Ballygunnar, Thurles Sarsfield and now Kilmallock await on the Cratloe radar as the small hurling hamlet that has produced all stars of 2013 and dual stars of 2014 takes on and now beats the aristocrats of club hurling. The start of an historic week for the GAA club of Cratloe as they faced championship semi finals in hurling and football.
The eight point win enjoyed the week previous in what transpired to be a dull Tipperary hurling final meant nothing in Cusack Park as the wind blew strongly into the scoreboard end. Thurles who scored 2-22 in near total freedom in Semple stadium were unlikely to be allowed the same by a diligent Cratloe rearguard as the key question for the visitors to Clare headquarters who be to assign to Cratloe dangerman Conor McGrath. With the benefit of hindsight and having witnessed the Tipperary final in the flesh Loughmore Castleiney never offered any challenge to the champions and with Denis Maher and Aidan McCormack scoring 10 points with ease from play the win was always assured on their home ground. Ironically, for different reasons neither player were on the scoresheet and that proved crucial in their defeat.
The game started in sensational fashion when Denis Maher who scored five points in the Tipperary final was redcarded for a pull on Cratloe captain Liam Markham. It ensured that the game was changed in both teams outlooks after ten seconds as the open spaces now ensued and new marking plans were enacted. Were Cratloe in top form or Thurles way below par?. Somewhere between the two thoughts lies the truth. Most of Thurles Sarsfields key men were curbed and had McGrath who was granted the freedom of the park clicked with every effort the home sides winning margin would have 15 points. My man of the match was Liam Markham who was available to every Cratloe man in trouble and chipped in with valuable scores.
Tommy Doyle struck for the first two Thurles scores either side of McGrath’s opening scores from two frees as testing ground conditions, more heavy than wet did not lend itself to one handed hurling as Lar Corbett failed to understand for the entire game. Over the hour the sides effectively shared 20 wides. A searing run down the CBS wing saw Michael Cahill score a deserved point just before Conor McGrath saw the first of two efforts in the space of ten minutes come off each post. Cratloe began and continued to show the benefits of team work with consistent legal tackling, great hooking, blocking and smart possession play. The winners with five different sharpshooters managed five scores in ten minutes with Liam Markham, Conor McGrath, Cathal McInerney, Podge Collins after dispossession Padraic Maher and Sean Collins all on target to sneak (0-7) to (0-3) clear after 22 minutes.
Eventually,Thurles Sarsfields did get some semblance of control on at least their own half of the field and were extremely fortunate to be only four in arrears as Conor McGrath had a shot saved by Patrick McCormack and Cratloe hit eight first half wides. Pa Bourke who was his side’s sole avenue for scores converted a free before Liam Markham moved onto a well delivered pass and scored from 55 yards. The games decisive score that effectively ended the game as an event was a delicately floated in ball from Conor McGrath was held up by Gearoid Considine and the inrushing Podge Collins controlled and batted the ball past Patrick McCormack. With the half time whistle quickly following this score Cratloe were able to have the luxury of a (1-8) to (0-4) interval lead with the smart money on a stroll in the park for the second half.
It was important for Joe McGrath’s charges to start the second half with scores to allow for a lapse that would surely develop. They managed this with two scores from McGrath and Markham after four minutes. Pa Bourke, Conor Lanigan and Bourke again responded with three in five minutes to leave six points between the sides after 40 minutes. Damian Browne entered the fray for Considine as the injured Martin Oige Murphy could only look on.
Richie Ruth who scored three points in the Tipperary final replaced Aidan McCormack at this stage as Conor McGrath and Stephen Cahill swopped scores as Cratloe were now pressing Thurles all over the field and were finding space for McGrath, McInerney and the Collins brothers. It appeared that the game was once again beyond the reach of Thurles despite the four scores in the third quarter when McGrath struck for two converted frees by the 44th minute to open up a 1-13 to 0-8 advantage. Both sides missed changes more damaging though for Thurles as they managed three Pa Bourke scores between the 46th and 51st minute, yet Podge Collins and Conor McGrath who were combining well hit two to leave the score at (1-15) to (0-11) with seven minutes remaining. Billy McCarthy struck for a well taken score but it was all for nought as Cratloe were countering each Thurles score with their own strike and ran out relaxed seven point winners.
The hype will now follow Kilmallock and Cratloe for the next two weeks with all the connections. Tony Considine, a native of Cratloe and a championship winner with Kilmallock and the two Clarecastle men who will be direct opposition, namely Ger O Loughlin and Alan Neville. A lot of both sides will have players who hurled at third level and against each other at inter county. It promises to be a tie to remember in Limerick on Sunday next.
Best for the winners were without doubt Conor McGrath and Liam Markham and they were well aided by Michael Hawes, David Ryan, Cathal McInerney, Podge Collins, Enda Boyce and David Collins in the first half. Thurles never showed up and whilst arguments will persist over the sending off they looked to be chasing Cratloe all over the field and could not cope with the space found by the key Cratloe playmakers and scoretakers.
CRATLOE: Gearoid Ryan, Shane O Leary, Michael Hawes, David Ryan, Sean Chaplin, Conor Ryan, Enda Boyce, Liam Markham (0-3), David Collins, Cathal McInerney (0-1), Padraic Collins (1-2), Sean Collins (0-1), Shane Gleeson, Gearoid Considine, Conor McGrath (0-11). Subs: Damian Browne for Considine, Barry Duggan for D Collins.
THURLES SARSFIELDS: Patrick McCormack, Stephen Maher, Michael Cahill (0-1), David Maher, Ronan Maher, Padraic Maher, Michael Gleeson, Stephen Cahill (0-1), Billy McCarthy (0-1), Denis Maher, Aidan McCormack, Conor Lanigan (0-1), Tommy Doyle (0-2), Pa Bourke (0-8), Lar Corbett. Subs: Michael O Brien for Doyle,
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).