*Darragh O’Shea. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Any thoughts of St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield gradually assimilating themselves back at senior level quickly evaporated last month when pooled in the dreaded group of death alongside back-to-back county champions Ballyea, then reigning Clare Cup champions Kilmaley, 2021 county finalists Inagh-Kilnamona and 2020 intermediate winners Scariff.
With only two teams to progress from that bearpit quintet, there is little room for errors as all four opponents will fancy their chances of reaching the business end of the championship.
Add in a reconfigured management team that still incudes coach and former county senior Oisin O’Brien as well as a host of absentees and it would have been easy for the Parish to curse their luck (or lack of).
However, new manager Shane O’Grady, who successfully guided the club’s second string to the Junior A honours last year, is not about to reach for any excuses.
“At the end of the day, you’re testing yourself against the very best. That’s where these guys want to be, they want to be playing senior hurling and playing against the very best in the county so that’s where we are now and we need to step up accordingly.
“Everyone is talking about this group of five but looking down through the draw, there’s no easy group and in the senior championship there are no easy opponents. Look, we probably wouldn’t have picked this group if we had the choice but it’s where we’re at now so we have to embrace that and go for it”.
That added determination has been carved out by St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield’s utter frustration at not being able to reclaim their senior status since their relegation from the top tier in 2018. Indeed, two final defeats and a semi-final exit in the three seasons unquestionably sharpened their appetite to finally get over the line in last October’s extra-time breakthrough against Tulla.
“At the final whistle, there was a huge sense of relief. Having lost a few finals, being in intermediate brought with it increasing pressure to get out of it so it’s was great to finally get back to senior level. Now it’s the opposite because being a new team and the underdogs for every game, there isn’t as much pressure”.
And while mind games are commonplace ahead of any championship, O’Grady knows that everyone in the group will be eying up his side for victory, having only come up from intermediate.
“For anyone looking in, we’re going to be the underdogs, that’s understandable. For us it’s all about performances and bringing our performances up to a senior level so I think if we can do that, we can give ourselves every chance. We have lost a few bodies, we’re down seven from last year’s intermediate side including our joint-captain Tom Hannan to a cruciate but we do have young lads coming through.
“We’ve had a good enough Clare Cup campaign and we’re finding out new things about our young players all the time so developing them and getting them used to this level is what it’s all about. It’s a big step tip obviously but I think this Saturday we’ll find out where we’re at now.”
They certainly will against a Scariff side that are two years further down the road than the Parish, having emerged from intermediate in 2020 with a fresh-faced side and establishing themselves at senior level with crucial victories when needed most.
“They are similar to ourselves in that they came up three years ago and have developed young players and brought them along and we’re trying to do the same. They’ve some excellent hurlers, no more so than their county seniors Mark Rodgers and Patrick Crotty So Scariff are a serious outfit, we’ve to show them that respect but come Saturday, if we can bring our performance, we’ll be there-or-thereabouts”.
St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield
Management: Shane O’Grady (Manager); Oisin O’Brien (Coach); Liam Clohessy (Assistant Coach); Denis Maher, Fintan Lahiffe, Dave Morrissey, Vinnie Sheedy (Selectors); Evan Hennessy (S&C): Eugene Moynihan (Physio); Sean Conroy (Kit Man)
Joint-Captains: Tom Hannan & Adam Mungovan
Key Player: David Conroy
One to Watch: Ian Williams
Fresh Blood: Eoin Lahiffe, Cormac Maher, Eoin McMahon, Francy Meaney, Ian Williams
Departure Gate: Jarlath Colleran, Eoin Hanrahan, Donal O’Halloran (abroad); Tom Hannan, Fionn Kelleher, Senan Crosbie, Mike Nash (Injured)
Titles Won: 5
Last season’s run: Intermediate Champions
Round 1 – v Scariff at Dr. Daly Park Tulla, Saturday 4pm
Round 2 – v Kilmaley at Clarecastle (Saturday, July 29th), 3.45pm
Round 3 – v Ballyea (Weekend of August 11/12/13th)
Round 4 – A bye (Weekend of August 25/26/27th)
Round 5 – v Inagh/Kilnamona (Weekend of September 8/910th)