Cratloe 1-10 — Ballinacourty 0-11
Cratloe, who were crowned Clare Senior Football champions for the first time only 24 hours previously, edged out Deise kingpins Ballinacourty in an end-to-end Munster Senior Club semi-final at Cusack Park on Sunday last.
The Banner side, who had six of Clare’s All-Ireland winning hurlers on the pitch during this gripping tie’s closing stages, demonstrated immense levels of stamina to outmuscle Courty after a tightly contested encounter.
Captain Martin Óg Murphy was the only clubman who surfaced in the village on Saturday night in the wake of their SFC victory over Doonbeg.
Immediately after their first match of the weekend, the Cratloe men had a team meeting and then took to ice chambers to rest their wearying limbs.
Well, by full-time on Sunday, they were positively skipping across the greasy Cusack Park surface, inspired by the outstanding Podge Collins, every inch as impressive a footballer as he is a hurler.
For Ballinacourty, who if anything appeared the more lead-legged in the final quarter under a grey Ennis sky, a lack of incisive passing stood against them in a tense, entertaining encounter.
And while the men from Abbeyside will dwell on their inability to open up the Cratloe defence after so lively a first half, the resolve demonstrated by the winners is what deserves greatest focus here.
In stating that, there was much to enthuse in the manner of their display – registering all 11 points from play, a tally which, more often than not, would be sufficient to win a game at this time of year.
The first half produced cracking, end-to-end football, and even referee Derek O’Mahoney’s whistle-happy opening to the match couldn’t spoil the quality that both sides showcased so admirably.
James O’Mahoney opened the scoring for Courty after five minutes with a beautiful 25-metre strike from the left channel after the outstanding Shane Briggs had put him in the clear.
Cratloe, despite seeing off Doonbeg the previous afternoon at the same venue, wore any fatigue in their system most lightly, all the more impressive a feat on a heady sod in front of 873 patrons.
Cathal McInerney, his team’s top scorer in their County Final win over Doonbeg, converted a sixth minute free, the first of five occasions in which the sides were level during an enthralling opening half.
Patrick Hurney, who’s had such an outstanding club year in both codes, put Courty back ahead in the seventh minute, only for McInerney to point brilliantly 60 seconds later after a sweeping passing movement from Cratloe.
On the quarter hour, Cratloe again attacked at pace, and Sean Collins had a goal at his mercy from 12 yards, but he sent his well-driven shot over Stephen Enright’s crossbar to the put the Claremen ahead for the first time.
John Hurney, back in the Courty starting line-up having served his suspension, restored parity in the 17th minute before Michael O’Halloran shrugged off Cratloe’s left-corner back when kicking Packie Hurney’s side ahead in the 19th.
Both Podges – Collins and Hurney – were at the heart of both their respective teams’ most productive passages of play, with Collins, despite scoring only one point, proving the outstanding player on the pitch.
Conor McGrath, who, along with Courty’s Richie Foley would be sent off in the dying seconds of the match, brought the sides level with another sweetly struck point down the left wing after 24 minutes.
But within a minute, a quickly taken free by Michael O’Halloran released Mark Ferncombe (who put in a massive shift over the hour) who did the needful from 21 metres to edge Courty back in front.
Wing-forward Liam Markham brought the sides level for the fifth time in the 28th minute before Podge Hurney landed another terrific point to leave Ballinacourty 0-6 to 0-5 ahead come the half-time whistle.
Cratloe settled the quicker upon the resumption of play and netted the game’s only goal less than 90 seconds after the restart, as Conor McGrath tucked the ball beneath Enright after a defence-splitting hand pass from Cathal McInerney.
But Ballinacourty replied brilliantly, registering points from John Hurney and Patrick Hurney to level matters up by the 34th minute before Podge edged the men in green and white ahead a minute later.
McInerney, another of Cratloe’s leading performers over the weekend, struck another glorious point from the left side of the park after 39 minutes, only for the diminutive Podge Collins to strike an even better point in the 43rd.
Having landed a few efforts into the grateful grasp of Stephen Enright, Cathal McInerney’s 49th minute point was the first time during this compelling encounter that more than a single point separated the teams.
But back came Ballinacourty in what ultimately proved their final offensive foray of the afternoon, as the Ennis sky overhead sunk greyer and greyer. Briggs, colossal yet again over the hour, charged upfield and struck the ball over the sweet spot in the 53rd minute, with Gary Hurney adding the equaliser from Courty’s next attack.
But this Cratloe side, loaded with All-Ireland champions and third level players well accustomed to playing two matches over a single weekend, kept the bit between the teeth once more in the closing stages.
Brendan Bugler’s pass released Liam Markham for a 58th minute point, much to the delight of the Cratloe support, before Conor McGrath, barely a minute before his dismissal, landed what ultimately proved the insurance score.
This was a belter of a match, even if, but hardly surprisingly on such a damp day, the quality of the football dipped somewhat in the final quarter.
For Ballinacourty, Shane Briggs was simply sensational – and not for the first time this year, charging out of defence to brilliant effect.
Behind him in the left corner, 18-year-old David Looby produced another breathtaking display, underlining the mockery of his exclusion from the Waterford GAA Awards shortlist.
Other Courty men to catch the eye included the returning John Hurney, the hard-working Mark Ferncombe who ran himself into the ground while also scoring two points and, of course, Podge Hurney.
For Cratloe, who must have had one hell of a blow-out on Sunday night, Podge Collins was staggeringly good; his distribution at times mirroring Maurice Fitzgerald at his peak. Captain Martin Óg Murphy got up and down the paddock in a Shane Briggs-like manner, while Cathal McInerney and Conor McGrath also featured prominently.
That Deise clubs are firmly knocking on the provincial door is beyond dispute. But alas we still await the day when they’ll not only open the door but send it flying off its hinges. Such a day will surely come. The only question that remains is when.
Ballinacourty: Stephen Enright; Brian Looby, Shane Briggs, David Collins; Richie Foley, Sean O’Hare, Conor Maloney; John Hurney, Gary Hurney; James O’Mahoney, Mark Fives, Mark Ferncombe, Michael O’Halloran, Jason O’Brien, Patrick Hurney.
Substitutes: Shane O’Donovan for Jason O’Brien (HT) and John Power for Michael O’Halloran (43).
Scorers: Patrick Hurney (0-4), Mark Ferncombe and John Hurney (0-2 each), James O’Mahoney, Michael O’Halloran and Richie Foley (0-1 each).
Cratloe: Pierce de Loughrey; Sean Chaplin, Barry Duggan, David Ryan; Martin Óg Murphy, Michael Hawes, Enda Boyce; Conor Ryan, Cillian Duggan; Liam Markham, Podge Collins, Sean Collins; Cathal McInerney, Fergal Lynch, Conor McGrath.
Substitutes: Sean Hynan for Enda Boyce (43 mins) and Brendan Bugler for Martin Óg Murphy (53).
Scorers: Conor McGrath (1-2), Cathal McGrath (0-4; 0-2f), Liam Markham (0-2), Podge Collins and Sean Collins (0-1 each).
Referee: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary).