Sixmilebridge advanced to the semi-finals of the Clare Senior Hurling Championship with a hard-fought one point win over reigning champions Cratloe who played fifty eight minutes of the contest with fourteen men.
Venue: Cusack Park
In the best game of the 2015 Clare SHC to date it was John O’Meara’s Sixmilebridge who had reason to celebrate at the final whistle after edging past a courageous Cratloe to set up a semi-final date with Crusheen in two weeks time.
With just two minutes on the clock, Cratloe were dealt a sucker-punch when their talisman and one of the best forwards in the game, Conor McGrath was given his marching orders for an off the ball incident with Paidi Fitzpatrick. His dismissal made what was an already difficult task a whole lot trickier but to their credit the South Clare men showed resounding fight to come agonisingly close to bringing the game to extra time.
Early points from Cathal Malone and Alan Mulready put the Bridge ahead prior to the sending off of McGrath. Cratloe levelled matters with Liam Markham and Sean Collins raising white flags.
Alan Mulready noted for his exploits in the past with Bridge Utd put his soccer skills to use on the thirteenth minute when he kicked the sliotar to the back of Gearoid Ryan’s net after the Cratloe netminder pulled off a fine save to deny Mulready seconds before.
Shane Gleeson and David Collins traded scores with the evergreen Niall Gilligan and Cathal Malone to leave the Bridge six points ahead with twenty minutes on the clock. Sixmilebridge had a chance to add another goal but some hardworking defending from their opponents saw a Liam Markham delivery end up with Sean Collins and he burst past the challenge of Caimin Morey before firing to the back of the net to reduce the gap to three points with twenty one minutes played.
Alex Morey opened his account on the twenty third minute after making the most of a Niall Gilligan handpass. Cratloe got back on level terms with Gleeson adding two points while David Collins and Cathal McInerney also chipped in on the scoring. A late point from Alan Mulready gave Sixmilebridge the slightest lead heading in at the break.
Gleeson and Mulready traded points after the resumption before Seadna Morey now operating at midfield and Niall Gilligan increased the distance to three points five minutes into the second half. Former Clare minor teammates Enda Boyce and Cathal Malone swapped scores before a Cathal McInerney cross-field pass fell towards Conor Ryan who split the posts and reduced the gap to two points with forty seven minutes played.
Gleeson and Gilligan exchanged scores once more, this was followed by a Seadna Morey point with the pacy Bridge man tearing through the heart of the Cratloe defence before slotting over. Further white flags from Malone, Gilligan and Shane Golden kept the Bridge in control while Cratloe stayed within touching distance courtesy of Glesson, McInerney and Markham efforts.
The O’Garney men went further ahead via Malone and Alex Morey points on the twenty fourth minute, they would finish the final six minutes without a score as Cratloe cut a five point lead to a single score with Gleeson and substitute Jamie Arthur keeping the umpires busy. Time just caught up with the Cratloe men as Sixmilebridge hung on for victory.
Allowing Sixmilebridge to build up a lead of six points in the first half left Cratloe with a mountain to climb and they courageously attempted this hike despite being minus the services of both Conor McGrath and Podge Collins. That said they still put up an incredible fight and one that is worthy of the Champions. However their delivery of ball into their forward line was poor with Caimin Morey cleaning up at times throughout the game.
The extra man severely affected them and this wasn’t aided by full-forward David O’Brien playing so far away from goal in the opening half and leaving Cathal McInereny isolated with two defenders in the full-back line. Had this game went to extra time which looked a possibility, one would have expected Cratloe to come through as it would have been fifteen on fifteen. That wasn’t the case as their reign as Champions ended but not without a fight. David Ryan, Shane Gleeson, Liam Markham and the Collins’ David and Sean were to the fore for the 2014 Double Champions.
Remarkably nine months into 2015 and Sixmilebridge are still unbeaten in Championship and Clare Cup. This was their biggest test of the year and they did what was required to pass it. It has been said that they are too reliant on Niall Gilligan and while he did hit six points and crucially didn’t hit a single wide, there was a total of six different scorers which contradicted this theory with Ennistymon native Cathal Malone finishing off the game with a personal tally of 0-06. They did hit thirteen wides over the hour and will look to reduce this figure the next day.
They welcomed back Jamie Shanahan after a lengthy spell on the sidelines following a back complaint and he added another dimension to their team. Their strength in depth is something that remaining teams in the Clare SHC will fear. As previously mentioned by this writer, they are at their best with Seadna Morey in the middle of the park and that was proven correct with Morey hitting two points and keeping the Bridge in control when moved to midfield at half-time. Without doubt they are the form team at the moment and justifiably are favourites to claim the Canon. Cathal Malone, Alan Mulready, Caimin Morey and Seadna Morey were most impressive for the eleven time County Champions.
Sixmilebridge: Derek Fahy; Paidi Fitzpatrick, Aidan Quilligan, Tadhg Keogh; Seadna Morey (0-02), Caimin Morey, Barry Fitzpatrick; Shane Golden (0-01), Pa Sheehan; Cathal Malone (0-06), Niall Gilligan (0-06 4f), Conor Deasy, Brian Corry, Alan Mulready (1-03), Alex Morey (0-02). Subs: Jamie Shanahan for Deasy (26), Noel Purcell for Sheehan (HT), Conor Deasy for Corry (55).
Cratloe: Gearoid Ryan; Barry Duggan, Michael Hawes, David Ryan; Enda Boyce, Conor Ryan (0-01), Sean Chaplin; Liam Markham (0-02), Shane Gleeson (0-09 5f); James Enright, Sean Collins (1-01), David Collins (0-02); Cathal McInerney (0-02), David O’Brien, Conor McGrath. Subs: Gearoid Considine for O’Brien (39), Jamie Arthur (0-01) for Enright (47).
Referee: Rory Hickey (Éire Óg)