The Rathgormack players celebrate their Co. SFC Final win over Ballinacourty. It’s back to buisness on Sunday when they make the long trip to West Clare to kick off their Munster Club campaign. Photo: Sean Byrne.
Sunday next – Miltown-Malbay 1.30 p.m. AIB Munster Club S.F.C. Quarter-final
St. Josephs V Rathgormack
Having ended a twenty year wait for the County Senior Football title Rathgormack return to Munster competition on Sunday when they make the long trip to Miltown-Malbay in West Clare to face local side St. Josephs in what is, without question, a difficult assignment.
Waterford remains the only county in the province not to have provided a winner of the Munster Club Football title though Stradbally, The Nire and Ballinacourty have all gone close in finals since the turn of the century. Since its inception the competition has been dominated by the champions of Cork and Kerry with just five interventions, three coming from Clare teams, two from Limerick and most recently from Tipperary when Clonmel Commercials broke their county’s duck in 2015 when beating Nemo Rangers.
Up to 1998, when Clare champions Doonbeg brought the title across the Shannon for the first time, the only time the title left Cork or Kerry was in 1977 when a star studded Thomond College, Limerick side that included a host of inter-county stars led by such as Pat Spillane and Brian Talty won the Limerick championship and went on all the way to win the All Ireland title.
Since 1998 Clare side Kilmurry-Ilbrickane has captured the title on two occasions, being most fortunate to beat Stradbally by a single point in a replayed final in Kilmallock in 2004 and then beating Kerry side Kerins O’Rahillys in the final of 2009. In between those victories the Clare side lost the 2008 final to Limerick’s Dromcollgher-Broadford.
SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR
While Stradbally will still be wondering how they failed to win the 2004 final having dominated the drawn game in Thurles The Nire can feel they were robbed in the 2006 final against Dr. Crokes in Pairc Ui Chaoimh when losing on a score of 2-5 to 0-8. They again went closing when going down to Austin Stacks in the 2014 final at the same venue but were well beaten by Dr. Crokes in the Mallow final of 2016. Ballinacourty made a big effort in 2007 losing out in the final to Nemo Rangers by just three points.
While Rathgormack did not make it to the Munster finals of 1996 and 1999 they were hard done by to lose out to defending All Ireland champions and subsequent Munster champions Laune Rangers of Kerry in a ’96 semi-final replay and again to eventual champions U.C.C. in another replay in ’99. What is quite clear now is that the gap in club football between those of the ‘Munster Minnows’ and the Cork and Kerry sides is not as wide as it once was and the Clare sides in particular have shown just what can be achieved.
That brings us on to Sunday’s game in which Rathgormack will face a St. Josephs, Miltown Malbay side that came to Dungarvan last year and took out a Nire side that had already scored an impressive away win over Adare of Limerick in Limerick. In the Munster final St. Josephs put in a creditable performance against Dr. Crokes before losing on a score of 1-21 to 2-9. Having retained their Clare title in a hard fought replay against neighbours Kilmurry-Ilbrickane they will be confident of advancing to a semi-final with victory over Rathgormack on home soil on Sunday. They showed against The Nire last year just what a formidable side they are with outstanding players in Clare seniors Eoin and Conor Cleary and Cormac Murray.
HOME SEMI-FINAL FOR WINNERS
While Rathgormack will have celebrated their long overdue county final victory in some style they will have quickly turned their attention to this game realising that if the Clare teams and familiar neighbours such as Clonmel Commercials can make the breakthrough so too can a Waterford side. Players such as the Currys, Conor Murray, Robbie Flynn, Willie Hahessy and Jason Gleeson have shown that they are well capable of holding their own in any company and on Sunday they can catch a confident home side by surprise in much the same way as St. Josephs caught The Nire last year. This is a supremely fit Rathgormack side and in forwards such as Conor Murray, Jason Gleeson, Billy Power and Stephen Curry they have pace to burn and the stamina to go at full tilt for the hour.
West Clare has always been a difficult place for Waterford teams to go to and get a result and so too will it be on Sunday. Rathgormack will put in a huge effort here with the added incentive that a victory would give them a home semi-final against the Tipperary champions, most likely to be Clonmel Commercials.