A seventh minute goal for Clonakenny, coupled with some wayward first half shooting tilted this Munster Intermediate Club Hurling Quarter-Final away from Portlaw, in what proved an entertaining hour’s hurling in North Tipperary on Sunday.
And while DJ Foran’s 53rd minute goal breathed new life into Portlaw’s late challenge, the Deise champions failed to add to their tally thereafter, as a Clonakenny side inspired by Willie and John Joe Ryan, deservedly claimed victory.
At the break, Clonakenny were good value for their 1-8 to 0-6 advantage, while Portlaw were left rueing a tally of six wides, four of which, at the very least, ought to have raised white flags.
The Tipp men, fresh from a first IHC title in 48 years, took the lead after four minutes through a Willie Ryan 65.
Three minutes later, William Moloughney quadrupled Clonakenny’s advantage when he diverted Michael John Carroll’s deep ball into the net beyond Luke Power for what ultimately proved the game’s most pivotal score.
Within a minute, Paul Power finally got Portlaw off the mark with a free but a 70-metre free from centre-back Willie Ryan restored Clonakenny’s four-point lead come the 11th minute.
Niall Fitzgerald found his range with a fine point down the left channel from Portlaw’s next attack but John Joe Ryan’s accurate strike from the halfway line left Clonakenny 1-2 to 0-2 ahead after 13 minutes.
Despite Clonakenny’s full-back line looking less than confident when the ball came their way, Portlaw failed to threaten Stephen Russell’s goal in a meaningful manner during the opening 30 minutes.
And this was a pity because the Clonakenny inside line looked susceptible when the sliothar broke beyond their impressive trio of half-backs.
John Hartley, who led the way for the Tannery Town throughout, broke onto a loose ball down the left channel to point from 20 metres in the 18th minute.
A further six minutes elapsed before the next score arrived, as Clonakenny’s John Joe Ryan found his range following a fine assist from Conor Ryan.
A brace of points from John Hartley and a Paul Power free brought Portlaw to within four points, but the Tipp men finished the half the stronger, adding to their tally through Moloughney and John Joe Ryan.
The opening 10 minutes after the interval appeared to swing the fixture in Clonakenny’s favour, as they outscored the Blue and Gold by 0-5 to 0-3.
Before a 625-strong attendance, Paul Power’s third free opened the scoring just 20 seconds after the restart, before Willie Ryan struck a fine point from centrefield two minutes later.
DJ Foran and John Joe Ryan (a free) traded points in the 34th and 35th minutes, before Wille Ryan landed another free 90 seconds later to leave Clonakenny seven points clear. Niall Fitzgerald and Willie Ryan (with another free) were next to score, leaving Portlaw with a lot of work to do over the closing 20 minutes.
Blake O’Connor struck a fine point down the left flank for Portlaw in the 43rd minute before William Moloughney found his range once more, albeit in a move during which the ball struck referee Damian Fox, which ought to have led to a throw-in.
Portlaw substitute Jamie Murphy took over the free-taking duties from Paul Power, whose Championship-winning accuracy somewhat deserted him on Sunday last – even the best have the occasional off day.
Murphy’s 47th minute free left Portlaw six points down, but the superb John Joe Ryan soon extended Clonakenny’s seven-point lead when finishing off a move instigated by the impressive Pa Ryan. Jamie Murphy sent another free between the posts in the 49th minute but JJ Ryan converted another placed ball for the Black and Amber nine minutes from time.
Moments after Blake O’Connor registered his second point of the day, DJ Foran charged through to bat the ball beyond Clonakenny custodian Stephen Russell following a move instigated his Portlaw counterpart Luke Power, and assisted by the excellent Hartley. Suddenly, just a goal separated the sides, and despite landing several balls in and around the Clonakenny house, Portlaw would not add to their total between then and full-time.
With a minute of normal time remaining, outstanding centre-back Willie Ryan landed his sixth point of the afternoon to seal victory for Clonakenny, who travel to Cork next weekend to take on Newcestown in the semi-final.
Cognisant of conceding frees too regularly from scoreable positions, just as they did during the first half of their County Final win over Modeligo, Portlaw will draw solace from the resolve they showed on Sunday afternoon. The main objective of the season: ending a decade-long wait to return to senior hurling has been achieved.
And there’s little doubt that Dick O’Shea and his selectors will soon reconvene to plot a path to retaining that cherished status within the next few weeks.
* Many thanks to Moyne-Templetuohy CLG for their warm welcome on Sunday afternoon last on what was a first visit to the North Tipp village for most Waterfordians to this superbly appointed venue.
Clonakenny: Stephen Russell; Donal Greed, Liam Mullally, Michael Costigan; Michael John Carroll, Willie Ryan, Pa Ryan; Conor Ryan, John Joe Ryan; Paul Bergin, John Costigan, William Moloughney; Diarmuid Ryan, David Crampton, Bobby Bergin.
Scorers: John Joe Ryan (0-8; 0-3f), Willie Ryan (0-6; 0-3f), William Moloughney (1-2) and Conor Ryan (0-1).
Substitutes: Ger Byrne for Liam Mullally (20 mins) and Donnacha Murray for Paul Bergin (40).
Portlaw: Luke Power; Shane Foran, Eoin Galvin, Michael Donnelly; Jimmy O’Donoghue, Frank Galvin, Gary Morahan; Jack Walshe, Niall Fitzgerald; Andrew Kirwan, John Hartley, DJ Foran; Blake O’Connor, Paul Power, Christopher Mackey.
Scorers: DJ Foran (1-1), John Hartley (0-3), Paul Power (0-3f), Blake O’Connor and Niall Fitzgerald (0-2 each), Jamie Murphy (0-2f).
Substitutes: Shane Power for Gary Morahan (28 mins), Gavin O’Connor for Shane Foran (41) and Jamie Murphy for Christopher Mackey (45).
Referee: Damian Fox (Clare).