Clonlara held off a late Cratloe challenge to set up a date with Ballyea in the final of the Clare SHC.
Páraic McMahon reports from Cusack Park.
Venue: Cusack Park
With two of the strongest lineups in the County pitted against each other, there was hope that this encounter would be one to remember. However it failed to live up to the expectation as neither side played their best with Clonlara the more balanced of the two doing enough to get by.
As if losing wasn’t bad enough, Cratloe saw Conor McGrath leave the field of play through injury. His arm was in a sling as the game concluded and he is now a major doubt for their Clare SFC Final clash with Kilmurry Ibrickane next week.
County teammates Podge Collins, Cathal Tots O’Connell, Colm Galvin and Conor McGrath all picked off scores in the opening minutes. Five scores in succession at the end of the first quarter proved important for Clonlara with Mícheál O’Loughlin getting three white flags while full-back Oisin O’Brien hit over a long range effort.
Four frees from McGrath plus a Conor Earley kept Cratloe in contention. The South East Clare side finished the half the stronger with Tots O’Connell, O’Loughlin and Nicky O’Connell firing over points to leave three points between them at the interval.
It remained just three points between the sides as the second half progressed with each outfit cancelling out the other. The gap was extended to six points on the fortieth minute as Mícheál O’Loughlin fired past Gearoid Ryan for the first goal of the game.
In the next passage of play Clonlara were reduced to fourteen men as James Hastings picked up a second yellow card. Cratloe struck for goal themselves on the forty fifth minute, a dropping Shane Gleeson free fell to dangerman Conor McGrath who shimmied his way through before batting the sliotar past Ger O’Connell.
David Collins and two converted Shane Gleeson frees brought the deficit to a single point. Their cause was weakened after Conor McGrath picked up an injury that forced to prematurely retire. A late free from Tots O’Connell gave Clonlara a two point cushion and it was one they didn’t let go of.
Playing within themselves yet managing to find a way through has been the story of Clonlara’s year thus far. While this is the case the Damien Power managed side are unbeaten in the 2016 Championship and are one step away from claiming the Canon Hamilton for the first time in eight years.
Defensively they were impressive as they limited Cratloe to 1-06 from play. Up front Mícheál O’Loughlin bagged 1-05 from play. Along with O’Loughlin, Oisin O’Brien, Tots O’Connell, Paul McNamara and Colm Galvin impressed. To beat Ballyea they will need to cut out the needless fouls, they conceded eighteen frees, more goal chances need to be created and taken too if they’re to be crowned County Champions.
Similar to their opponents, Cratloe haven’t hit their peak this year. They seemed to be too reliant on Conor McGrath for scores and his presence was limited somewhat by Oisin O’Brien, however when the 2013 All-Star made way they refused to give in. Liam Markham, Podge Collins and McGrath did best for the 2014 Champions.
Clonlara: Ger O’Connell; Paul McNamara, Oisin O’Brien (0-01), Shane O’Brien; Domhnall O’Donovan, Nicky O’Connell (0-01 1f), Neil Ryan; James Hastings, Cathal Tots O’Connell (0-06 4f); Padraic O’Loughlin, Colm Galvin (0-02), Cormac O’Donovan (0-01); John Conlon (0-01), Mícheál O’Loughlin (1-05), Darach Honan. Subs: David Fitzgerald for C O’Donovan (49), Cillian Fennessy for P O’Loughlin (58), Garrett Kennedy for Ryan (60), Michael White for M O’Loughlin (63)
Cratloe: Gearoid Ryan; Shane O’Leary, Michael Hawes, Martin Oige Murphy; Conor Earley (0-01), Conor Ryan, Sean Chaplin; Shane Gleeson (0-03 3f), Liam Markham; Damien Browne, Padraic Collins (0-03), Sean Collins; Cathal McInerney, Conor McGrath (1-07 7f), David Collins (0-02). Subs: Enda Boyce for Browne (45), Daithí Collins for McGrath (53) (Inj).
Referee: Damien Fox (Clooney/Quin)
All pics by Martin Connolly