*Aaron Cunningham will lead the attack for Wolfe Tones. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
If anyone can epitomise the contrasting distinction between Clare Cup and Championship it’s Wolfe Tones who have struggled in the league but prospered when it came to the Canon Hamilton race.
Take the last two years as a prime example as without their inter-county spine of Rory Hayes, Aron Shanagher and the Lohan brothers Darragh and Daithi, the Shannon side have had to scrap for a final round result just to remain in Division 1B of the Clare Cup whereas on the flip side, they have grittily rolled with the punches in their championship groups to ensure back-to-back quar-ter-final finishes.
The introduction of new manager Conor Dolan has offered a fresh voice to the Tones whom he feels have the potential to go much higher provided that they can perform to their optimum.
“Without taking away from the last couple of years, the players know themselves that the groups were on the more favourable side but they also realise that the opportunity is there for them now to push on.
“There’s a good bunch of lads there that are committed to driving on this team. People look at the Clare Cup results but we only had three senior players for the first few games but once we got the bulk of our players back for the last three or four games, we won two of the last three and started to put the foundations in place for what is going to be the starting team for Saturday.
“We’re obviously not looking beyond the Clooney/Quin game because that’s our county final to start with but in the championship itself, with Ballyea being beaten last Saturday, the champion-ship is wide open. I’ve been saying that to the Wolfe Tones lads from the get-go that it’s any-one’s championship and it maybe an old cliche about who wants it the most will win but I feel that it’s the team that does the basics the best will come out on top because I’ve yet to see a team that doesn’t want it”.
The problem that all of Group 3 have is that Wolfe Tones, Clooney/Quin, Cratloe and Newmarket all reached the business end in 2022 but that simply isn’t possible this time around as only two can emerge from this neighbouring pool.
“There’s an awful lot of pride at stake in those games especially because you would have a lot of the Cratloe and Newmarket lads coming into Shannon to go to school in either St Caimin’s or the Comp [St Patrick’s Comprehensive] so not alone have these guys hurled together in school but they’ve hurled against each other coming up along so there are a lot of bragging rights at stake in this group”.
Bragging rights is one thing as these derby rivalries gear up to see who can come out on top for the knock-out stages but there’s also the realisation that one team has to also drop into the rele-gation series which only amplifies the intensity levels over the next month.
So how are Wolfe Tones fixed for their championship opener against Clooney-Quin in Cusack Park on Saturday evening (6pm)?
“We have a couple of injuries but at the end of the day, we’re going to have 15 Wolfe Tones lads taking to the pitch. Unfortunately Aron Shanagher has a hand injury at the moment, Kevin McCaf-ferty is out with a foot injury while Oisin O’Rourke who was looking forward to his first year in goal unfortunately picked up a hand injury at work. But look injuries are part and parcel of hurling and every team is in the same boat so we just need to get the best 15 available to us on Saturday to perform. From working with the players all year, overall when it comes to optimism for the future for Wolfe Tones, I really fancy their chances as with the talent of players that we have, you’d have to be expecting good things from this bunch.
“However, right now we can’t take your eye off the ball as all our focus is the Clooney/Quin game on Saturday evening.”
Management: Conor Dolan (Manager); Gary Fitzgibbon, Jamie Roughan, Colm Hanley, Ja-mie Walker, Alan Cunningham, Francis O’Halloran (Coaches/Selectors)
Joint-Captains: John Gulfoyle, Rory Hayes
Key Player: Aaron Cunningham
One to Watch: Oisin O’Rourke
Fresh Blood: Brian Murphy, Oisin O’Rourke, Colin Riordan
Departure Gate: Dylan Frawley, Ben O’Gorman (abroad).
Titles Won: 2
Last season’s run: Quarter-Finalists
Round 1 – v Clooney-Quin at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday 6pm
Round 2 – v Cratloe (Weekend of August 11/12/13th)
Round 3 – v Newmarket-on-Fergus (Weekend of August 25/26/27th)