Hat-trick hero Liam Watson was the toast of Loughgiel this weekend with his 3-7 tally helping to hold off the challenge of hot favourites Coolderry in this All-Ireland club senior hurling final in chilly Croke Park on Saturday.
It was a tour-de-force from the mercurial magician from the Antrim glens, surpassing even his performance in Loughgiel’s semi-final win over Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh and drawing fulsome praise from manager PJ O’Mullan.
“One thing I can tell you is that he is the best trainer in Ireland. I would put him up there with Shefflin, Gardiner and Donal Óg. This man is possessed when he trains. He is a super worker and a good team man. The fact that he put everything he had into the campaign this year meant we got the fruits of it. Any man that scores 3-7 in an All-Ireland final, what can you say?”
What can you say, indeed. Watson was genius, his goals all worthy of mention. His first (Loughgiel’s second, after Shay Casey had side-footed home a fine solo effort in the 7th minute) came in the 18th minute when he pounced on the rebound of another Casey shot. His second was a cracker, a 20m free in the 26th minute from the right of the posts that caught those on the Coolderry line totally by surprise. His third came two minutes later and was an act of sublime control in bringing down an underhit Eddie McCloskey point attempt before he shot to the net.
The second of those was probably the real sickener for Coolderry. Loughgiel were already four points ahead (2-6 to 0-8), and probably every other sharpshooter in the country would have gone for the easy point and extend that lead with half-time looming. Not Liam Watson, nor did he take the near corner either — he fired a rocket to the far top corner. “There was three players on the line with their sticks held to the wrong side,” he explained; “They would have to have went across their body to get their stick to the ball. By the time they had changed their bodies around I was hoping the ball would have gone by them. One of our players, Skinner, walked by me and said — ‘bury it’. PJ (O’Mullan) told me to go for it, he gave me the signal (two wristbands on one hand). I said to him — ‘PJ, I’ll sort it’” And sort it he did.
One could be forgiven for thinking this was a one-man show, but it wasn’t even close. In the first place Coolderry played their part, the Brady brothers Joe (centre-back) and Kevin (midfield) especially so, while up front Brian Carroll, Eoin Ryan, Cathal Parlon, Damian Parlon and speedy sub Kevin Connolly were always threatening.
The Loughgiel defence, however, was outstanding, none more so than Ronan McCloskey, one of four brothers on the field for Loughgiel for the finish (Eddie, Tony and Dan the others). Also to the fore, centre-back Martin Scullion, flanked by the Campbell brothers James and team captain Johnny. “The whole of our defence was excellent,” said O’Mullan. “We kept this team out. They scored three goals the last day and I think they scored a goal in every match and got a lot of chances in other matches. They were throwing the kitchen sink at us in the last few minutes and they never looked like getting anything.”
Worthy champions then, and a second All-Ireland title for Loughgiel to go with the win of 1983. No complaints afterwards from Coolderry manager Ken Hogan either — “You prepare for winning, you prepare for losing; we’ve had a great adventure — to win county championships back-to-back and then to win a Leinster title. It was tremendous and to get to an All-Ireland club final, a dream come true but sport can be cruel and we came unstuck today. I cannot fault the lads. They gave it everything. A break of a ball here, a break of a ball there. They have clinical finishers like Watson who produced the goods today. Hats off to Loughgiel. They are deserving All-Ireland champions.”
Scorers for Loughgiel Shamrocks: L Watson 3-7 (1-5f); S Casey 1-0; B McCarry 0-3; J Scullion, E McCloskey, B McAuley, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Coolderry: D Murray 0-8 (0-8f); B Carroll 0-3; E Ryan 0-2; C Parlon 0-2; K Brady, K Connolly, 0-1 each.
Subs for Loughgiel Shamrocks: S Dobbin (McFadden 30); T McCloskey (Dobbin 57); D McCloskey (Casey 60).
Subs for Coolderry: K Connolly (T Corcoran 30); B Larkin (Kelly 57).
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).
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