Cratloe 2-21 Éire Óg 2-13 at Cusack Park, Ennis
BARRY Nugent saw red for a strike in the second half; Gearóíd Considine only saw yellow in the first.
It might be too simplistic to parse this testy quarter-final affair down to those two decisions, but they had a huge bearing on a contest that was much closer than final margin of eight points suggests.
The Townies gave it everything and even in defeat announced their arrival as a force in senior hurling once more, but ultimately it was the man of Cratloe’s season so far Conor McGrath whose contribution of 1-9 decided the argument.
Make no mistake about it, the unheralded Ennis side had the championship favourites rattled in this game, but when it came down it, the controversial finish to the first half is what tipped the balance in Cratloe’s favour.
The Townies may have had a disastrous start when Cathal McInerney 57th second goal helped Cratloe into an early 1-1 to 0-0 lead, but a two-goal blast from David Reidy by the 18th minute had changed everything.
There was a hunger about Seamus Durack’s charges – and they believed when coursing into a 2-7 to 1-5 lead after 23 minutes when Barry Nugent and Davy O’Halloran followed up Reidy’s second strike with a couple of good points.
Ultimately, however, the fact is that Cratloe hit 1-5 to 0-1 in the closing minutes of the half, with McGrath’s 24th minute goal being the first of a couple of turning points in a contest where tensions boiled over on many occasions.
Brian Dolan did land a point a minute later to put them back in front by three as half-time approached, but five Cratloe points without reply sucked huge, huge life out of the Townies’ challenge.
Conor McGrath got the first on 28 minutes before controversey raged in the second minute of injury time. Cathal McInerney’s effort was waved wide, but in the argument that ensued Ciaran Russell was felled by Gearóíd Considine, who only got a yellow, while McInerney was retrospectively awarded a point.
At once the contest turned completely in Cratloe’s favour, with Padraic Collins, Sean Collins and Liam Markham adding points during the seven minutes of injury time played by Johnny Healy as they turned a four-point deficit into a 2-10 to 2-8 interval lead.
It wasn’t the point of no return for Éire Óg, but it was as near as, undoing much of their great work when they responded to that early Cratloe goal with some very spirited hurling.
Ronan Keane had got them off the mark with a sixth minute point but it was a brilliant run and finish by David Reidy for his first goal after ten minutes that really ignited the Townies’ challenge.
Then his second when he latched onto a rebound from a Shane O’Donnell shot on 18 minutes was what really had the Townies believing. This belief was there again in the second half when a couple of Davy O’Halloran points had them back level by the 40th minute.
Alas, by then they’d lost Barry Nugent to a red card, while Cratloe also came out better of the mini-brawls that broke out all over the field in the hangover to the incident that led to the Éire Og’s man’s dismissal.
From there it was always Cratloe’s to lose – they never looked like letting it slip once points by Sean Collins (2) and Padraic Collins helped them move three clear by the three-quarter stage.
Ronan Keane stopped the rot with a point on 46 minutes but another three-in-a-row from the Cratloe men via McGrath (2) and McInerney by the 54th minute had them 2-16 to 2-11 clear and almost out of sight.
Indeed, all the Townies could muster in the last ten minutes was a solitary point from David Reidy, while McGrath (2), Markham (2), Padraic Collins and McInerney added to Cratloe’s total as they eased their way into a fifth semi-final in six years.
“We got over the line and that’s the most important thing I suppose. With the benefit of the wind and an extra man in the second half, it made life a little bit easier for us. In saying that, Éire Óg came with all guns blazing and with ten to twelve minutes to go there were only a few points in it. We just happened to score a few points near the end and get over the line which was the object of the exercise.”
“It’s disappointing after a lot of hard work I suppose. But on the day, we were beaten by a better team, they were that bit slicker and Conor McGrath was outstanding so for us to go a man down then playing against the wind made the task very difficult.
“It’s all part of the learning curve though. I’m very proud of the lads, they never backed down but even when we were on top, we never got far enough ahead to pose a big question. But beidh lá eile.”
Éire Óg Manager
Man of the Match
Conor McGrath (Cratloe)
THE best forward in Clare and he’s as good as there is in Ireland too, something that was hammered home yet again in this contest in a great display that tipped the balance of what was competitive game for 50 minutes in Cratloe’s favour.
Won and Lost
Éire Óg were hugely impressive in the first half but lost their way before half-time when conceding 1-5 in the closing stages. It was the decisive move of the game that helped Cratloe turn a five-point deficit into a two-point interval lead. From there they never really looked back.
The first half was hugely entertaining in what was a shoot-out. The sending off changed things, but it was still a good spectacle.
Above: Eire Og’s Conor O’Halloran V Cratloe’s Conor Ryan in action