HAVING waited 74 years to get back to the final and win an eighth Claretitle, Tulla senior hurlers were probably entitled to a bit of luck in Cusack Park yesterday.
Unfortunately for Crusheen, chasing a first championship win in only their third final appearance, it was at their expense.
With one minute of ordinary time remaining, they had the chance of making history, just like Lissycasey footballers the previous Sunday, but lost it when corner-forward Paddy Meaney kicked a low shot outside the post. In over two minutes of injury time Tulla heroically defended a precious one-point lead, with midfielder Brian Lynch and wing-forward Eanna Torpey combining to get in a vital clearances.
A relieved Jim McInerney admitted that Tulla had been very lucky to survive. “They missed the goal; another day the ball would have gone in,’’ he said. “Our second-half performance was a reflection of the way we played in the quarter-final and the semi-final. We needed to play like that to win.’’
Crusheen manager Seamus Cunningham accepted that they wasted a lot of chances overall: “After conceding the early goal we got back into the flow of the game. At half-time we were sitting pretty, but Tulla kept their heads. They showed the same type of hunger they had all year.’’
Andrew Quinn lasted only nine minutes, being forced off with a groin injury. At that stage, Tulla were a goal in front through his brother Brian, who beat the goalkeeper to a high ball hit in by Eanna Torpey.
However, they were to be limited to a mere two points for the remainder of the half, hitting just two wides — an indication of how ineffective their attack was. While McInerney felt Quinn was a “huge loss”, it wasn’t the only reason why they struggled so much in attack.
This had more to do with the way Crusheen defended under pressure, with Cronan Dillon to the forefront at centre-back and Ciaran O’Doherty impressive on his left. Additionally, they had the better of the midfield exchanges, notably in the way Paddy Vaughan dominated against Brian Lynch.
The only problem for Crusheen was that they were finding it difficult to get scores too. Level by the 15th minute and in front for the first of only two times three minutes later (through Vaughan), they passed up two chances of goals. Paddy Meaney hit into the side-netting in the 11th minute and then Gerry O’Grady failed from a penalty four minutes later, his high shot deflected over the bar by ‘keeper Philip Brennan.
As the wides started to accumulate (six by the break), they were fortunate that Tulla didn’t take advantage of two goal possibilities — one made by Brian Quinn, which saw Danny O’Halloran hit his shot over the bar in the 23rd minute and the other. Shortly afterwards Aidan Lynch pushed a ground shot narrowly wide. At the break, it was 0-6 to 1-2 for Crusheen.
The second half was even closer, with both sides wasting chances. Aidan Lynch equalised for Tulla eight minutes after the resumption and in another eight minutes scores were level for the last of four times — after Eanna Torpey put over a good free and then O’Grady found his range for Crusheen. That after they had lost two scores from frees.
Along with Aidan Lynch, Eanna Torpey and Brian Quinn, midfielder Conor O’Halloran and team captain Michael Murphy at wing-forward were prominent for Tulla when it mattered most, while Sean Torpey was very consistent at full-back; Brian Lynch also contributed more.
Tulla had opened up a two-point gap by 48th minute, through Aidan Lynch and Kieran Brennan. That was followed by a (doubtful) point from Gearoid O’Donnell, one of Crusheen’s more effective forwards, but it was near as they got to bridging the gap.
Eanna Torpey (51st) and Cronan Dillon (57th) swapped points before heartbreakingly, they were denied the goal which in all probability would have given them the title.
Scorers: Tulla: B. Quinn 1-0; E. Torpey 0-3 (0-2 frees); A. Lynch 0-2; D. O’Halloran and K. Brennan 0-1 each. Crusheen: G. O’Grady 0-3 frees; G. O’Donnell and P. Vaughan 0-2 each; B. McNamara and C. Dillon 0-1 each.
TULLA: P. Brennan; E. Cooney, S. Torpey, J. Brennan; C. McInerney, M. Quinn, P. Lynch; B. Lynch, C. O’Halloran; M. Murphy (c), A. Quinn, E. Torpey; B. Quinn, A. Lynch, D. O’Halloran.
Subs: D. Murphy for A. Quinn (injured, 9th minute); K. Brennan for P. Lynch (48th).
CRUSHEEN: B. O’Donnell; Cian Dillon, Cathal Dillon, A. Brigdale; J. Meaney, Cronan Dillon, C. O’Doherty; T. Meaney (c), P. Vaughan; G. O’Donnell, B. McMahon, G. O’Grady; P. Meaney, S. O’Donnell, F. Kennedy. Sub: N. McMahon for S. O’Donnell (45th minute).
Referee: K. Walsh. * Experienced referee Kevin Walsh controlled the game with ease.
*Clare SH B final: Eire Og Ennis 0-20, Ogonnelloe 0-15.