‘Niall was playing senior for the club when a few of them weren’t even born’

Sixmilebridge were the popular favourites to pull in a third Clare county senior hurling title in five years, but Clooney-Quin didn’t read the script. The underdogs, in a first county senior final for three-quarters of a century, put it up to the ’Bridge that first day.

In the replay, however, a few astute changes helped the champions to a six-point win. Sixmilebridge manager John O’Meara was worried after the drawn game, but now feels the replay “will certainly stand to us” ahead of this weekend’s Munster club meeting with Ballygunner.

“The drawn county final was a very intense game, as was the replay, and it was great to come out the other side. I think that extra game will be of benefit to us in terms of sharpness and so on for the match on Sunday.

“We made a couple of changes for the county final replay: We put Seadna Morey on Peter Duggan, and that move worked out well.

"The first day we were red-hot favourites to win but Clooney-Quin put in an almighty shift and we were lucky, to be honest, to get out of there with a draw. Now, we could have gotten a win at the end of the first game, but we wouldn’t have deserved it. We were much better the second day.”

Part of the ’Bridge renaissance is the ongoing form of Niall Gilligan. The Clare All-Ireland-winner from 1997 might be 41, but his contribution can’t be underestimated.

“He’s a huge influence on the group,” says O’Meara. “He was playing senior for the club when a few of them weren’t even born, so he brings huge, huge experience to the dressing room. He contributes on the field and all the lads look up to him.

“We’re certainly thrilled he’s on our side, and he’s a great character. At times you’d wonder who’s the youngster and who’s the older guy, but he’s a great guide to those younger players, particularly when they arrived on the senior team first.

“We’ve used him sparingly. We haven’t used him in every game and it’s about managing things that way, in terms of his age and his workload, what he’s able for now compared to five, 10, or 15 years ago. We’re aware of that and so is Niall.

“In that regard, generally, we have a few niggles and so on, but we’d be hopeful they’d all be cleared up by Sunday.”

O’Meara is looking forward to visiting Walsh Park, where Ballygunner play their eighth game in eight weeks.

“We had a similar run, ourselves, in the 2013 championship and I’d always be of the opinion that, while people can talk about burn-out, once you’re going game to game and fellas are getting up for those games, then I wouldn’t read too much into it.

“At the end of the day, it’s a Munster semi-final and whether it’s week-to-week or there are two-week gaps between games, the two teams will be going hammer and tongs.

“The prize is massive and, no matter what happens, the competition ends in two or three weeks’ time, so whatever the outcome, lads will have a long winter to recover from the games.”

Ballygunner are coming in on the back of a fourth Waterford title in a row, and Sixmilebridge have been dominant in Clare for several years, also. Is there a sense of unfinished business for both clubs at provincial level?

“This is our third crack at it in the last five years. We came up against a really good Na Piarsaigh team in our two previous campaigns.

“In 2015, we had ourselves in a winning position in our own grounds, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for us on the day.

“There was a huge learning curve in that for everybody involved and I think we’ve taken a lot of lessons out of games like that.

“We’re treating Sunday no differently to any other games we’ve played this year, we’ll be looking for a performance for the hour. The fact it’s in Waterford will make no difference to us, it’s just about getting the best performance out of ourselves.

“If that’s good enough, great, and if it’s not, well, so be it.”


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