West SHC Final Preview
Isn’t there something magic about a five-in-a-row sequence? It’s a much sought after, but rarely achieved distinction in Gaelic Games. Kilkenny craved the deed last year and we’ll forever celebrate denying them – just as Offaly and Seamus Derby did to Kerry’s footballers in ’82. Can Cappawhite do the same to Clonoulty and Rossmore on Sunday?
The West champions of the past four years stand on the cusp of history. By chasing a five-in-a-row they strive to go where no Clonoulty side has gone before. Back in the infant days of the West division their ancestors did the four-in-a-row before Cashel broke the sequence in ’34. That was the era of a famous Clonoulty side boasting names like Jack O’Dwyer, Mick Ryan (Fox), Dave Carew, Matt and Jim Morrissey, John Joe Lysaght, Jerry Kennedy, Tom Duggan, Martin Moloney, Jim Browne, Dan English and many others, not all of them from Clonoulty as you might have guessed.
Once the dust settled on that golden era for Clonoulty hurling there was a long hiatus, interrupted only by a stand-alone win in 1951, before the modern age dawned with the stars of ’89. A new generation of heroes now entered the text spearheaded by the county trio of John Kennedy, Joe Hayes and Declan Ryan. Since then Clonoulty have been an ever-present part of the Western script culminating in their monopoly of recent years.
Cappawhite’s journey to Dundrum, however, uses an entirely different roadmap. The parish always produced classy hurlers but for decades they suffered false dawns before the men of ’87 finally set their names in stone. In the fifties the club linked up with others to interrupt Kickhams’ dominance of the Western scene. In fact in 1962 it was Cappawhite who finally closed out Kickhams greatest chapter with a famous win at Golden.
However, it never quite amounted to the arrival of Cappawhite as an annual force. The seventies for example was a frustrating decade where they lived in the shadow of their mountainy neighbours, Sean Treacys. They had to wait until ’83 for the big breakthrough and four years later the golden moment when John ‘Fox’ O’Neill finally held the Dan Breen and the entire West division celebrated a ground breaking moment. When Ger O’Neill and Austin Buckley linked up for the match-winning point that day against Loughmore it heralded a new dawn for the entire West division; where Cappa’ had gone others, specifically Clonoulty and Cashel K.C., would dare to follow.
Since then of course Cappawhite’s flight path has been erratic. They’ve picked off the odd West title, even two-in-a-row at the turn of the century, but it has never amounted to a return to the greatness of ‘87. And in a sense they are on Sunday the surprise opponents who stand in Clonoulty’s way of history. Their season began ominously with an opening defeat to Golden and then a whipping from Sunday’s opponents. That was back in the first week in May when Clonoulty’s margin was a whopping 6-16 to 1-8. That evening it would have taken an Old Testament prophet to have foreseen the return of the same pair almost three months later to the same venue for a divisional final.
Yet amazingly and phoenix-like from the ashes of that disaster on May 7, Conor Ryan has managed to re-ignite his team’s season. The recovery began with a comfortable win over Kickhams and then another over Cashel. A last-round defeat to Eire Og was irrelevant – doubly so when they turned the tables in a semi-final upset that put Annacarty out on a decisive 2-13 to 0-11 score line.
For Clonoulty the road to Dundrum had fewer bumps though it did begin unhelpfully with a loss to Eire Og back in mid March in the opening bout of the campaign. That wake-up call was all it took for the reigning champs and thereafter their passage was smooth and unchallenged, putting out Golden in the semi-final on a 2-18 to 1-7 score line.
And so on Sunday history will be made by one of these sides. Clonoulty are the unbackable favourites and it’s easy to see why. They’ve monopolised the West in recent times and on known form stand apart from all their divisional rivals. Liam Devane may be missing because of injury but they’ve still a formidable rearguard in which Padraig Heffernan and John Devane provide the central reinforcing in front of the ice-cool Declan O’Dwyer in goal. John O’Keeffe’s recent elevation at county level further enhances the reputation of that defence.
Paudie White and Sean O’Connor form a useful midfield partnership while in attack the likes of John O’Neill and Timmy Hammersley are likely to provide the twin strike force which Cappawhite will have to curtail. The two Tom Butlers add physical heft to this zone too so overall manager, T.J. Ryan, has considerable resources at his disposal.
Against that Cappawhite look somewhat less potent, especially at the attacking end where Gerry O’Neill has been the main man in previous games. Defensively they look sturdy enough with Thomas Costello and Shane McDermott in the pivotal roles in front of the experienced, Franny Quinn, in goal. Paddy Julian, whether in attack or midfield, will no doubt bring his usual work ethic to the task and the return of Tom Treacy from injury offers the management further options. Ex-Cappamore player, Niall Hayes, has been a useful recruit this season and they’ll look for big displays from such as Jim Carr, Donagh Heffernan and Johnny Ryan (P) if they’re to have a chance of upsetting history.
Clonoulty this time chase a fifteenth West title as they currently sit in third place in the roll of honour behind Cashel K.C. on eighteen titles and Kickhams on seventeen. For Cappawhite the chase is on for a ninth title as a single club; they also shared honours with Glengar and Solohead in ’57 (St. Nicholas’) and with Eire Og in ’61 (St. Vincent’s).
But back to the opening poser at the top of this piece. Five-in-a-row would be historic for Clonoulty but they’ll need to do six for outright distinction because Kickhams did the famous five in ’52 to ’56. Can Clonoulty do it? As our American cousin might say, ‘Is feidir leo’.