*Clonlara’s Michael Clancy in action against Killian Bane and Gary Guilfoyle. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
As the clock ticks down to the weekend’s eagerly awaited TUS Clare senior hurling championship semi-finals, its fair to say that few, if indeed any, would have predicted who the final four in the race to become 2023 Canon Hamilton trophy winners would be.
Yes, Clonlara would have been on many people’s shortlist of likely winners this year but the progress of Scariff, Crusheen and Feakle, while merited, has surprised many.
This week the clubs were busy putting the final touches to preparations for the weekend’s games.
League results in the early part of the season didn’t give much away but Clonlara did finish their Clare Cup Division 1A campaign strongly with four wins in a row.
They continued this form into the championship and won all three games in their group beating O’Callaghans Mills, Sixmilebridge and Crusheen to set up a quarter final date with a hotly fancied Éire Óg where they produced, arguably, their best display of the season to date.
Their opponents this week are Feakle who had to wait until round four of the league for their first win of the season. They met their semi-final opponents in the second last round of the league and this finished in a 1-23 each draw which suggests that Sunday’s meeting of the sides will be close.
Both will be picking from full panels having confirmed a clear bill of health earlier this week. Inter-county man John Conlon has been in outstanding form for Clonlara along with his Clare team colleague Ian Galvin and they form a very strong central attacking unit.
Their fellow Clare player, Adam Hogan is expected to be charged with marking Galvin. Both sides possess plenty of players capable of giving the expected big attendance plenty to cheer about.
The O’Loughlins, Paraic and Micheál, the Moriartys Aidan and Cian, and the experienced Colm Galvin are key members of the Clonlara line up along with Dylan McMahon at centre back while Feakle will be looking to Evan McMahon, Eoin Tuohy, Conn Smith, Martin Daly, Shane McGrath and Clare goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan to lead their charge. Don’t be surprised if this game requires extra time to produce a winner.
Scariff competed in Division 1B in the league and they finished in second place behind Clooney/Quin. They have continued that form into the championship where they had wins over St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield and Inagh/Kilnamona which drawing with both Ballyea, the defending champions and Kilmaley.
Team captain Mark Rodgers has been in spectacular form as his contribution of 3-12 against Clooney-Quin in the quarter final highlights.
All-Ireland handball champion Diarmaid Nash, Daniel Treacy, Keelan Hartigan, Patrick Crotty and Patrick Ryan have all been prominent in their march to this stage. They also will have a full strength panel to select from on Sunday.
Crusheen’s progress to this stage of the competition may be the biggest surprise but few are prepared to bet against them. They were big outsiders in the quarter final against Newmarket-on-Fergus but they emerged as comfortable winners.
They mixed the good and the bad in the early part of the season and they commenced their championship campaign with a four point loss to Sixmilebridge. They bounced back with an impressive win over O’Callaghans Mills but then suffered a nine point loss to Clonlara in their final group game, a result that the majority felt had put them out of the competition. However the adoption by Clare GAA of the new score difference application process changed all that and Crusheen qualified as runners up from the group.
They have got stronger as the championship has progressed helped by the return to full fitness of a number of players who missed the early part of the season and these include Clare U20 player Diarmuid Mullins.
They have some very experienced players in their captain Cian Dillon, former Clare goalkeeper Donal Tuohy, former Clare captain Gerry O’Grady while Breffni Horner, Tadhg Dean and Luke Ketalaar are amongst newcomers to this level of hurling who are making an impression.
The favourites tag is with Scariff but the East Clare side’s management team which includes Mark McKenna and Donal Moloney will have warned their charges that a Crusheen team with the experienced Michael Browne in their management won’t be easily overcome.
Lively contests expected in intermediate semi-finals
This weekend’s intermediate hurling semi-finals are also expected to produce lively and close affairs.
After a shaky start Jim McInerney’s Tulla have recovered and will start as favourites against the Pat Keane managed Sixmilebridge outfit. The ‘Bridge have a good mix of experience and youth with their line up including senior championship medal winners in Aidan Quilligan, Evan McInerney, Kevin Lynch and Alan Mulready to mention a few.
Inter county star David McInerney will lead Tulla’s charge and they also have a good mix of youth and experience. However former county player Daragh Corry is a major doubt. He missed the quarter final due to injury and it will be nearer match time before a decision will be made as to whether or not he will be in the squad for this one.
Definitely out are Liam McInerney and Andrew Conheady, neither of whom have been involved since early in the season due to injury.
The meeting of neighbours Corofin and Ruan will bring a big attendance to Sixmilebridge on Sunday. Killian O’Connor and hurling captain Damian O’Loughlin picked up injuries when helping Corofin to secure their senior football status for 2024 last weekend and it will be later in the week before Joe Cahill and his management team will be able to make a decision as to whether or not they will be available.
While he played in their quarter final win last week, Aidan Lynch is an injury concern for Ruan who will be hoping to repeat last week’s form if they are to have a chance of beating their opponents.
The sides met earlier in the campaign when Corofin were four point winners and they will carry the favourites tag into this week’s semi-final.