Stow away your preconceptions, though. Kilmallock manager Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin isn’t having any truck with your suggestions that his side are getting a useful run-out ahead of the decider on St Patrick’s Day. Granted, he’s been relying on DVDs and YouTube to get a sense of Portaferry, but what he’s seen has impressed him.
“There’s been a bit of that, going online and so forth to get a look at them, and we’ve been looking at DVDs to try and get a sense of who they are.
“I’d have to say I don’t know a whole lot about the club, other than they’re a good physical outfit who’ll be well up for it — that’s clear enough.”
Boilerplate? Not quite. After all, O’Loughlin doesn’t have to look very far for evidence of a Limerick team that was turned over in similar circumstances.
Na Piarsaigh were widely expected to overcome Loughgiel three years ago but the Antrim club sent them back to Shannonside deflated.
“Na Piarsaigh got caught a couple of years ago — I don’t know if they underestimated the challenge they faced that time but from what we’ve seen on DVD of Portaferry, they’re a strong team, you certainly wouldn’t be going into the game today thinking ‘this is going to be a cakewalk against these fellas’. We won’t be underestimating them. They seem to be a very balanced team, they won the Ulster championship in convincing terms.
“In that sense we’re not taking anything for granted, and it’s a message I’ve been stressing for the lads — that we have to consider our own side of things, to be prepared for a tough challenge, which I’m sure we’ll get.”
If they need motivation, they only have to glance at the sideline. Gavin O’Mahony has been more than just a Limerick senior for Kilmallock this year, he’s been a leader at vital times, but a late red card picked up in the Munster club final against Cratloe means he’s in a tracksuit this afternoon in Mullingar.
“Obviously we’re without Gavin,” says O’Loughlin, “He has to serve a suspension after the Munster club final, and he’s a loss to us but apart from that we have a full squad to pick from.
“That’s one thing that’s helped, the fact that we’d have known since the Munster final that he’d be missing the next day. It’s not like he broke a finger earlier in the week and we’re trying to plan something the last few days.
“In that sense, the gap has been a help because we were able to try different lads in different positions to accommodate his loss, they were able to get games under their belt getting used to what we wanted to do without having him around. We’ve had him in training with us all along, though, and he’s a great guy to have around in terms of pushing lads on.
“I suppose you could say it’d be great for everyone if we made it to the final and he got another game out of it, but our focus is on today’s game, we’re not looking beyond it. Getting past Portaferry is top of the agenda.”
The Clare icon feels they’ve managed the Christmas break well, and they’re ready for the challenge: “We trained away right up to the last week of December, and then we took nine or 10 days off. We came back into it in January and it probably took a few days for fellas to get re-focused, but we’ve had challenge games and plenty of good training sessions. Certainly we have no excuses on that side of things: we’ve prepared well and it’s gone well that way. We’re looking forward to the game. It’s been such a long season that things can drag on a little, so it’s good to have the games come round again.”