Sixmilebridge secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Clare Senior Hurling Championship with a hard-fought two point win over Crusheen.
In a repeat of the 2011 County Final, Sixmilebridge extracted some revenge for the defeat of four years ago while also confirming their ranking as Championship favourites. It is a tag that is completely justified as they’re unbeaten in all competitive games so far this year.
An early 65 from Colin Vaughan put Crusheen in front and Cian Dillon increased their lead on the fourth minute when a Gearoid O’Donnell handpass left the Clare Joint Captain one on one with Derek Fahy and Dillon slotted home for the only goal of the game.
Sixmilebridge levelled matters as they hit four points on the trot in the space of six minutes. The evergreen with Niall Gilligan picked up three of these points while Cathal Malone also put his name on the scoresheet.
Conor O’Donnell and Alex Morey traded scores before two further frees from Gilligan gave the 2013 Champions the advantage for the first time in the game. Crusheen responded with a Colin Vaughan free and a Cian Dillon point from distance. Gilligan and Darragh O’Doherty swapped scores before another Gilligan free and an Alex Morey point left the Bridge with a two point lead at the break.
With four minutes played in the second half, Niall Gilligan settled the nerves with a fine point to increase their lead once more. Crusheen responded with a superb Cathal Dillon point. Alan Mulready picked up a nice individual score shortly after but this was cancelled out by a Conor O’Donnell effort.
Both sides added three points each in the subsequent ten minutes in a period when momentum was ebbing and flowing through either side. Substitute Patrick O’Grady pointed over the shoulder and this was followed by another Vaughan free to cut the gap to the minimum but the Bridge stayed composed and Brian Corry finished off a well-worked move with two minutes remaining to seal the all-important win.
Crusheen never really hit the heights they were capable of climbing in this contest. They are without several key players and this is largely what is holding them back from reaching their peak. Knowing they will be minus the services of Paddy Vaughan for what looks to be the entire season is a blow but it is one they have been aware of and must overcome. The strength of the panel is not at the same level as it was in 2010 and 2011.
John Carmody’s side came up against the most impressive team in the Championship and while they did lost out on this occasion, they will take some satisfaction in knowing they will stay have a big say in the Championship albeit coming through the back-door. Cathal Dillon, Alan Brigdale, Colin Vaughan and Conor O’Donnell were most influential for the blood and bandages.
This was a big test for Sixmilebridge and it is one they passed with flying colours. Their intensity and workrate really stood out over the hour and they are the team to avoid in the quarter-finals.
They showed resolve to comeback from a poor start and if they could get greater scoring assistance for Niall Gilligan up front it is hard to see any team in Clare being able to cope with them. That said along with Gilligan, Conor Deasy, Alex Morey and Alan Mulready did well up front while Aidan Quilligan and Caimin Morey were very productive.
Sixmiebridge: Derek Fahy; Barry Fitzpatrick, Aidan Quilligan, Tadgh Keogh; Noel Purcell, Caimin Morey, Paidi Fitzpatrick; Kevin Lynch, Pa Sheehan; Alan Mulready (0-01), Niall Gilligan (0-10 5f), Conor Deasy; Cathal Malone, Shane Golden, Alex Morey (0-02). Subs; Brian Corry (0-01) for A Morey (47), Brian Carey for Sheehan (47), Seadna Morey for Keogh (54), Alex Morey for Mulready (62).
Crusheen: Donal Tuohy; Jason Greene, Gerry O’Grady, Alan Brigdale; Shaun Dillon, Cathal Dillon (0-01), Sean Weir; Ciaran O’Doherty, Rory Halpin, Cian Dillon (1-01); Alan Tuohy (0-01), Darragh O’Doherty (0-01); Conor O’Donnell (0-03), Gearoid O’Donnell, Colin Vaughan (0-04 3f 1’65). Subs: Fergus Kennedy for Halpin (41), Patrick O’Grady (0-01) for D O’Doherty (51).
Referee: Rory Hickey (Éire Óg).