Reigning champions Sixmilebridge got this year’s campaign off to a winning start at Cusack Park on Saturday afternoon when they defeated Ennis’ Éire Óg by 0-17 to 0-12 in an entertaining game of hurling. Despite losing Alan Mulready to a red card in the 36th minute, the Bridge managed to replicate last year’s quarter-final triumph over the same opposition.
Seeking a fifth title in eight years, the Tim Crowe managed and Davy Fitzgerald coached outfit enjoyed a 0-8 to 0-5 lead at the break. Relying in the main on Alex Morey’s free-taking abilities, they were well deserving of their five-point advantage at the whistle.
Nevertheless, Éire Óg would have to concede that a pair of goal chances spurned in the opening half proved their undoing.
The opening game of the championship on Friday evening was also played at Cusack Park and pitted last season’s semi-finalists Inagh-Kilnamona against 2017 defeated finalists, Clooney-Quin. This contest ended in favour of Inagh-Kilnamona, who recorded an impressive 2-17 to 0-14 win. With inter-county man David Fitzgerald in fine form at centre-forward, they enjoyed a 2-10 to 0-6 advantage at half-time.
Full-forward Evan McNamara grabbed the first goal on 24 minutes, while Aidan McCarthy was in for the second in injury-time. Clooney-Quin, who played without their talisman Peter Duggan, never really stepped up to the mark and must win their next game to remain in this year’s championship.
On Friday evening at Sixmilebridge, Clonlara just shaded it over Newmarket-on-Fergus. A pair of late points by Micheál O’Loughlin gave the South East Clare side a two-point victory, 0-19 to 1-14. O’ Loughlin scored eight points in all over the hour. Newmarket trailed by 0-11 to 1-6 at the interval with a Stephen Kelly flick, late in the first half providing the game’s only goal.
In an East Clare derby at Sixmilebridge on Saturday Feakle overcame Whitegate on a final score of 0-21 to 0-12. The winners were ahead by 0-9 to 0-5 at the break. Two other East Clare sides faced each other at Cusack Park. O’Callaghan’s Mills defeated Broadford by 2-13 to 0-17, having led by 2-10 to 0-13 at half-time.
Cratloe were the winners at Cusack Park on Saturday evening when they defeated Kilmaley by 3-15 to 2-11 in a ding-dong battle. Last year’s beaten finalists Cratloe raced into a ten point lead by the 22nd minute only to find it whittled down to just a single point by the 49th. A resolute Kilmaley put in a gutsy challenge in the interim. But Cratloe finished strongly and a late Shane Neville goal steadied nerves.
Kimaley were given a lifeline at 2-10 to 2-8 down, but Michael O’Malley's penalty was superbly saved by Cratloe keeper Gearoid Ryan.
Wolfe Tones na Sionna enjoyed an impressive victory over a young and inexperienced Clarecastle at Sixmilebridge on Saturday evening. 4-19 to 0-16 was the final score with Tones forward Aaron Shanagher scoring a personal tally of 2-9 over the hour. His teammates Dylan Frawley and Rory Hayes contributed first half goals to leave Clarecastle trailing by 2-9 to 0-11 at the break.
In the final contest of the weekend at Cusack Park, Ballyea outclassed Crusheen by two points, finishing 0-16 to 0-14 ahead at the final whistle. In a closely contested game, the 2017 All-Ireland club finalists were only lead once and that was when Crusheen wing forward Pat Vaughan fired over a point in the 23rd minute, to put his side 0-6 to 0-5 to the good.
But a Ballyea score by Morgan Garry and a pointed free by Niall Deasy re-established the lead and though the teams were neck and neck for the remainder of the game Ballyea, helped by the brilliance of midfielder Tony Kelly, prevailed. Kelly landed seven points from play on a day that saw his team lead by 0-8 to 0-7 at half-time.