By Michael O Connor.
Hardly a shock, this Clare Cup final result, yet Cratloe were made to fight all the way to grab their fourth cup of the season by a Clonlara team who were energised for the game but were naive in their shooting and freetaking costing them 16 possible scores and most definitely the league title and a sizable sponsors cheque.
The lateness of the fixture brought on by a run at Munster club level for Cratloe ensured that a maximum attendance of 300 adults were in cold and wintry Sixmilebridge on Saturday afternoon. For a competition that started in late March to be finishing 35 weeks later is mind boggling and it tells in the motivation of players even though the second half was very keenly contested.Both sides kept their supporters waiting for the opening score as they hit five wides in the opening four minutes with frees and efforts from play off the mark. Finally it was the busy Podge Collins who got the teams scoring with a 30 metre effort. Conor McGrath added a free two minutes later as the first quarter was a free ridden affair. John Conlon and Cathal O Connell with a free and play point brought parity between the sides as a number of niggly incidents were not being punished. Darach Honan who was lining out at centre forward and Neil Ryan in the 12th and 15th minute sent Clonlara two clear as Clonlara needed John Conlon to drop back to win the ball and it robbed their forward line of a real potency.
The Cratloe puck out was negating their attack as it was hanging in the air with Clonlara managing well to contain Cratloe forwards. Only when Cratloe attacked with shorter hurling strokes did they begin to make inroads on Clonlara. Sean Collins and McGrath levelled the game after 22 minutes for the second occasion. David Ryan had to be replaced at this juncture following a rash hit on him by Neil Ryan who was booked by referee Ambrose Heagney with Shane O Leary entering the fray. A number of lapses in the Clonlara defence allowed Sean Collins to set up the unmarked Liam Markham who made no mistake from 14 yards for the games first goal four minutes before the break. Micheal O Loughlin replaced Neil Ryan just before a searing run through the centre of the Cratloe defence left four defenders in his wake and his off load of the ball to Willie Slattery was finished brilliantly to the net. Cratloe argued that Honan had overcarried the ball yet they had bodies to stop him and they were helpless in this endeavour. The final real action of the half was a skirmish that saw Podge Collins receive the games second yellow card as (1-4) apiece was the half time score.
With an vast improvement from both sides in the last ten minutes of the first half there was hope of continuation of same when the game resumed. John Conlon scored a well taken point seconds after the throw in. Conor McGrath responded but then the flow of scores trickled off for the following 15 minutes. Clonlara were still hitting wides whilst Cratloe were unable to get close enough to shoot for scores as Nicky O Connell was the only scorer in a long spell of play. Darach Honan was threatening but it was not until the 43rd minute that he struck with venom. He raced past five players, saw his initial effort stopped but the rebound was flick home by the towering Conlara man. The Clonlara team jumped for joy thinking prematurely success would be theirs.
The South East Clare’s side inability to close out games has cost them many big results over the last half decade and this continued as they conceded four scores in the intervening seven minutes as Cathal McInerney and McGrath (3) were the sharpshooters to level the game entering the final ten minutes. Conor Ryan now in an attacking role restored the Cratloe lead a minute before a John Conlon free levelled proceedings as extra time now loomed its unwanted head. The game winning score emerged in the 57thminute when a high ball sent in to the Clonlara full back line caught all bar Conor McGrath on the wrong foot and he first timed it past the outrushing Ger O Connell. Clonlara tried as best they could but struck for only one point from a totally isolated Cormac O Donovan at full forward.
The champions have carried the weight of expectation with ease on their shoulders all season and will once again in 2015 want to win all competitions and on the evidence provided in a hurling sense it may not be impossible. The leading contenders in 2014 were way behind Cratloe and it will need fresh new teams to emerge to really topple Joe McGrath’s men. The winners were served well by Gearoid Ryan, the excellent Michael Hawes, Conor Ryan when attacking, Liam Markham in the first half, Sean Collins who had a solid club season, Conor McGrath and Podge Collins who requires close attention even when the game is going against him. Clonlara really wanted this game and the loss of Galvin stunted this ambition considerably despite the honest efforts of John Conlon, Cillian Fennessy, Nicky O Connell, Darach Honan, Cathal O Connell in the first 45 minutes and Willie Slattery as their forward unit were able to create enough chances to win two games but failed most convincingly in this aspect.
CRATLOE: Gearoid Ryan, John O Gorman, Michael Hawes, David Ryan, Sean Chaplin, Conor Ryan (0-1), Barry Duggan, Liam Markham(1-0), Oige Murphy, David Collins, Conor McGrath (1-6), Sean Collins (0-1), Cathal McInerney (0-1), Podge Collins (0-1), Shane Gleeson. Subs: Shane O Leary for Ryan (inj), Alan McNamara for Gleeson.
CLONLARA: Ger O Connell, Senan Nihill, Shane O Brien, Pat O Hare, Nicky O Connell (0-1), CIllian Fennessy, Domhnall O Donovan, Cathal O Connell(0-1), Oisin O Brien, John Conlon (0-3), Darach Honan (1-1), Willie Slattery (1-0), Neil Ryan (0-1), Cormac O Donovan (0-1), Ian Galvin. Subs: Michael O Loughlin for Ryan, Seamus Downey for O Hare,
Referee: Ambrose Heagney (Corofin).
After the game Cratloe captain Liam Markham was presented with the Clare cup as Cratloe achieved the double in league and championship hurling and also managed a double in football winning the division 3 league and senior championship.