*Fergie O’Loughlin. Photograph: Chris Copley

HE WAS COACH TO Clarecastle when they won the 2003 Clare SHC title and now Fergie O’Loughlin is coaching the Ballybrown senior hurlers, he has had a big influence on the Ballyea club and expects them to claim the Canon Hamilton for the fourth time.

Last year, he was on the sideline with Clooney/Quin who he led to a 2017 county final appearance. The Magpie has been previously involved with Bruff, LIT, Kilmoyley and the Kerry senior hurlers during a lengthy coaching career.

“Ballyea are favourites in my view, their key men will step up in the round robin stages and then again when it comes to knockout. For opposition teams, the marking of Tony Kelly will be a massive factor occupying their thoughts but don’t forget that they won the senior championship last year without him.

“They have Gearoid O’Connell and Cathal Doohan back on the scene, two big players when they won their first title in 2016. I expect Jack Browne to have a savage club campaign, he was the best defender on view in last year’s county final and yet he couldn’t make the Clare team in the championship, he’ll be gunning at all stages to prove a point. They have added a few new young lads and the likes of Mossy Gavin will have gained from the experience of last year, he has added a new dimension up front which may have been a problem for them previously, with him and Niall Deasy they are very difficult to handle.

“I’d be thinking with the group of five there’s advantages and disadvantages, the advantage is you have a first round game to get yourself sorted out and find out what are your strengths and weaknesses, the competitive games gives teams extra time to get sorted”.

Group 1:
“Group 1 is the Group of Death, that’s the biggest group and that’s the group where anyone of the games could go either way and it depends on which teams are the most well-organised and can survive without sustaining injuries especially coming to the business end, this could go to the last round of games to determine who qualifies.

“Injuries will be big especially for a side like Feakle who are limited to their starting fifteen, any injuries to their team would seriously trouble them.

“Feakle and Newmarket-on-Fergus are marked to come out in my book. Whitegate are always difficult to beat come championship. Clonlara’s defeat in the Clare Cup final may have derailed them, knowing how fickle they are. Sixmilebridge are Sixmilebridge but they have bodies lost, other teams found it difficult to deal with the system they played under Davy Fitzgerald, that is one of the reasons they won back to back titles but they are not sticking to that system and I think they may be vulnerable. Newmarket-on-Fergus have tidied up their shop a bit, they need to have learned from last year but have a physical presence that is difficult to beat. If Feakle are injury free, I think they will come out”.
Verdict: Feakle and Newmarket-on-Fergus to secure quarter-final spots

Group 2:
“With Ballyea the favourites to claim the Canon Hamilton again, I think they will top this group. The Mills got their greatest wake-up call last year, they have sorted out any skirmishes or squabbles in-house, their recent run in the Clare Cup shows they are back on track, you don’t get to a county final and end up in relegation in the space of twelve months without something being wrong, I think they are ready to go back on a decent championship run. Cratloe are a little bit off where they were for the last couple of years, I don’t think they are the force that they were. Survival from last year will help Broadford but I don’t think they have the power up front to trouble teams. It will be about survival for Clarecastle, they seem to be too reliant on the firepower of Bobby Duggan and Stephen O’Halloran and we don’t know where Stephen will be playing, I don’t think they have the power or personnel to survive”.
Verdict: Ballyea to top the group with O’Callaghans Mills to join them in the quarter-finals.

Group 3:
“This is quite clearcut for me, it’s Éire Óg and Kilmaley that should advance. Scariff will cause serious trouble in their games but I think when you tie down Mark Rodgers and Patrick Crotty, you withhold their scoring threat. Clooney/Quin must have Peter Duggan and Ryan Taylor firing on all cylinders, they are missing nine starting members from the team which contested the 2017 county final which is a big chunk, they will have a lot of young lads getting first-time senior championship experience and it could be a difficult year”.
Verdict: Éire Óg and Kilmaley to seal their quarter-final places.

Group 4:
“I would also say this one is an easier prediction. Inagh/Kilnamona will mirror themselves on where they were in the early stages of the championship last year, I was impressed with their structure and leadership but I think they will look back on the county final and be kicking themselves for not keeping with the structure that worked so well for them in the group stages, but they will learn from it and if they have the hunger, they will be very difficult to beat. Crusheen were another team to get a wake-up call last year, they went back training much earlier this year and are a lot fitter, I don’t think they were fit last year and they got injuries at bad times, now they have their house in order. Both Smith O’Briens and Wolfe Tones will put up stern tests but I don’t think they have enough power throughout their teams”.
Verdict: Inagh/Kilnamona to claim top spot with Crusheen to also progress.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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