Classy Clarinbridge serve up a final treat


Clarinbridge 2-18 O’Loughlin Gaels 0-12:CLARINBRIDGE, THE escapologists of the year, spared their supporters undue angst by turning around another woeful start in sufficiently good time to romp through the second half of yesterday’s AIB All-Ireland club hurling final at Croke Park.

By becoming the sixth Galway club to take home the Tommy Moore Cup, the new champions helped their county establish a record.

O’Loughlin Gaels have lived dangerously themselves this season but, having dominated much of yesterday’s first half, they suffered a fatal loss of momentum after their opponents scored 1-1 in the couple of minutes before the break to level the match going into the second period.

O’Loughlins were unable to recover their composure as the match drifted well beyond their reach.

Earlier it seemed the Kilkenny team were going to storm the final as they dominated proceedings in the opening quarter. Mark Bergin pointed them in front within 45 seconds. Bergin personified his team’s fluctuating fortunes. One theory is that Clarinbridge centre back David Forde had been advised to drop back in order to help cover Martin Comerford.

In the additional space however, Bergin thrived and rifled four points from play whereas, ironically, his expected accuracy from placed balls wasn’t up to the usual high standards. His second point, in the third minute, was followed by a couple from the lively Danny Loughnane. Clarinbridge couldn’t even get a foothold in their opponents’ half.

As manager Michael Nolan acknowledged afterwards, O’Loughlins wasted too many good chances when on top and even before the match lurched away from them there was a feeling the Galway side would be happy to trade at a three- or even four-point loss for the half such was the paucity of opportunity.

Shane Burke and Éanna Murphy switched around the 15-minute mark as an answer to the supremacy of the O’Loughlin’s pair of Peter Dowling and Maurice Nolan. But the switch that made the real difference was the customary one that swapped the Kerins brothers, Alan and Mark, between the 40 and the edge of the square.

At full forward Mark began to ask serious questions of Andy Kearns and from centre forward Alan became the final’s governing influence, allowing Clarinbridge maintain a platform and sending in good ball to his inside line, who ended up with 2-7 from play between them.

The switch took place in the 25th minute with O’Loughlins at the peak of their superiority, leading by 0-8 to 0-3. For the remainder of the match they were outscored by 2-15 to 0-4.

The important blows were struck just before half-time. Firstly Alan Kerins linked with his brother and Mark’s touch carried the ball to the net. In injury-time, Mark was taken down for a penalty and his own strongly hit shot was deflected over for a point and half-time parity of 1-7 to 0-10.

At the interval a tight contest looked likely in the club hurling final for the first time since Athenry and Graigue-Ballycallan went to extra-time 10 years ago.

Instead Clarinbridge simply took control. Replacement Enda Collins made a big impact around centrefield, fastening on to ball and moving it well, as the Galway champions’ pace and touch tightened unrecognisably compared to their flailing efforts earlier.

Forde also got on top of Bergin, cutting out his space and at corner back captain Paul Callanan was excellent, moving across the back line to snuff out perceived danger.

Five of the first seven scores after half-time were from frees – Bergin shooting two, the second in the 40th minute proved to be his team’s last score, and Kerins adding three.

Eoin Forde was buzzing by now and finished with 1-4, as his team scored 1-6 without replay in the closing 20 minutes. His goal came when he picked up a ball from Shane Burke and sprinted in on goal before firing home. It was the final score and with eight minutes left Clarinbridge – and particularly the six players who had lost the 2002 final to Birr – could enjoy the feeling of playing in an All-Ireland they knew they’d win.

O’Loughlin’s substitute Seánie Cummins was red-carded in injury-time for a wild pull.

CLARINBRIDGE: L Donoghue; C Forde, B Burke, P Callanan (capt); J Cannon (0-1), D Forde, M Donoghue; B Daly, E Murphy (0-1); S Burke, M Kerins (1-7, four points frees and one point penalty), S Forde; E Forde (1-4), A Kerins (0-2), P Coen (0-1). Subs: E Collins (0-2) for S Forde (29 mins).

O’LOUGHLIN GAELS: S Murphy; B Kelly, A Kearns, E Kearns; A O’Brien, B Hogan, N Bergin; P Dowling, M Nolan (0-1); A Geoghegan (0-2), M Bergin (0-6, two frees), N McEvoy; B Dowling, M Comerford (0-1), D Loughnane (0-2). Subs: S Cummins for Dowling (half-time).

Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).