It took Clare 81 years to banish the ghost of Biddy Earley but one of The Banner's own clubs has been waiting even longer for their next title.

O’Callaghan’s Mills, a rural East Clare club based around the village of the same name and nearby Kilkishen, were a powerhouse in the early days of the county hurling championship.

The Mills won eight crowns between 1904 and 1937 but have been waiting for a ninth ever since.

They have lost six deciders in that time: 1938, 1954, 1977, 1986, 1990 and '93 – the most recent against today’s county final opponents, and neighbours, Sixmilebridge.

The rivalry hasn't quite been a fevered local derby as The Bridge have racked up 14 titles to the Mills' zero since breaking through in '77 against Kilkishen, who have since amalgamated with The Mills.

Donal Cooney, now a selector with first-year manager and former Limerick trainer Donach O'Donnell, played and lost those three most recent finals for O'Callaghan's Mills.

"I have only one memory," he says of facing The Bridge in '93. "We got beat!

"It was four or five points. We had a young team. Our paths haven't crossed that much since over the years. It's a long time since we played them in Championship. 

"In 1990, I think it was two points, against Éire Óg. We were well beaten up in Carron on a small pitch in '86 by a very strong Clarecastle team.

"We were winning leagues at the time, thought we were going okay but just didn’t get over the line."

Donal Cooney celebrates at the final whistle of the Clare semi-final

Cooney has three sons – the club's only Clare senior Gary, Ciarán and Darren - and three nephews on the panel but he doesn't think the hand of history weighs heavily on the young men. 

"I’d say they wouldn’t know about it only for I tell them," he insists. "They wouldn’t be bothered about it anyway.

"I was only 17 or 18 when I played in my first county final. When you're young you don't pay any heed to it.

"It would be great to finally do it but it’s all on the day.

"The Bridge are a very good team. They have five or six inter-county hurlers. Cathal Malone, Jamie Shanahan…

Sixmilebridge, managed by Tim Crowe and coached by Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald, are the reigning champions and hot favourites.

But O’Callaghan’s Mills, who only narrowly avoided dropping to the intermediate grade last year, are well worth their place in the final, having beaten 2018 champions Ballyea in the semis.

Tim Crowe (L) and Davy Fitzgerald (C) on the sideline with Sixmilebridge

"We’re well the underdog but we’re just going to go out and give it a shot. We have nothing to lose," club chairman Joe O’Gorman told RTÉ Sport.

"We were lucky to beat Tulla last year in a relegation final. We got a few scores at the end of the game to keep us up.

"It’s an unbelievable turnaround this year. We got Donach O’Donnell as manager and he seems to have gelled the whole lot together, it’s going fairly well.

"The players realised they were better than being in a relegation match and knuckled down this year."

The last-four victory over Ballyea was sweet, given Tony Kelly’s team had dispatched them at the same stage on the way to winning the title two years ago.

The former Hurler of the Year scored 1-08 from play against The Mills, who trailed by three going into injury-time but won the game after a goal from handball champion Colin Crehan and an insurance point from 2013 All-Ireland-winning captain Pat Donnellan.

"Colin Crehan is a super corner-forward, always poaching for a goal. We have Gary Cooney, who is in the Clare set-up, Pat Donnellan is still there and Pat’s brother Bryan is captain of the team," said O’Gorman.

"But we have no real stand-out player as such. They’re all good genuine club hurlers who keep rooting away for each other.

"We have no Tony Kelly who will win a game on his own, it’s a real team effort."

"All the hype is gone so they can just get down and hurl."

The downside of reaching a first final in almost 30 years is how few supporters will be there to cheer on their team.

Covid-19 restrictions mean the club had just 100 tickets to distribute to 380 members, with around 40 left for a draw after players - including the championship winning Junior A panel who trained with the seniors – and officials got one each. Everyone else will have to watch the stream on Clare TV.

It’s a headache for O’Gorman but he’s hoping that there is a silver lining for a team less accustomed to the big stage.

"It’s a next to impossible task," he said of satisfying the demand for tickets. "We’re going to have a hell of a lot of disappointed people in fairness but there’s nothing we can do about it.

"In saying that, maybe the small crowd might suit the underdog team.

"They wouldn’t be used to playing in front of big crowds or marching behind bands, which isn’t there either Sunday.

"All the hype is gone so they can just get down and hurl."

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