*Pat McNamara on commentary duty for Scariff Bay. Photograph: Burren Eye Photography
Current analyst with Scariff Bay Community Radio, Pat McNamara who served as a selector with the Clare Development Squads at U14 to U17 levels from 2007 to 2012 gives his prediction on what way the Clare SHC will pan out this year.
Pat was formerly involved with the Killanena intermediate hurlers and has been a prominent mentor with underage sides for Feakle/Killanena.
“With Clare followers having gone back in droves to watch the county team showing fabulous form and playing a brand of hurling that everyone loves and with players scattered all over the county, I’d be hopeful these fans will want to come to club games and increase the amount of spectators present and the atmosphere. Our U20s showed they had good talent so I’m hoping the reawakening of the joy of the game might get people to support their local teams in Cusack Park, Tulla, Sixmilebridge, Broadford and other venues, the new stand in Dr Daly Park, Tulla will be a new feature for people to look forward to from the iconic spot on the hill.
“I think overall, it’s hard to look past Ballyea, last year they won without their talisman in Tony Kelly and now with him back in flying form, they will be very difficult to stop.
“Their nearest rivals for me will be Inagh/Kilnamona, the same as last year. If you take the form of David Fitzgerald, if he carries what he showed for Clare back into the club then he will be a massive asset, you’ll also have Aidan McCarthy coming back to full fitness which will really strengthen their cause.
“Éire Óg should be strong enough to make the semi-finals, they were without their county lads in the league but their return will make them very competitive. One of the coming teams in my view would be Kilmaley, they’ve had a great Cup run, they have a lot of very fine hurlers who will need to transfer their Clare Cup displays into the championship.
“It is called the Group of Death for good reason, any two of the five teams could come out. I’m going to go against the grain and leave two of the favoured teams out, that being Sixmilebridge and Clonlara because I think Feakle and Newmarket-on-Fergus will qualify for the quarter-finals. Feakle are very hard to beat, if they have all their players available they will be a match for anybody. Newmarket-on-Fergus are a team on the up and I think they will do enough to get out. I’m leaving Clonlara, Sixmilebridge and Whitegate out but we are talking about margins of one point in these games, I reckon. Whitegate will have at least one if not two big upsets in them. Injuries for Feakle could change things as the campaign drags on”.
Verdict: Feakle & Newmarket-on-Fergus to progress to quarter-finals.
“This is more clearcut, I’ve tipped Ballyea to retain their county title so unsurprisingly I think they will top the group. I think Cratloe have just enough, they are a dual club with a tremendous record of getting to the latter stages, they are proven to be great athletes and players. Both Clarecastle and Broadford are improving sides but I don’t think they will qualify. O’Callaghans Mills are very unpredictable and being unpredictable is not helping them to an extent”.
Verdict: Ballyea definitely to progress and I think Cratloe will join them.
“Éire Óg are going to make a semi-final at least this year. Kilmaley following their Clare Cup run definitely have form, the league doesn’t always transfer to championship but they have a lot of talent and players in their mid-twenties who are about to hit the peak of their powers so I wouldn’t be any bit surprised if they came out. Scariff will be very close to both of them but they are very young, it might take another year for them to really push on at senior level. Clooney/Quin with players like Peter Duggan and Ryan Taylor are very hard to write off but it will take eighteen to twenty players to get over the line and I don’t think they have the same balance as Éire Óg and Kilmaley”.
Verdict: Éire Óg and Kilmaley to progress to the quarter-finals.
“I certainly favour Inagh/Kilnamona to come out on top but it is very hard to pick who will join them. I’m leaning towards Wolfe Tones, they have some very good individuals that will be key. Smith O’Briens need a year to consolidate their status at senior, I feel. Crusheen you can never write them off, they are a tremendous championship side but I think Wolfe Tones will just about shade past them”.
Verdict: Inagh/Kilnamona to top the group with Wolfe Tones to sneak into the quarter-finals.