Clondegad powered into the semi-finals of the Clare SFC ending Cratloe’s hopes of a three-in-a-row in the process.
Venue: Cusack Park
It was their finish to the first half that really gave Clondegad the belief that they had what it took to knock Cratloe out of the Championship. Trailing by two points with seven minutes remaining in the opening thirty minutes, they levelled matters in the space of three minutes and from there the 2011 Intermediate Champions went from strength to strength.
Both sides were guilty of not taking their chances throughout the contest. Clondegad hit a total of thirteen wides while Cratloe had nine, crucially a third of that figure were from placed balls and they were opportunities that should have been taken.
Eoghan Donnellan was first on the scoresheet inside the opening twenty seconds but Cratloe responded with a Conor McGrath fisted effort and a David Collins score which resulted from a Conor Ryan turnover in the middle of the park. Tony Kelly in his first start of the year for Clondegad pointed on the sixth minute via his left boot, a score that was created by a Gary Brennan run through the heart of the Cratloe defence.
Three scores on the trot, two from McGrath and one from Stephen McHugh pushed the 2014 Double Champions back in front with twelve minutes on the clock. Sean Collins and Donnellan traded scores before Clare captain, Gary Brennan was left loose on his opponent’s 45 and he duly took advantage by splitting the posts on the twenty third minute.
Eoin Griffin and Tony Kelly raised a white flag each to have the sides level at 0-06 apiece. Shane Brennan put Clondegad back ahead but good link-up play between Sean Chaplin and Sean Collins was finished off with a Collins point to leave nothing separating the teams at the break.
Midfielder Eoin Griffin shimmied past the Cratloe defence to add the first score of the second half with less than a minute played. Eoghan Donnellan finished off a well-worked Clondegad move three minutes later to extend their lead to two points.
With thirty six minutes on the clock, the defining moment of the game took place, Gearoid O’Connell got a vital touch to keep the ball from Conor McGrath’s grasp and in a fifty fifty battle it was Tony Kelly who knocked Fergal Lynch to the ground and as Lynch picked himself up, Kelly tore off with ball in hand and hit a cross-field ball to Cillian Brennan. The youngest of the Brennan brothers offloaded to the oldest as Gary saw the on-rushing Podge McMahon in time and space, his pass fell perfect to McMahon who fired past Jamie Joyce for the only goal of the game.
Conor Ryan picked up the South Clare club’s first score of the half on forty two minutes but Podge McMahon cancelled his effort out with a free. At this stage, Cratloe introduced Cathal McInerney who wasn’t fit enough to start due to a hamstring complaint and he added a free while Eoghan Donnellan kicked the score of the match from a very tight angle with fifty three minutes gone.
Sean Collins and McGrath cut the gap to three points with time running out but the insurance point came on the sixtieth minute as Tony Kelly kicked straight between the posts to the delight of the Clondegad faithful.
In their ranks Cratloe possess a number of physically strong men who are well able to field possession yet on the day they struggled to win the aerial battle and likewise they didn’t win a sufficient amount of breaking ball while their opponents were quick off the mark to win the breaks. The constant deluge of rain during the contest didn’t suit them but Clondegad played in the same conditions but just dealt with them that bit better.
Colm Collins’ men never really had the spark to set them alight this year and this could be down to the absence of Podge Collins and Martin Oige Murphy or the fact that their incredible Munster adventure last year took its toll. One thing is for sure the break over the winter months will be of massive benefit to them and be sure that they will be back with a bang in football and hurling in 2015. Conor McGrath, Liam Markham, Sean Collins and Sean Chaplin stood out for Cratloe.
While the spark was missing for Cratloe, the fire was certainly in the bellies of the Clondegad side. They won the dirty ball and clawed their way back into the game at a time when Cratloe were in control, to come level at half-time was a huge lift for them and at the same time dented the confidence of their opponents.
Manager Mikey Hehir will know his side were lucky to come away with the victory having kicked some needless wides especially in the opening half. Even when things were going against them they never put the heads down and knocking Cratloe out will give them an incredible confidence boost heading into the semi-final with Cooraclare. Their attitude was typified by Gearoid O’Connell sacrificing himself for the team by accepting a black-card in order to stop a Cratloe score. Eoin Griffin, Tony Kelly, Shane Brennan, Eoghan Donnellan and Gary Brennan were most effective for the victors.
Clondegad: Liam Deasy, Cormac Ryan, Brian Murphy, Shane Brennan (0-01); Paul Flanagan, Conor Gavin, Gearoid O’Connell; Gary Brennan (0-01), Eoin Griffin (0-02); Eoghan Glynn, Brian Carrigg, Tony Kelly (0-03); Frank Neylon, Eoghan Donnellan (0-04), Podge McMahon (1-01 1f). Subs: Cillian Brennan for Glynn (24), Niall Lynch for O’Connell (38) (BC), Ryan Jennings for Neylon (62).
Cratloe: Jamie Joyce; Sean Chaplin, Barry Duggan, David Ryan; Enda Boyce, Michael Hawes, Liam Markham; Cillian Duggan, John Galvin; Stephen McHugh (0-01), Sean Collins (0-03), Conor Ryan (0-01); David Collins (0-01), Fergal Lynch, Conor McGrath (0-04). Subs: Sean Hynan for D Collins (42), Cathal McInerney (0-01 1f) for McHugh (47), Conor Cooney for Duggan (49) (BC).
Referee: Pat Cosgrave (Corofin)
Elsewhere a Darragh Leahy hat-trick was the nail in the Shannon Gaels coffin as they were relegated to the Intermediate Championship by Wolfe Tones. It finished 5-02 0-05 in favour of the Tones.
Gallery of photos captured by John Meyler