Clare's newest club Inagh-Kilnamona on a mission to secure historic breakthrough

The weight of history may not be a hefty burden for Inagh-Kilnamona but that doesn't lessen their desire to clinch a place in the record books.
Clare's newest club Inagh-Kilnamona on a mission to secure historic breakthrough

Inagh-Kilnamona's Jason McCarthy and O'Callaghan's Mills 'Jacob Loughnane and Aidan Fawl in action during a 2020 Clare SHC clash. Picture: Eamon Ward

The weight of history may not be a hefty burden for Inagh-Kilnamona but that doesn't lessen their desire to clinch a place in the record books.

The newest club in Clare has never contested a county senior hurling final while the other participants in this last four weekend oscillate between the worlds of sleeping giants and upstarts from a rags to riches playbook.

Ballyea are in the latter camp, having emerged from the shadow of fellow parishioners Clarecastle in recent years in their long journey from the junior B ranks to claim a couple of senior titles, shoot down storied Glen Rovers in a Munster final and then former All-Ireland kingpins St Thomas’ to make it all the way to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.

Éire Óg and Newmarket-on-Fergus belong to the former — the Ennis side without a county title in 31 years; the Newmarket Blues, who head the roll of honour with 23 wins, with just one success in 40 years.

It leaves Inagh-Kilnamona — a club formed just 13 years ago — still striving for that big breakthrough season and what club stalwart Paul Gannon calls “the mission to get to the last two, to get to county final day”.

This mission has been ongoing for many years now after the mid-Clare club had a first big day out when thrown in at the deep end in Cusack Park back in 2008 by taking on the then county champions Tulla in the opening round of the championship.

“It was a great start for us,” remembers Gannon. “We beat Tulla that day and Eugene Cullinan, who is the team’s manager this year, got two goals for us. “The decision to join together and form one club goes back to the early 2000s when both Inagh and Kilnamona were struggling to field teams at underage. There was a chat between the two clubs and it was agreed that we would field as Inagh-Kilnamona when the clubs didn’t have the numbers.

“Winning the U21 title as Inagh-Kilnamona in 2007 was really the catalyst for the new club. We beat a Newmarket team going for four-in-a-row by a point. It was an accumulation of circumstances at the time — numbers being the main one, but the bit of success as an amalgamation was the other thing that drove it on and we formed one club after that.” 

Inagh-Kilnamona players celebrate their win in the 2018 Clare U21 Hurling Championship. Picture: Eamon Ward
Inagh-Kilnamona players celebrate their win in the 2018 Clare U21 Hurling Championship. Picture: Eamon Ward

Since then Inagh-Kilnamona have been serial contenders, while at the same time just falling short of that big breakthrough victory. “This will be our third semi-final,” says Gannon. “In 2012 we were beaten by Cratloe; then we were back there again two years ago when were beaten by the ‘Bridge.” 

In both those games, Inagh-Kilnamona led the way for long stages — a late Cathal McInerney goal floored them against Cratloe, while a storming ‘Bridge finish yielding nine out of the last 11 points meant more disappointment.

“When you lose, you just dust yourself down and come again the next year,” says Gannon. “I remember at the end of 2013 we lost five or six players to abroad and it took us a few years to get another team. The Glynns went — one to Australia and another to America. We lost the Vaughans; we lost the Arthurs for three or four years, while Jamie Gavin and Seamie Devitt also left. We lost a lot of players but we’re lucky because every year we have good underage numbers and are able to replenish the team with new players. We are blessed because we have so many coaches from our U7s right up to our seniors, we could have 40 people involved because we have so many teams.

“You could say we have a fourth team coming again now, so it just comes and goes in cycles. Bar Pa Kelly, Gerry Coote and Sean Mahony, most of the U21 winning sides of 2016 and ’18 would be back-boning the team. Players like David Fitzgerald, Kevin Hehir, Jason and Aidan McCarthy, Cian McInerney, David Mescall and Keith White.” 

Along the way there has been a steady stream of Inagh-Kilnamona players making county teams and winning All-Irelands — Eamonn Glynn and Conor Tierney were on the breakthrough U21 success in 2009; Niall Arthur was on the 2012 and ’13 winning teams in the same grade, while Patrick Kelly manned the goal for the 2013 senior All-Ireland win.

Goalkeepers Patrick Kelly, left, Clare, and Anthony Nash, Cork, walk off the pitch after the drawn 2013 All-Ireland SHC final. Picture: Brendan Moran
Goalkeepers Patrick Kelly, left, Clare, and Anthony Nash, Cork, walk off the pitch after the drawn 2013 All-Ireland SHC final. Picture: Brendan Moran

Now the McCarthy brothers and David Fitzgerald are flying the flag at senior level and hoping to take Inagh-Kilnamona to the next level, just like county men Shane O’Donnell, David Reidy, Aaron Fitzgerald and Liam Corry will be hoping to do the same for Éire Óg.

“It’s all to play for,” says Gannon. “The ‘Bridge were going for three-in-a-row and most of their team have five medals won, so once they exited the championship every other team was going to fancy their chances a bit more.” It will be down to two by Sunday afternoon.

  • Clare SHC semi-finals: Saturday: Éire Óg v Inagh-Kilnamona, Cusack Park, 3.30pm; Sunday: Ballyea v Newmarket-on-Fergus, Cusack Park, noon

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