Miltown St Joseph's 1-7 Shannon Gaels 0-7
A powerful defensive performance inspired Miltown St Joseph’s to victory over Shannon Gaels in The Clare Champion-sponsored Cusack Cup final at Kilmihil on Sunday evening.
Played before an excellent attendance, Miltown got the upperhand before half-time and held the advantage throughout the second half to win the title for the first time in 15 years.
Despite the inclement weather conditions, this was an exciting contest and the closeness of the scoring meant that the outcome was in doubt until the closing stages.
A heavy drizzle fell throughout the contest, making the surface very slippery and consequently ball handling was a problem for the players. Shannon Gaels had the better of the opening quarter but failed to turn their dominance into scores and this proved costly in the end. They were 0-4 to 0-1 in front as half-time approached but a brace of Miltown points in the closing minutes of the half proved vital.
In a five minute spell at the end of the first half and at the beginning of the second, the winners hit four points without reply and these scores inspired them to grab the initiative and from here on they dictated matters.
That said, the Gaels battled to the very end and spent the closing 10 minutes on the attack. During this period the Kelly brothers Graham and, in particular, Gordon, were outstanding in front of an equally impressive Conor O’Loughlin.
Shannon Gaels had the better of matters in the first quarter but they only managed two pointed frees from Barry Toner. The game was 15 minutes old before Miltown managed their first serious attack, which ended in a wide. The new champions had their first score after 23 minutes when their captain, Eoin Curtin, converted a 20m free. A minute later, the Gaels had the first of two good first-half goal chances but Conor O’Loughlin saved well from Ruairi Norrby, who had been put through by his captain, John Paul O’Neill.
The second goal chance came three minutes later when Michael Coughlan won possession from a Tomas Cleary delivery but as Conor O’Loughlin advanced from goal, Coughlan’s effort went over the bar.
As the half wore on, Miltown came more into the action and they finished strongly, with points from Joe Curtin from play and Eoin Curtin from a free, to be just one behind at the interval. In truth, they were fortunate to be so close but they clearly took inspiration from the points they scored before the break and came out in determined mood for the second half. Within a minute they were level thanks to a Sean Meade effort and this was quickly followed by the lead point from Joe Curtin.
Barry Toner levelled for the second time when he converted a free but the Miltown men were quickly back in front when Eoin Curtin scored after taking a pass from his namesake, Joe.
In the next few minutes both sides made changes in an effort to get the upperhand and at the turn of the final quarter they were level again when Toner converted his fourth free of the evening.
Keith Ryan in the Gaels goal produced a great save from Eoin Curtin but the all-important goal came a minute later. A Conor O’Loughlin effort from a ’45 dropped short and was passed by Eoin Curtin to Joe Curtin, whose fisted effort ended up in the far corner of the net. Eoin Curtin quickly added a point and Miltown were on the way to the title.
To their credit, the Gaels, with the outstanding Brian Bermingham driving forward from centre-back, threw everything at their opponents in the last 10 minutes. Another Barry Toner effort left a goal between the teams with eight minutes of normal time to play and a couple of minutes later a combination of Conor O’Loughlin and the upright deprived them of an equalising goal. Just before the full-time whistle a John Paul O’Neill effort caused a bit of panic in the Miltown goal before Graham Kelly cleared the danger.
As mentioned, Gordon, in particular and Graham Kelly excelled in a powerful Miltown defence, with goalie Conor O’Loughlin and Enda Malone also standing out. Sean Meade got through some great work at midfield while up front Eoin and Joe Curtin were always prominent.
Brian Bermingham was outstanding at centre-back for the Gaels and he received great support from Tomas Madigan and goalkeeper Keith Ryan. Their forward line struggled on the day.
Miltown St Joseph’s: Conor O’Loughlin; Enda Malone, Graham Kelly, David Cleary; Enda O’Gorman, Gordon Kelly, Gearóid Curtin; Sean Meade, John Meade; Kevin Keavey, Gary Egan, Micheál Malone; Joe Curtin, Michael Barry, Eoin Curtin, capt).
Subs: Cathal Lafferty for John Meade (43 minutes); Sean Malone for Micheál Malone (53 minutes); Desi Mollohan for Keavey (55 minutes);
Scorers: Joe Curtin (1-2); Eoin Curtin (0-4, 2f) and Sean Meade (0-1).
Frees: 14; Wides: 10; 45s: 1
Bookings: Gordon Kelly (35 minutes); Graham Kelly (45 minutes).
Shannon Gaels: Keith Ryan; John Neylon, Tomas Madigan, Cathal O’Neill; Tomás Cleary, Brian Bermingham, John Berminghan; Noel Kennedy, Francis Cleary; Brian Cunningham, John Paul O’Neill (capt), Michael Coughlan; Ruairi Norrby, Barry Toner, Michael O’Donoghue.
Subs: Eugene O’Neill for Norrby (41 minutes); David Nealon for O’Donoghue (45 minutes) and Declan Power for F Cleary (52 minutes).
Scorers: Barry Toner (0-5, 5f); Brian Cunningham, Michael Coughlan, (0-1) each;
Frees: 26; Wides: 9; 45s: 1
Referee: Michael Rock, Ennistymon.