*Photograph: Burren Eye Photography
Few can argue that Sixmilebridge were the top team of the decade just gone in Co Clare but one glaring statistic jumps out, their inability to complete back to back titles.
Management: Tim Crowe (manager), Davy Fitzgerald (coach), Seoirse Bulfin (asst coach), Martin Conlon (asst coach), Timmy Crowe (physical trainer), Noel Considine (goalkeeper coach)
Captain: Shane Golden & Derek Fahy
Most Recent: 2019
Key Player: Alex Morey
Fresh Blood: N/A
One has to go back to 1992 and 1993 for the last instance in which Sixmilebridge managed to successfully defend their title as Clare SHC champions. Since overcoming Newmarket-on-Fergus in the 2013 decider, they have brought the Canon Hamilton back O’Garneyside in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
Trainer of the first Sixmilebridge side to win the Clare SHC back in 1977, Tim Crowe returned as manager last year in what was most definitely a successful comeback. He is of the view that the task in getting to the summit is so arduous that teams such as The Bridge are unable to retain their championship.
“With the exception of Crusheen in 2010 and 2011, you’ve to go back to St Josephs Doora/Barefield in 1998 and 1999 for someone to have defended the championship, it is just so competitive, it takes so much out of you that you tend to lose that ten percent that can be decisive in winning that second title, most clubs suffered that problem and it has appeared to be almost impossible for any club. With the exception of Kilkenny at inter-county, nobody has defended their title in Ireland at a national level”.
Training in “a bog field” was par for the course back in 1977, Tim recalled. Prior to the reopening of GAA pitches, they were training on a farmer’s field plus a South Clare astro turf in what represents an ode to the olden days.
An ankle injury to Paidi Fitzpatrick means rearrangements will have to be made to their defence which overcame Cratloe to claim their fourteenth senior championship last October. The strength and depth of their panel has always been an integral part of their armoury with non-county players like Alex Morey, Brian Corry and Evan McInerney among the standout performers in recent successes. Their ability to blood at least one new player in championship per year may be in question for 2020 owning to the absence of the Clare Cup campaign.
Crowe is once again joined by Davy Fitzgerald in the management team along with Seoirse Bulfin, both former members of the Clare senior hurling management. Ahead of Saturday’s fixture, Tim expects the addition of ex Banner boss Gerry O’Connor will boost their opponents.
“I think Éire Óg and Inagh/Kilnamona should have beaten us last year but the freshness we had going in helped us but we may not have that this year. I believe the appointment of Gerry O’Connor would have added a lot to the preparations of Éire Óg this year. I think we’re there to be shot at, we’ll try and do our best, we’re wary of it”.
Their last competitive outing was a twelve point loss to Ballygunner in the Munster club. The Bridge followers may be unable to pack into Cusack Park but they will expect a response, albeit nine months later. They have had more time than ever to recover from the excursions of winning back the Canon so the argument of fatigue associated with trying to defend a title goes out the window and it’s why now is their best opportunity to win back to back honours.