Cratloe 0-18 Éire Óg 1-12 At Cusack Park, Ennis
Cratloe had to show great composure before finally weathering a raging Éire Óg second half storm and advancing to their sixth semi-final in eight years in the final senior action of the weekend on Sunday afternoon.
Effectively though, this was as much about the Townies blowing their chance as Cratloe taking it as a Shane O’Donnell solo goal finally kickstarted his side into gear early on the restart when four points in arrears.
Suddenly Éire Óg seized complete control as they inflicted a six point turnaround to lead by two entering the final quarter but simply couldn’t put their opponents away as they definitely passed up another 2-7 which the 2014 champions duly punished with six of the last seven points to stumble relievedly over the line.
Some poor decision-making in front of the posts would amount to 14 wides over the hour in contrast to a more clinical Cratloe who only had five wides despite having far less chances. It would be a costly lesson to learn for this young Éire Óg side who kept themselves in touch with David Reidy’s frees in the opening half before finally igniting with O’Donnell’s superb trademark goal in the 34th minute.
However, in not putting a subdued Cratloe to the sword, they were made to pay for that inexperience as Conor McGrath initiated a six point unanswered rally to finally secure their third successive championship victory. Cratloe also held the whip hand in the opening half despite playing into a stiffening breeze which had picked up considerably since the opening quarter-final of the double header in Cusack Park.
Conor McGrath (2), Conor Ryan and David Collins would ensure a 0-4 to 0-1 lead by the tenth minute as wind-assisted Éire Óg looked to curb their inside threat by employing Kevin Moynihan as a sweeper in front of the full-back line.
Reidy kept chipping away with frees while Davy O’Halloran had a close range flick smothered on the line but in contrast, Cathal McInerney, McGrath and Shane Gleeson would all contribute from play to push their side comfortably ahead at 0-7 to 0-3 by the 26th minute. A brace of Reidy frees did reduce the arrears to three by the break at 0-8 to 0-5 but having failed to score from play and now facing into the conditions for the new half, Éire Óg certainly needed a drastic improvement.
Cratloe almost shut the door on their opponents in the opening minute when a Conor Earley delivery was added to by McGrath only for full-back Aaron Fitzgerald to get back and clear the ball off the line. McGrath did restore a four point advantage with only his second free of the game but the contest would turn three minutes later with the only goal of the game.
Conor O’Halloran’s delivery from the right wing was snatched out of the air by O’Donnell who bypassed three defenders on his way to a batted goal at 0-9 to 1-5. Danny Russell followed up with a free to level up the tie for only the second time in the 36th minute and while Cratloe initially resisted, the momentum was now clearly swinging towards the Townies, who backed by their increasingly audible support, added three unanswered points through Reidy, Davy O’Halloran and Danny Russell to move 1-11 to 0-12 clear.
Four wides in that period halted any further progress as McGrath halved the arrears entering the final ten minutes, with another three wides including a glorious goal chance for O’Halloran left the tie in the balance with only five minutes remaining.
True to form, Cratloe never panicked though and after McGrath gained parity, they would add three points in as many minutes through McGrath, Liam Markham and David Collins to manufacture a three point cushion once more.
O’Donnell picked out O’Halloran for Éire Óg’s last chance but from an acute angle, he would again flash a shot across the line and wide before a McGrath interception allowed Podge Collins to make it a four point game.
Reidy did convert his seventh free in injury-time but by then the opportunity had gone as those earlier spurned chances will ultimately leave a regretful taint on their best championship run in 14 years.
It was mission accomplished for Cratloe though who just did enough to squeak by and are now backed by the greatest title winning experience of the four remaining sides in what promises to be another eventful race for the Canon Hamilton.
Gearoid Ryan (7); Shane O’Leary (7), Michael Hawes (7), Martin Oige Murphy (7); Conor Earley (7), Conor Ryan (7) (0-1), Sean Chaplin (7); Liam Markham (7) (0-1), Sean Collins (6); Damien Browne (7) (0-1), Padraic Collins (7) (0-1), Shane Gleeson (6) (0-1); Cathal McInerney (7) (0-2), Conor McGrath (8) (0-9 6f), David Collins (7) (0-2) Subs Enda Boyce (6) for Gleeson (42 mins, inj), Daithi Collins for David Collins (64 mins)
Kevin Brennan (7); Liam Corry (7), Aaron Fitzgerald (7), Conor O’Halloran (8); David McNamara (6), Kevin Moynihan (6), Ciaran Russell (7); David Reidy (8) (0-7f), Aidan McGrath (6); Bryan Dolan (6), Ronan Keane (7), Barry Nugent (7); Shane O’Donnell (8) (1-1), Danny Russell (7) (0-3 1f), Davy O’Halloran (7) (0-1) Subs Marc O’Donnell (7) for Moynihan (25 mins, inj), David Durack (6) for Dolan (42 mins), Niall McMahon for Corry (52 mins), Einne O’Connor for Nugent (56 mins)
Damien Fox (Clooney-Quin)