By Michael O Connor.
Hardened hurling men from the town, men who had hurled in the streets in the 50s and 60s, with Ennis Rovers, then Eire-og witnessing hope of dominance in Clare being diluted shed tears of joy as a vibrant confident bunch of young men threw off the shackles of presupposed inferiority and reaffirmed the belief that the outsider can win. The under 21 title was won after 15 minutes and lost over the hour by Sixmilebridge and most definitely earned by Eire-og over the course of the year.
Fools gold and were’nt we fooled by the brilliance of Sixmilebridge in the earlier stages of the championship when they romped past Newmarket, Crusheen and Clarecastle by a cumulative tally of near 50 points. Eire-og who were 33/1 outsiders to win the crown were made fight for their lives in all games. Anyone who was present in Cusack park for this riveting final that started as a one sided opening quarter but turned into a battle royale with the fightback of a generation will never forget this under 21A county final.
The prematch omens suggested a facile win in the extreme for Sean Stack charges as they chased a record 12th under 21A crown a with Eire-og contesting their first under 21A final since 1993 when the emerging talent of St Josephs were too strong for the townies. In fact since the competition was conceived in 1964 Eire-og had only prior to this outing won the title 3 times the last being in 1977. Ennis Rovers had won the first two finals in 1964 and 65.
A 30 point win for the Bridge over Clarecastle had the headline writers predicting a massacre and after 15 minutes it looked very much the case. Within 90 seconds of the throw in Eire-og had conceded (1-1) and looked at sea. Worse was the materialise as within seven further minutes were (1-5) to (0-0) in arrears as Christy Griffin, Shane Golden, Kevin Lynch and Sam O Sullivan (free) were on target. Entering the second quarter it was profoundly difficult to see how Eire-og who admittedly were defending well with Moynihan, Regan, Hanna plus the midfield pairing of Murphy and Ryan holding their own. Eire-og finally got on the scoreboard in the 19th minute when David O Halloran converted a 65. Noel Murphy set up Dean Ryan for a fantastic effort that appeared to instil belief in the townies.
Sam O Sullivan hit over a second score for the Bridge but now the real boss in this game was Eire-og and three scores in the final five minutes of the first half went to David O Halloran now operating out at wing forward with gusto. Sixmilebridge’s forwards were incapable of muscling their way forwad with only the Morey’s offering any solace in this department. The biggest single unbelievable error on the part of the Bridge was the freedom of the park afforded to O Halloran that surely could have been quelled with the possible introduction of John Fennessy who is a capable athlete. At the interval and facing into the breeze Sixmilebridge were (1-6) to (0-5) ahead but far from comfortable as the Eire-og support could sense a second half of substance. Rory Shanahan and Alan Mulready were introduced as the Sixmilebridge C team laid untouched. Thomas Downes opened the second half scoring before the Morey’s added a point each with Caimin now fixed at full and Declan at wing. Ultimately this move isolated Caimin who was invisible for 20 minutes.
When Rory Shanahan chipped in with a score in the 34th minute the defending champions were double scores (1-9) to (0-6) ahead but once again Eire-og rallied and this time walked on top of Sixmilebridge championship hopes with a delightful hurling arrogance. Four scores from O Halloran (2 play) including a 70 yard dash and finish from 50 yards brought the crowd to their feet as Eire-og were now only two in arrears. Fiachra Connellan and Aaron Fitzgerald entered the fray as the Bridge were shellshocked. Declan Morey left three between the sides in the 41st before scores from O Halloran in the 45th and 48th minutes had the game poised delicately on level terms with five minutes of normal time remaining. Incredulity was the key emotion when O Halloran once again popped up for the lead score in the 55th minute and once again two minutes later left Eire-og two clear. The final five minutes of normal and extra time resulted in the Bridge finally realising that the championship was being wrestled from their grip and they had to fight for the first time in 2010. A free in was awarded to the bridge. Caimin Morey’s effort was saved and his second effort was tipped over the bar by Thomas Downes and Eire-og were champions.
If one was to suggest that Danny Russell would be scoreless and only two forward would score with one managing a single point any odds could be attained on Eire-og succeeding in these circumstances. However it was not an ordinary final, thankfully and the memories will live on.
Best for the champions were Kevin Brennan, Cormac O Regan, Ciaran Hanna, the immense Kevin Moynihan at centre back, Cathal Whelan, Dean Ryan, Noel Murphy, Thomas Downes and the marvellous David O Halloran. Sixmilebridge had the game won and gave it away despite the efforts of Trevor Purcell, Caimin Morey, Declan Morey, Stephen Fleming, Paidi Fitzpatrick and Eoin Quinn who quelled Russell.
SIXMILEBRIDGE: Stephen Fleming, Ger Quilligan, Eoin Quinn, Noel Purcell, Trevor Purcell, Paidi Fitzpatrick, Ray McNamara, Shane Golden (0-1), Christy Griffin (0-1), Caimin Morey (0-3), Sam O Sullivan (0-2), Barry O Connor, Kevin Lynch (0-1), Declan Morey (1-2), Ronan Mullane. Subs: Rory Shanahan (0-1) for Mullane, Alan Mulready for Lynch, Kevin Lynch for Griffin
EIRE-OG: Kevin Brennan, Kevin Hally, Cormac O Regan, Ciaran Russell, Ciaran Hanna, Kevin Moynihan, Cathal Whelan, Noel Murphy, Dean Ryan (0-1), Graham Glynn, Brian Dolan, Colin Malone, Thomas Downes (0-1), Danny Russell, David O Halloran (0-13). Subs: Fiachra Connellan for Dolan, Aaron Fitzgerald for Malone.
Referee: Fergus McDonagh (St Josephs).
After the game in one of the best acceptance speeches in some time Kevin Brennan accepted the Under 21A cup from PRO of the county board Syl O Connor as the war cry went up “the townies are back”.
Michael O Connor
Gaelic games officer