*Ballyea boss, Robbie Hogan on the sideline in Cusack Park. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

A WARZONE in the middle third in Sunday’s Clare SHC final and who wins the battle in this sector will be crucial to determining the destination that the Canon Hamilton is headed, Ballyea’s manager has predicted.

It’s table quiz season so here’s a handy starting question. Cuala finally ended Ballyea’s unforgettable 2016/17 journey in the All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship Final. Who were the only other team to overcome the breakthrough Clare champions throughout their eleven match championship charge?

If you haven’t already pieced it together, it was Éire Óg who bookended their neighbour’s historic adventure in an opening round classic that saw the sides locked in a stalemate after 60 minutes only for the Townies to prevail decisive in extra-time by 3-26 to 1-23.

And like any vibrant derby banter, Éire Óg haven’t shied away from reminding them of that fact according to Ballyea manager Robbie Hogan.

“There’s no distance between us really, both parishes seem to blend into each other so we all have friends in the town and there would be a natural healthy rivalry there as well between the clubs. Even when we did well in 2016, there were quick to remind us that they beat us so that’s all good honest fun”.

Amazingly for two clubs that have been consistently reaching the shake-up for honours ever since, that 2016 clash was Ballyea and Éire Óg’s last championship showdown, until now that is.

“During my time on the backroom team, we’ve played Éire Óg three times, we drew with them twice at Senior B and then in 2016 in the first round. So of the three competitive senior championship games against Éire Óg that I’ve been involved in, inside 60 minutes we could not be separated.

“I don’t know how we haven’t met even at the group stages in the seven years since as some teams you can’t get out of their way you meet them so often, the likes of Broadford and Cratloe, so it’s a strange one.

“It makes this a bit of a step into the unknown though and likewise for them because we haven’t crossed paths since 2016. By playing a team you can really get a sense of what they are about. Take Cratloe for instance this year, we learned so much for the semi-final rematch from playing them at the group stages.

“So from watching them over the past few years and videos, we know what Éire Óg are about from afar but actually confronting that on the field is another challenge. So we’re really going to have to roll up our sleeves and go at it because Éire Óg are a serious team, with plenty of skill and physicality and we’re going to have to be on our game to get over them”.

Hogan’s reference to Cratloe isn’t surprising considering that 13 point group decider reverse was Ballyea’s only championship defeat in two years, a timely wake-up call that has spurred the Bally Boys on to remain steely determined on their way to exacting full revenge with a 17 point turnaround last time out.

“Cratloe came at us that day wanting to win and more importantly needing to win. Maybe in the back of our own minds we had already qualified but I wouldn’t be using that as an excuse. Cratloe are a very good team and they got a march on us. It was arm-wrestling back and forth until around the 28th minute and then we had a goal chance and straight from that chance they went down and scored two goals and got another free before half-time.

“So from a position that we might have been a point up, all of a sudden we were seven points down while two minutes into the second half we were also down a man. So you give Cratloe a seven point and a player lead and it will be a long afternoon and I can tell you it was an extremely long day followed by a sleepless night and a bad week.

“Something that we don’t do a huge amount of is video analysis but we all sat down together as a group and looked at the match and realised that our intensity levels weren’t where they should be and that we let the jersey down.

“That wasn’t the fix of it, that would have to come on the field so in one way we were very lucky because some teams don’t get a second chance. So it was a wake-up call at the right time”.

Ballyea haven’t looked back since as they toppled Group 3 winners Clooney/Quin at the last eight stage before faring much better with 14 men in their Cratloe semi-final rematch a fortnight ago. Éire Óg meanwhile had to deal with their make-or-break crossroads in the first round as contrasting halves against Kilmaley ensured that they have essentially been playing knock-out hurling ever since.

The resemblances don’t end there though as Ballyea and Éire Óg possess an eerie similarity of styles, dual county players, physicality and work ethic which only adds to the intrigue of such a mouth-watering finale according to 2016 and ’21 winning manager Hogan.

“The middle third is going to be a warzone. Both teams will be looking to get their finishers on the ball but it’s going to be getting that quality supply into them is where the biggest challenge lies. So we are similar in a lot of ways but fundamentally you just have to keep working on the simple things, the basics that you would try and drill into an Under 10 player. It’s the simple things that win you the game a lot of the time and it’s the team that makes the least amount of silly mistakes that is going to prevail. For example, two hands on the hurley in October is a prerequisite so it’s the simple things that bring you a long way.

“For every score, go back six or seven seconds earlier and you’ll invariably find that someone does something somewhere to put that ball into a scoring position whether that’s a hook, a block or a tackle. So at the time it may only seem like a small things but 60 minutes of small things add up to being huge and in a close game as we’re anticipating on Sunday, it’s the team that implements the simple things more that will emerge on top”.

Revenge for 2016?

 

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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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