona but with both having claimed the points in their respective opening round matches against Ballyea and Clooney-Quin, victory here will place one foot in the last eight.
There was a great buzz surrounding both sides in their only other meeting in the 2009 group stages that Clonlara edged by 0-15 to 0-13. At the time, Clonlara were defending champions following an unprecedented return to senior level while it was only Inagh-Kilnamona’s second season as a permanent amalgamation.
Both would go on to qualify for the knock-out stages that season and have done so in almost every campaign since but with the stakes much higher this year, there is little room for error in this tight group.
Clonlara will enter as favourites backed by a perfect 2014 so far with nine competitive victories. Inagh-Kilnamona meanwhile are competing a division above their opponents in the Clare Cup but have found life tough this year albeit they showing great battling qualities to overcome Newmarket last time out in what was a repeat of last year’s final.
If Inagh-Kilnamona’s young guns are to trouble a star-studded Clonlara team, they will need to replicate their goal hungry form of that recent Newmarket outing. Otherwise, Clonlara should have more than enough firepower to prevail.
Newmarket-on-Fergus v Tubber @ Cusack Park, Ennis, Saturday 3pm (Ambrose Heagney, Corofin)
It’s a third successive championship encounter between these sides, with Newmarket holding the edge thanks to a perfect record so far. On their way to a long awaited championship breakthrough in 2012, the Blues overcame the then Senior B finalists at the quarter-final stage while last year having a three point victory in the final round of the group stages.
Neither have been comfortable passages for Newmarket, with the winning margin also decreasing but while Newmarket haven’t been anywhere near their optimum so far this year, they will be expected to add to their opening win over Tulla and maintain their winning start.
Indeed while Newmarket had 18 points to spare over Tulla in Round 1, Tubber uncharacteristically lacked their usual intensity and bite when meekly falling to Clarecastle by 16 points.
Tubber can only improve but Newmarket will also need to step up a few gears if they are to realistically be in the shake up for the Canon Hamilton once more.
Tulla v Clarecastle @ Shannon, Sunday, 1pm (Seanie McMahon, Newmarket-on-Fergus)
While the main priority won’t change, by the time this match goes ahead, these teams will know what is exactly at stake following the Newmarket and Tubber result. Wins for first round victors Newmarket and Clarecastle would put both in the quarter-finals with a game to spare while forcing Tubber and Tulla to fight it out to avoid the dreaded relegation spot. However, if there is any deviation from those results, the group will be wide open going into the last round.
Tulla and Clarecastle hasn’t been a comfortable pairing in recent years and while the Magpies will enter as favourites due to the team’s widely contrasting first round results, Tulla have had the better of their last two championship encounters since 2007.
There has been much transition for both since their last championship title wins (Clarecastle in 2005 and Tulla in 2007), with seesaw form finding both in the Senior A relegation play-off’s last year before sending St Joseph’s down to B. However, while Tulla and Clarecastle have turned to youth, the Magpies better balance should provide the decisive edge.
Crusheen v Kilmaley @ Cusack Park, Ennis, Saturday 4.30pm (Ger Hoey, Killanena)
Going on their first round results alone, one couldn’t see anything but a Crusheen victory. However, looking under the bonnet, there might not be much between these sides. Crusheen’s defeat of county champions Sixmilebridge certainly demonstrated their title credentials, with another victory here possibly enough to see them emerge from the group of death unscathed.
Kilmaley for their part, were the unfortunate victims of a perfect opening round Cratloe storm that raided for six goals at 6-15 to 1-16 but in truth, Kilmaley’s general performance did not deserve such a margin of defeat. It does make this a must win game for Kilmaley though as a second defeat would guarantee their exit from the championship and more importantly closer to the lottery of the relegation play-offs.
In addition, the fact that Kilmaley native and manager of their last title winning side in 2004, John Carmody is currently over Crusheen only adds to the intrigue of Saturday’s game.
The last time these sides met in the championship in 2011, Crusheen went onto win it out. It goes without saying that they’d take the same again.
Senior B Championship Round 2
Ruan v Whitegate @ Dr. Daly Memorial Park, Tulla, Saturday 6pm (Jim Hickey, Cratloe)
It’s the only Senior B game to survive this weekend and equally that survival theme will be to the fore for what is essentially a last chance saloon encounter for one of these sides. While there is a bit of leeway at A level, the Senior B Championship is extremely unforgiving this year as the bottom side will suffer immediate relegation while even the second and third are in real danger of joining them.
Both sides frustratingly lost their opening championship bouts in the final minutes but with no further wiggle room, expect a battle right to the finish this time around.
While both are also in the Division 1B league relegation mix, Ruan had the better of their Clare Cup clash on away soil seven weeks ago albeit that Whitegate were without some of their young guns.
This time it is Ruan who are hampered by injury worries so it could be advantage Whitegate in this must-win match.