THE list reads like the who’s who of ‘Bridge hurling down the years — that select band of hurling brothers who have led the saffron and blue to the Canon Hamilton.
Joe O’Halloran the trail blazer from 40 years ago, ‘Trixie’ Twomey who took up the baton in ’79 through to other legendary figures in the club like Jim Fawl, Christy ‘Crá’ Murray, John Nihill, Paddy Meehan and more as the ‘Bridge went about empire building.
Throw John O’Meara into the mix in recent years — the All-Ireland minor winner from 20 years ago, who on Sunday will be bidding to bring the Canon Hamilton back to the banks of the O’Garney River for the third time in five seasons.
It would be some achievement, but the quietly spoken banker plays it all down.
“Certainly it’s a job I always wanted,” he says of the prime post in Sixmilebridge hurling, “but at the end of the day it’s about doing what you can for the club, be it over an underage team or an adult team. I would have been with teams, be it under 14, 16, minor or Under 21. It just happens at the moment that I’m over the seniors but it could just as easily be an under 16 team and if it was I’d be as happy.”
As it is, happiness is gunning for that third title in five seasons, with the collective decision to bounce back stronger than ever after last year’s shock quarter-final defeat to Wolfe Tones — it meant a commitment that no player would head for foreign parts during the summer months — being a key pointer to the ‘Bridge’s ambitions in 2017.
“It’s what we do,” says O’Meara of this commitment to the cause “and there are very good structures down here. There are good underage structures in the minor club; we work very closely with the national schools and there are a lot of people in the club that do a lot of work. It’s a great club to be involved in and it’s great to have been able to bring success to the club over the last number of years.
“Every team that starts out the year have the ambition of being county champions at the end of it. We’re no different, but we do take it game by game. The win over Clarecastle in the first round set us up nicely for the break and since the championship started up again we’ve had good wins over Ballyea, Cratloe and the last day over Newmarket. We’re thrilled to be in the final. It’s where we wanted to be from the outset and we’re really looking forward to Sunday,” he adds.
The 38-year-old knows that his side will be favourites — they’re 1/6, while Clooney-Quin are available at 9/2 — but any thoughts of complacency are quickly banished. “I’ve always said it, that the Clare championship is one of the most competitive championships in the the country,” says O’Meara.
“There have been 11 different winners in the last 15 years and in any given day any team can beat anybody else. We have seen that over the past two years in particular with the teams that have been relegated — they have been in the semi-final the previous year.
“Clooney-Quin represent a huge challenge to us — they have a number of exceptional hurlers, players of great experience like Fergal Lynch and Conor Harrison, while they’ve got Peter Duggan who is probably the form hurler in Clare at present. They’ve young lads like Ryan Taylor and Ronan O’Donnell, so we’re under no illusions about the task we face on Sunday and it’s just about us making sure that we give our best possible performance and if we do that then hopefully the result will go our way,” he adds.
O’Meara references the Clare Cup meeting between the sides during the summer to underscore the challenge that Clooney-Quin pose. “It was definitely one of the most competitive Cup games that we would have played this year,” he says, “and there was nothing in it, I think we won by a point or two points in the end.
“Both teams would’ve been down the four or five players playing with Clare, but I remember remarking on the day that Clooney-Quin were very hungry for the ball and hungry to win and I thought afterwards that they’d go places. They certainly have.
“For us to get over Clooney-Quin we’re going to have to give our season’s best performance — it’s going to be a huge challenge. Finals aren’t easily won. We’re focusing on giving our best performance of the year to date and if that’s good enough, then it’s good enough and if it’s not then we’ll be congratulating Clooney-Quin.”
He aims to be congratulating his own players on another job well done.