By Michael O Connor.
Pivotal moments in finals often decide the destination of the crown allied to high standard performances of key players. This could best sum up how the story of this game would read. One score at the wrong time easily conceded led to a lapse of concentration and the winners piled on the agony as Niall Gilligan’s charge regained the Under 21A crown with a four point win over Clonlara in Cusack park.
Clonlara accounted for Eire-og and Inagh/Kilnamona to reach this season’s decider whilst the bookmakers favourites Sixmilebridge overcame Newmarket in the quarter final before requiring two action packed outings against Ballyea edging home in the dying seconds against the reigning champions It could be sensed by the miniscule attendance at headquarters that even the diehards of both clubs or, at most the hurling fanatics of the county deserted this final.
Missing the services of Jamie Shanahan was a blow to Sixmilebridge but as he was out for the season to date they were pre warned and planned without the three season county minor.With each passing season the Under 21 hurling championship starts as planned and round 2 is enacted as schedule then it goes off line and eventually the final is played one senses with a weariness to just get the competition ended with the box ticked.
The opening attack of the game ended with a wide from a long range Colm Galvin free before colleague Cathal O Connell opened his and Clonlara’s account from play. Conor Deasy levelled the game after four minutes as an interesting battle was developing between Seadna Morey and Cathal O Connell yet they both played their own games with O Connell moving out and Morey hanging back anticipating deliveries deep into the Bridge rearguard. David Begley and Alex Morey swapped scores by the 7th minute as Clonlara hit three wides early on in the game. A huge score that came about after nine minutes had a big bearing on the remainder of the game was a speculative effort by Cathal O Connor that Ryan Morris allowed bounce in front of him and slip over the line. This shock goal stunned Clonlara and in quick succession Sixmilebridge added four scores from Alex Morey, Pa Sheehan, Kevin Fennessy and Mulready once again to open up a seven point gap after 15 minutes.
Just when it appeared that the Bridge had title number 14 wrapped up in all but name Clonlara settled from the ten minute dip in form and really took the game to the leaders. Cathal O Connell (2) and Ian Galvin struck a hat trick in three minutes. Alan Mulready, Alex Morey, Micheal O Loughlin and Ciaran Downey kept the scoreboard ticking over before the half time break to leave CLonlara in arrears (1-8) to (0-7) facing the second half. The big dilemma facing Clonlara was how to best utilise Colm Galvin who despite holding well at centre back was delivering ball into areas he might best well in himself. When Sixilemilebridge hit the ball at their corner forwards Clonlara looked vunerable. The first score of the new half was provided by a brilliant solo effort from Pa Sheehan that was quickly negated by Clonlara’s Thomas Begley. Alan Mulready and Cathal O Connell hit minors before Alex Morey struck from a free to leave five points between the sides after 41 minutes.
Colm Galvin on a rare foray upfield was on the mark only for man of the match Pa Sheehan to respond with his third of the day as the game entered the final quarter. Try as Clonlara might they were never going to give Pat Freeman in the Sixmilebridge goal even one shot to stop during the game and this stunted any hope of getting within two points of the eventual winners. Sixmilebridge were five clear when Cathal O Connell hit a free and then a 65 over to leave a goal between the sides with five minutes of normal time.
Fittingly it was Pa Sheehan with another score from midfield that cemented the win for Sixmilebridge and when Alex Morey whose main contribution during the game was from placed ball restored the five point Bridge advantage with the game entering injury time. The last score of the game which also doubled up as consolation score fell to Cathal O Connell. Indeed the skilful 20 year old should have been pushed into the full forward line with Galvin to midfield and Shane O Brien to centre back with 15 minutes to go as Clonlara were too defensive minded and it ruined their scoring potential.
The winners will point to the goal they were gifted early on that allowed another four points to be scored in rapid fire succession as the key time period in the game. They were served well by Brian Carey, Seadna Morey, Pa Sheehan, Alan Mulready, Kevin Fennessy in the first half, Alex Morey from frees, Kevin Lynch and Noel Purcell. Clonlara probably respected their opponents and it cost them scores after they rallied from the first half setback. Their best performers included Cathal O Connell, Colm Galvin, Micheal O Loughlin early on, Shane O Brien, Ger Powell, Ian Galvin and Eoin Meehan.
SIXMILEBRIDGE: Pat Freeman, Barry Fitzpatrick, Brian Carey, Eanna Burns, Noel Purcell, Seadna Morey, Kevin Lynch, Pa Sheehan (0-4), Cathal O Connor (1-0), Kevin Fennessy (0-1), Alex Morey (0-5), Conor Deasy (0-1), Alan Mulready (0-3), Darragh Fitzgerald, Sean Lynch. Subs: David Murphy for Fitzgerald, Evan McInerney for Lynch, Brian Corry for Fennessy, Barry Corbett,
CLONLARA: Ryan Morris, Fionn Larkin, Shane O Brien, Michael White, Eoin Meehan, Colm Galvin (0-1), Ger Powell, Micheal O Loughlin (0-1), Seamus Downey, Ciaran Downey (0-1), Cathal O Connell (0-7), Thomas Begley (0-1), Liam O Grady, David Begley (0-1), Ian Galvin (0-1). Subs: Oisin O Brien for O Grady,
Referee: Fergal Gray (Feakle).After the game the Under 21A cup was presented by County secretary Pat Fitzgerald to Sixmilebridge captain Kevin Lynch as bord na n-og PRO Tom Sheehan was visibly delighted as his beloved charges once more as kingpins of Clare under 21 hurling