*Colm Madden in action for Whitegate. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
There was a real sense of déjà vu as Whitegate were drawn out as the third team of five in the latest Group of Death and therefore receiving a first round bye for the second successive season.
Manager Terence Fahy would gladly take a repeat performance of their 2021 campaign that saw them finish with aplomb and almost snatch a historic quarter-final spot.
In a group involving Inagh/Kilnamona, Kilmaley, Clonlara and O’Callaghan’s Mills, all of whom had contested at least a semi-final in the previous four years, Whitegate were initially seen as the relegation candidate but after lowering O’Callaghan’s Mills, they had Clonlara on the rack in the next round only to let them off the hook at the death while drawing with eventual county finalists Inagh-Kilnamona in the final round.
“The team got better and improved with every round last year,” reflected manager Terence Fahy. “We blew a few chances we had in the group to get an extra win or two which we didn’t take but our lads played very well last year so hopefully we can get into the same groove again in the next couple of weeks”.
While their group rivals locked horns in the opening round, Whitegate were forced to wait a week before commence their championship campaign and it’s an identical process this time around, not that Fahy is complaining.
“It was a help last year because we’ve a very tight panel so we had injuries the same as every team does and therefore it bought us a little bit more time and it’s the same this year. We’ve a few injuries that we hope can clear up in time over the next two weeks so for a light panel numbers-wise, I think it is nice to have the bye in the first round.
“Everybody told us last year that it was a disadvantage but in truth, it can swing either way. Newmarket will have the advantage of having a match under their belts and being up and running whereas we’ll have that extra week to get ready so it will just come down to who can perform best on the day really.”
Only Clonlara remain from last year’s quintet but if anything the quality has increased as 2019 and ’20 champions Sixmilebridge, last year’s semi-finalists Newmarket and 2021 Clare Cup champions Feakle are all vying with Whitegate for only two quarter-final berths.
“I would think it’s an open group, Initially it was seen as the group of death but we were also involved in one last year which turned out to be a very open group so hopefully it will be the same this year too”.
Management: Terence Fahy (Manager); Kenneth Doyle; Patrick Minogue; Dave Moriarty (S&C)
Captain: Eoin Quirke
Key Player: Eoin Quirke
One to Watch: Conor Whelan
Fresh Blood: Finn Madden, Conor Whelan
Departures Gate: Colin Burke (abroad), Tommy Hogan (abroad)
Titles Won: 2
Most Recent Title: 1961
Last season’s run: Ear-marked for another tilt with relegation, Whitegate not only proved their doubters wrong but realistically should have been celebrating a quarter-final breakthrough had they completed the job against Clonlara