*Inagh/Kilnamona manager, Eugene Cullinan. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

No pressure or extra expectation rests on Inagh/Kilnamona’s shoulders despite the club formed in 2007 preparing for their first ever Clare SHC final this weekend, manager Eugene Cullinan affirmed.

Allowing his name to go forward for the position of team manager at Inagh-Kilnamona was “an easy decision” for Eugene Cullinan. “I asked a few lads if they would be interested in being involved and they said yes and once I had the boys with me I had no problem in going for the position. I knew that there was a good bunch of lads there. Like a lot of teams around the county there is potential but to change it into real stuff to win a championship are two different things..We are starting to fulfill our potential now”.

He has been involved in the club from an early age and played at all levels. When Inagh and Kilnamona became one club at the end of 2007, they faced into their first season as one in 2008. In the first round of the senior championship they came up against Tulla who were the title holders, Inagh/Kilnamona won that day helped by two goals from Eugene.

Building on success at underage grades “takes time”, Cullinan stressed. “There has been phenomenal underage success and a huge amount of work that goes unseen. Eventually you will get there if you work hard enough. We all know that the harder the work the more success that will come. We are getting it this year and we are delighted”.

Having a tough route to the final by facing Kilmaley, Clonlara, O’Callaghans Mills and Whitegate in the group stages followed by knockout wins over Cratloe and Éire Óg has been an improvement, Cullinan said.

He is strong in the view that Inamona this weekend “are up against one of the top teams in the final, their record is phenomenal, two county titles in the last five years, one Munster title and an All-Ireland final appearance. Their record is unbelievable, No other Clare club side has reached the final since Doora/Barefield in 2000. They are a really great team”.

“The talk is about who they are missing but nobody is talking about who they have, Jack Browne, Paul Flanagan in the backs, Gary Brennan, Pierce Lillis, Stan Lineen in the middle and Niall Deasy, Mossy Gavin and Aaron Griffin are flying it up front. We are under no illusions at all”.

He continued, “We know Ballyea well. The last time we played Ballyea in championship hurling, Niall Deasy scored 1-13. While they are without Tony Kelly this time, Deasy is still a brilliant hurler, they can get scores. Gary Brennan has taken over the mantle of Tony Kelly at midfield, he has changed his game and he is bringing everyone else into the game, running at defences and taking them on. They are very solid at the back”.

Ballyea’s experience makes them favourites, Eugene argued. “They are fit, fast strong, they have know how, they know how to get things done on the field, they are brilliant brilliant hurlers. They have the experience and the record. They are the favourites and we are the underdogs but we will relish the underdog tag”.

Huge interest is evident in the parishes of Inagh and Kilnamona for the county final but it is not impacting on players, the manager said. “This bunch are very grounded. There is no one getting carried away, we are focusing on the game and letting the people of the parish enjoy the occasion. We are feeling no extra pressure”.

Team selection is based on who is going well in training, he admitted. “If you are doing it on the field you will get a chance” while adding that their panel has strengthened as the year has progressed. Doubts remain over the fitness of county men David Fitzgerald and Aidan McCarthy with McCarthy featuring in Kilmurry Ibrickane’s Clare SFC final loss to Éire Óg on Sunday.

Among two of their younger squad members to play central roles in their run to the final are Conner Hegarty and Josh Guyler, both of whom played minor last year. “There have been huge sacrifices from the lads, coming back from Dublin, Cork, out from Limerick, training at different venues throughout the county in the past month, it hasn’t been easy but it hasn’t been easy for any club. Thank God the sacrifices are paying off for the lads that made the sacrifices”.

With this being the club’s first senior final appearance, Cullinan said it hasn’t brought with it a degree of expectation. “There is no pressure, maybe if it was four or five years after we came together there would have been. There is a totally different bunch of lads now. We don’t feel the pressure. It’s down to one game now, it will be tough, there will be battles all over the field. It will require sixty minutes of real workrate. Conditions will come into play, there my be wind and rain and soft ground and there will be a big crowd. The lads will have to be ready for that. We are just looking at getting a performance out of ourselves”.

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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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