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CHRISTMAS came early for Clooney-Quin as the Clare champions collected their first Munster Club IHC title at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.

It was a result that didn’t look remotely likely for long periods. After 20 minutes Bishopstown led by four points; three minutes into the second-half they had stretched that to six and were hurling with supreme confidence. But they were made pay for 12 wides while their opponents were much more ruthless in front of the posts.

Clooney-Quin looked in serious trouble for most of the game but a shrewd decision to place Fergal Lynch at full-forward, coupled with the accuracy of Brian Shally from frees, gave them a famous victory which they deserved, if only for their refusal to throw in the towel.

The new champions had many heroes, particularly in defence. Bishopstown’s early dominance meant enormous pressure on the Clooney backs but Pat Markham and Cillian Duggan defied the best they had to offer.

Clooney were almost totally dependent on Shally for scores although Fergal Lynch did make a significant contribution with four excellent points from play.

Lynch began at centre-forward and made little impression on Denis Crowley, but the switch to the edge of the square late in the first-half was the crucial move as he proceeded to give the Town full-back Mark Cogan a torrid time.

Cogan found the Clare inter-county man too hot to handle, and conceded numerous frees, which Shally converted with ease. Cogan was later sent off after receiving a second yellow.

Understandably, the Clooney camp were jubilant. Said coach John McCarthy: "I reckon Heaven is no better than this. We have the height of respect for Cork hurling and to beat their county champions in a Munster final is something extra special. I have to admit that when they got the goal I was very worried, but we were in similar situations throughout the campaign and dug ourselves out of them.

"The win guarantees a great Christmas for the people of the parish, and I’ll probably have a problem keeping the lads on the ground, but they deserve what they’ve have won, and it shouldn’t been too difficult to get back on the training ground."

Bishopstown stormed into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead after 25 minutes and were well in control. However they wasted numerous chances to be out of sight through poor finishing, and their obsession in trying to play summer hurling in the depth of winter was a tactical ploy that never worked for them.

After a shaky start the Town began to take complete control and a litany points, one from over 100 metres by Ken O’Halloran, had his side comfortably in front after 25 minutes.

But Lynch’s move to the edge of the square worked wonders as he knocked over two excellent points, and the Cork champions, for all their outfield dominance, could only manage a half time lead of 0-6 to 0-3.

However the Town continued to dictate the play on the change over and when Ronan Conway’s shot from 40 metres went all the way to the Clooney net, it helped his side to a 1-7 to 0-4 lead after just 33 minutes.

Inexplicably the Town scoring completely dried up and with Lynch causing havoc, Clooney-Quin hit over an incredible 10 points in a row to take a four points lead with seven minutes of normal time left.

Roared on by the bulk of the 1,500 attendance, the Clare champions withstood strong Bishopstown pressure in the closing minutes to lift the provincial title.

Fergal Lynch said it was a victory that was important not just to Clooney but to Clare hurling. "Cork teams have been a bit of a hoodoo for us in recent years, but thankfully we laid that to rest today. Credit to Bishopstown they really put it up to us but we showed tremendous battling qualities and we had no intention of coming away from Limerick without the title."

Scorers: Clooney-Quin: B. Shally 0-8 (frees); F. Lynch 0-4; R. Gallagher 0-2. Bishopstown: R. Conway 1-2; P. Cronin 0-3 (0-2 frees); J. Murphy, K. O’Halloran (free), S. O’Neill (free) 0-1 each.

CLOONEY-QUIN: D. O’Halloran; E. Gallagher, P. Markham, J. O’Loughlin; A. Fleming, C. Duggan, E. Harrison; S. Conheady, C. Harrison; J. Earls, F. Lynch, D. Murphy; B. Shally, R. Gallagher, C. Egan.

Subs: S. McNamara for J. Earls; M. O’Halloran for D. Murphy.

BISHOPSTOWN: K. O’Halloran; C. O’Driscoll, M. Cogan, P. O’Donoghue; S. O’Neill, D. Crowley, B. Murphy; B. Cuthbert, P. Cronin; K. Coughlan, R. Conway, J. Murphy; T. Murray, D. O’Mahony, M. Power.

Subs: J. O’Sullivan for B. Cuthbert; T. O’Donoghue for M. Power.

Referee: J. O’Mahony (Limerick).