*Feakle’s Adam Hogan is one of the county’s most exciting prospects. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
While 2021 was ultimately a successful one for Feakle after garnering their first senior silverware since 1988, there’s still no hiding from the disappointment of a premature championship exit.
While it was admittedly a much more condensed league campaign due to COVID, bridging a 33 year gap to their last Clare Cup crown seemed like the perfect stepping stone to push on in the race for the Canon Hamilton.
After all, having reached back-to-back quarter-finals since their unforeseen year of purgatory in intermediate, the welcome boost of silverware should have been the catalyst to be in the shake up for honours.
While a thrilling opener against Clooney-Quin only yielded a draw, a gritty victory over Newmarket-on-Fergus left Feakle on top of the group table heading into the final round. However, for the second successive year, Éire Óg proved the death knell to their championship hopes as the East Clare side were agonisingly dumped out of the championship at the group stages.
With Éire Óg and Newmarket both ending up in the semi-finals, it has been an itch that has taken almost twelve months to scratch but finally Feakle have the opportunity to make amends. And as manager PJ Kelleher acknowledges, in such an evenly-matched group, there is little wiggle room for error with only two emerging to the knock-out stages.
“It’s a very competitive group as realistically every team will feel that they can beat each other in it. I mean, just look at the other four teams. Newmarket are obvious the seeded team after contesting last year’s semi-final, Sixmilebridge were going for a three-in-a-row of titles last year, Clonlara are always contenders while Whitegate should have beaten Clonlara last year. So in that sense, every match will seem like a knock-out tie.”
Having patiently bided their time for championship lift-off, Feakle are presented with an arduous start as they face Clonlara and Sixmilebridge in the space of eight days.
“You’re always trying to get a win in the first round because it really sets the tone and settles you into your stride. However, every team is obviously targeting the same thing so all we can do is focus on ourselves and hoping that will be enough to overcome Clonlara.
“It’s a quick turnaround until we play Sixmilebridge a week later and while we are only concentrated on Clonlara, we will know a lot about where we stand after those two games in the space of a week”.
For a squad that has never been plentiful at the best of times, a succession of recent injuries has provided additional headaches ahead of this crucial first week.
“We began to pick up a few injuries recently [Con Smyth, Evan McMahon, Oisin Donnellan, Fiachra Donnellan] and having a tight enough group of players anyway numbers-wise, we’ll have to hope that they can recover in time for Saturday.
“Either way, we won’t be using that as an excuse, it’s a chance for others to stand up and we just have to get on with it and put our best foot forward for Saturday.”
Management: PJ Kelleher (Manager), Tomás Downes (Coach), Henry Hayes, Raymond Nelson (Selectors); Mike Carmody (S&C)
Captain: Con Smyth
Key Player: Shane McGrath
One to Watch: Ronan O’Connor
Fresh Blood: Conor McGann, Oisin O’Connor, Ronan O’Connor, Sean Walsh
Departures Gate: Cathal Collins, Colm Naughton
Most Recent Title: 1988
Last season’s run: Entered with real momentum following first Clare Cup title in 33 years but ending with a shuddering halt as their quarter-final hopes were dashed in a dramatic final round turnaround that saw them go from top to third following defeat to Éire Óg.