This weekend marks the beginning of the U21 hurling championship with three quarter-final games taking place in the ‘A’ competition along with a preliminary round fixture. Between them there are five ties down for decision in both the ‘B’ and ‘C’ grades.
With all games in the ‘A’ grade scheduled for the same time of 12:30, neutral patrons are given the task of picking which game to attend. Each game has its own unique attraction; the derby clash of Sixmilebridge and Broadford could produce anything, Kilmaley get an opportunity to justify their favourites tag against Inagh/Kilnamona, the Blues and the Townies promises to be a battle while the clash of Clarecastle and Feakle/Killanena promises to be a contest full of fight and flair.
U21 A Preliminary Round:
Sixmilebridge vs Broadford 01/03/15 in Clonlara at 12:30
A South-East Clare derby is set to ignite in the setting of Clonlara when reigning champions Sixmilebridge go toe to toe with neighbours Broadford. The Bridge look set to be without County senior Jamie Shanahan who is sidelined with a back injury; however there has been speculation that Shanahan may be used by LIT in their Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final against rivals UL. Harty Cup winner with Ard Scoil Rís, Alex Morey has been ruled out of the fixture with a hand injury. As they chase a three-in-a-row Sixmilebridge managed by Brian Culbert will be relying on the likes of DIT’s Brian Carey, Conor Deasy, Brian Corry, Barry Fitzpatrick and County Minor custodian Jason Loughnane. Broadford are raring to go for this round one fixture. Having won the Minor A shield three years ago, this team are no strangers to silverware and albeit a small win having tasted success only serves to drive a team on further to replicate it. The club has been recently relegated to the Intermediate ranks, one of the main reasons being a host of experienced players have emigrated. The plus side of players departing is that younger lads have been given a chance, that experience will count for a number of Broadford’s U21 hurlers this weekend with more of their team having played at Senior level in comparison to their Sixmilebridge counterparts. Players like Shane Taylor, Darren Chaplin, Diarmuid Moloney, Donie Whelan, Stiofan McMahon and Eoghan Mason will have a big say in Sunday’s outcome. In what will be a tight affair, either side could prevail, if Sixmilebridge underestimate their opponents they will pay the price but they should just about edge this one.
U21 A Quarter-Finals:
Kilmaley vs Inagh/Kilnamona 01/03/15 in Clarecastle at 12:30
Championship favourites Kilmaley start their campaign against the challenge of Inagh/Kilnamona. After winning the Minor championship three years ago, the hope in Kilmaley is that they go on and win at the U21 grade. Having Clare Senior hurlers Conor Cleary and Michael O’Malley in their ranks will greatly improve their chances of completing this feat. Add in Clare U21 Aidan McGuane along with panellists from the Kilmaley minor champions of 2014 such as Brian Cahill, Páraic McNamara, Seán O’Loughlin and Pádraig O’Connor and one is quick to realise that they are a force to be reckoned with. Inamona will be first to test out the challenge of the favourites when they take to Clarecastle this Sunday. This group of Inagh/Kilnamona hurlers won the Minor B just three years ago and like the Broadford boys, this success can only drive them on. A win is badly needed for the Inagh/Kilnamona club after very disappointing displays in the Senior championship over the last few years. Tipped by many as potential dark-horses Inamona will be counting on County minor Jason McCarthy, David Fitzgerald, Kevin Hehir, David McCarthy and Jamesie McConigley to cause an upset. Kilmaley should have too much for the combination in this one and Clarecastle is the ideal venue to set down a marker for the championship ahead.
Newmarket-on-Fergus vs Éire Óg 01/03/15 in Whitegate at 12:30
Whitegate is deemed as the ‘neutral’ venue for the clash of the Blues and the Townies, two teams that have been written off in advance of the championship. 2013 All-Ireland hero Shane O’Donnell is in his final year at the U21 grade and he will be hoping to finish his underage career on a high note with Éire Óg in this championship. After Mary Immaculate College’s appeal to be reinstated in the Fitzgibbon Cup fell on deaf ears, their corner back Liam Corry will have his entire focus on Sunday’s clash when he puts on the number six jersey. County minor captain from 2014, Dara Walsh will be hoping to produce the good form he showed during the last twelve months. In order to be successful the Townies will need to keep a constant supply of ball flowing to O’Donnell who is expected to line out at the edge of the square. After dominating this grade at the start of the new millennium, Newmarket-on-Fergus have found themselves without a win in this competition for the last three years. Managed by Clare Minor camogie boss Darren Hayes, the Blues will be aiming to put an end to that disappointing record. Key players in the Newmarket camp include Shane Liddy, Evan Keogh, Shane Kelleher and David Burke. A plethora of the Blues time will be composed of players who were crowned Minor B champions in 2014. The Townies will certainly wear the favourites tag for this one, but if the Blues dominate in the middle sector it may be just enough.
Clarecastle vs Feakle/Killanena 01/03/15 in Meelick at 12:30
Meelick hosts the intriguing tie of Clarecastle and Feakle/Killanena with both edging to make the last four. Clarecastle are well worth backing for this championship with some stellar names in their line-up. Having reached the infamous Minor final of 2012 in which some of the Clarecastle management lost focus on the game itself and became engaged with a particular Kilmaley mentor. Had they kept the focus, the Magpies could have easily claimed the title; they made up for it the following year defeating rivals Kilmaley in the final. Needless to say the talent is there in bucket loads for Clarecastle with Clare Senior Bobby Duggan being the main man. Assisting Duggan is Clare U21 Stephen Ward, UL’s Gearóid Ryan, Dylan Broderick and Conor Galvin. Feakle/Killanena have been a very successful amalgamation in the underage scene Clare over the last couple of years. However, apart from winning the U21 B last year, the East Clare outfit haven’t really hit peak performance when it comes it to knockout hurling. A large amount of the Feakle contingent have collected Intermediate medals in the last few months, add in the experience gained in the Munster championship and it shows that it’s not just some of the Magpies who have played at a high level. Feakle/Killanena will be looking to Eoin Tuohy, Oisin Donnellan, Con Smyth, Martin Daly, Eibhear Quilligan and Evan McMahon for big performances. In what will go down to the wire, the Magpies should find themselves narrowly ahead at the final whistle.
U21 B Preliminary Round:
Scariff/Ogonelloe vs O’Callaghans Mills 28/02/15 in Sixmilebridge at 15:00
St Josephs Doora/Barefield vs Clooney/Quin 01/03/15 in Killanena at 12:30
Clonlara vs Whitegate 01/03/15 in Ogonelloe at 13:00
U21 C Preliminary Round:
Ruan vs Meelick 01/03/15 in Kilkishen at 12:30
U21 C Quarter-Final
Corofin vs Ennistymon 01/03/15 in Newmarket-on-Fergus at 15:45.