After Sunday’s devastating defeat to The Nire in the Munster football semi-final, hurling correspondent with The Clare People Eoin Brennan is backing Cratloe to bounce back immediately and bring Munster glory to the parish.
Cratloe v Kilmallock @ Gaelic Grounds, Sunday 2pm (Fergal Horgan, Tipperary)
Sunday’s heartbreaking Munster Football Semi-Final defeat will have a major bearing on this weekend’s Munster hurling decider. Being Cratloe’s first championship defeat in 2014 after a perfect dual run of 13 victories is one thing but it’s how the players react that will make-or-break their season.
Wallowing in self-pity is not something that anyone would attribute to Cratloe but even subconsciously it will be difficult to get the football game out of their heads this week as inevitably tired limbs and legs will feel that bit more weary following defeat.
Instead Cratloe need an immediate reaction as they certainly don’t want to end such a historic season without any reward, having invested so much into it. After all, they know only too well from their five year hurling gap that opportunities to win at provincial level may not come around very often and having lost the football equivalent last year, to draw another blank would be sorely disappointing despite their historic county accomplishments.
One thing’s for certain, Kilmallock will be licking their lips after seeing Cratloe having to travel to Dungarvan and battle score for score with The Nire on a heavy pitch for 80 minutes.
That some inevitable war weariness threatens to catch up with Cratloe at this crucial juncture is the only doubt surrounding the Clare champions as on ability, leadership and guile, they are untouchable at their best. Their in-game decision making and flexibility is beyond compare while Conor Ryan, Liam Markham, Podge Collins and Conor McGrath are playing some of the best hurling of their careers at the moment.
Kilmallock will pose a unique threat however as their swarm tackling and intensity is perhaps something that Cratloe haven’t faced since the groups stages of the county championship. Crusheen failed to reach the heights of previous displays in the county final while both Ballygunner and Thurles Sarsfields blunderbussed their own feet by having a man sent off.
Kilmallock proved in their county final against overwhelming favourites Na Piarsaigh that they are able to withstand the loss of a player as they defied the numerical disadvantage to take the honours thanks to a ravenous appetite to succeed.
With County seniors such as Graeme Mulcahy (2-27), Gavin O’Mahony (2-14) and Paudie O’Brien (0-15) putting up big scores along with Eoin Ryan (1-55), Robbie Egan (0-22) and Jake Mulcahy (0-11), Kilmallock are not short of scoring prowess either and of course, the Gaelic Grounds is by now their second home.
That said Cratloe have on average, scored more and conceded less than their opponents and crucially have an eye for goal with 17 goals as opposed to seven for Kilmallock who have in fact played two more games than the Clare side.
Even if Cratloe’s legs begin to wilt, that superior goal-den touch could be crucial in a tight game, and with all their eggs now in one basket, one final push led by the untouchable McGrath, can see them claim their just reward for a remarkable season.