Minor A Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Clarecastle 1-12 Kilmaley 0-13
at Éire Óg
The biggest minor rivalry in the county took another major twist on Sunday afternoon after a thrilling finale saw the lead change hands on three occasions in injury-time before Clarecastle emerged victorious with the last three points.
That dramatic late exchange rather epitomised the seesaw nature of Kilmaley and Clarecastle clashes over the past seven seasons that began with a title apiece in the back-to-back finals of 2012 and ’13 while the Magpies subsequently prevailed in the 2016 decider between the pair.
More than that though, last year Clarecastle won the group match before being unceremoniously dumped out of the title race by Kilmaley at the semi-final stage, a scenario that would be reversed this year as tabletoppers Kilmaley left Clarecastle in their wake a month previously only to be agonisingly shaded at the death on Sunday.
It’s no surprise therefore that they was a distinct edge to proceedings this time around, with a sizeable crowd lining the perimeter around Éire Óg in anticipation of another intense derby showdown. And while the scoring wasn’t high and frees dominated, they wouldn’t be disappointed either as an almost tangible tension reigned throughout the entire hour.
Clarecastle were the more efficient side in the opening period, with a 24th minute goal from Brandon Healy deservedly putting them 1-7 to 0-6 clear by the break after Kilmaley had underperformed with seven wides.
However, in a bid to protect their cushion, the Magpies rather went into defensive mode on the turnover, a gamble that seemed to work as despite inviting Kilmaley onto them, six more Kilmaley wides along with a saved Cian Broderick penalty from his opposite number Ryan Murphy ensured that Clarecastle would keep their noses in front as the tie reached the hour mark.
Aaron Moloney’s aerial prowess did hand Kilmaley a late lifeline though, earning a brace of frees that Darragh Hickey duly converted to give his side the lead for the very first time in the 61st minute.
With four minutes of additional time indicated, there was still time for Clarecastle to regroup though as they went on the offensive and would be rewarded with the last three points, all from Oisin Casey, who first put over pressurised frees from 40 and 30 metres before gathering an Eoin Dinan pass at halfway and soloing down the right wing to arrow over from 60 metres for what would be an inspirational clinching final score.
It was heartbreaking for Kilmaley who appeared to have peaked at just the right time coming down the final straight. However, in truth, they only really have themselves to blame as having hit as many wides as scores over the hour, they never reached the heights of previous displays.
Of perhaps they simply weren’t let as Clarecastle certainly upped the intensity levels from their group meeting to snatch the whip hand from the outset on Sunday.
Oisin Casey raided for the first three points inside seven minutes while after Aaron Moloney finally opened Kilmaley’s account in the next passage of play, it was quickly cancelled out by Darragh Healy to give his side a 0-4 to 0-1 cushion.
Indeed, Clarecastle always seemed able to respond when required as a brace of Darragh Hickey frees were matched by Conor Halpin and Casey while after another two Hickey placed balls, the Magpies would answer with the only goal of the contest.
It stemmed from an Oisin Casey free from his own ’65 into the left corner for Josh Brack to gather and centre to the unmarked Brandon Healy to pick out the top right corner of the net at 1-6 to 0-5.
James McGuire did have an opportunity to hit back when racing onto a Conor Devitt crossfield pass but he would find goalkeeper Cian Broderick in stubborn mood to bat away the shot at his near post as the sides went in at 1-7 to 0-6.
Oisin Casey would edge the leaders five in front on the restart but the tide seemed to have turned when Hickey arrowed over two unanswered frees before Aaron Moloney was fouled on his way to goal for a 35th minute penalty.
A goal would have levelled up the tie for the first time but instead Murphy’s effort would be repelled as would Moloney’s pulled rebound for a ’65 that Hickey also passed up.
All the momentum still seemed to be on Kilmaley’s side as Padhraic O’Donoghue and Kenneth Higgins slashed the deficit to just the minimum by the turn of the final quarter.
Brandon Healy eased the pressure at the other end with a point but a flurry of wides on both sides in its aftermath reflected the heightened anxiety levels of such a scrutinised finish.
Eventually, Aaron Moloney earned a 53rd minute free for Hickey to convert from 40 metres and cut the deficit back to just one but two further wides would prove exceedingly frustrating for Kilmaley as the game drifted over the hour mark.
Kilmaley did eventually make a full recovery but they simply couldn’t close out the contest as Casey seized control in the remaining minutes to secure his side’s place in the final against the winners of this weekend’s clash of Clonlara and Inagh-Kilnamona.
Dylan Broderick; Cillian Casey, Ronan Donnelly, Alec Cassley; Eoin Dinan, Eoghan Wallace, David Tuohy; Cian Galvin, Conor Halpin (0-1); Brandon Healy (1-1), Oisin Casey (0-9, 7f), Dylan Brown; Harry Ward, Darragh Healy (0-1), Josh Brack Subs Aidan Ryan for Brown (57, inj)
Ryan Murphy; Enda Haren, John Finnucane, Kenneth Higgins (0-1); Conor Devitt, Bradley Higgins, Daniel Walsh; Oisin Looney, Padhraic O’Donoghue (0-1); Darragh Hickey (0-9f), Aaron Moloney (0-1), Michael Murray; Peter Ronan, James McGuire, Mark Connellan (0-1) Subs Sean Ronan for Connellan (42), Tomás O’Halloran for P. Ronan (52)
Referee Joe Mullins (Clonlara)