It was a dour struggle in many respects as befitting the time of the year, but cometh the hour some brilliance burned brightly in the low-lying West Clare sun as the Kennedys swooped to conquer for a mightily relieved Clonmel Commercials side.
Between them the midfield brothers Jack and Conal Kennedy, as well as All-Ireland winning hurler Seamus Kennedy, lifted this provincial title above the ordinary when accounting for the last four points of the game to break the hearts of the Miltown men.
Ultimately when it came to the crunch the home side’s hopes of dishing out some revenge on the Commercials for the 13-point hammering they endured in the provincial semi-final clash between the sides four years ago were blown away on the breeze in what was a heart-stopping finale.
Miltown had been much the better team for most of the hour and would have been confident of prevailing when star performer Conor Cleary landed his third point on 55 minutes to give his side a 0-7 to 0-5 lead. But from there came Clonmel’s storm force that swept them into their sixth provincial decider.
This late, late show was kickstarted in the 56th minute by the score of the game from Conal Kennedy, who stormed down the right flank before letting fly from 55 yards for an inspirational point that changed the whole complexion of the contest.
“That was the score that really pulled out the win for us,” gushed Commercials manager Charlie McKeever afterwards. “It was the score that sparked us, because if we didn’t get it Miltown could very well have held on. We just took off with Seamus Kennedy, who regularly gets inspirational scores, and Jack Kennedy following on with more great scores to win it.”
It was the third Kennedy brother Colman who landed his side’s final point of the first half, via a free, as the Commercials played second fiddle to a very hungry and focused Miltown side that was buoyed by the raucous home support backboning the attendance of 1,715.
Taking the advantage of the wind, the 15-time Clare champions had got off to a flying start with a brace of points inside two minutes from midfielders Oisin Looney and Conor Cleary as they laid siege to a nervy looking Commercials defence.
That bombardment was subsequently lifted thanks to points by Kevin Fahey and Michael Quinlivan from play by the tenth minute, but thereafter it was an eager Miltown that managed to open up the Tipperary kingpins’ defence time and time again.
A three-point blast between the 12th and 17th minutes, as captain Gordon Kelly as well as the Cleary brothers landed points, put them 0-5 to 0-2 clear, while the final act of the half saw Graham Kelly find the range from 45 yards.
When the hosts then held out against everything that the Commercials could throw at them in the third quarter, they looked set for a second successive provincial final.
But momentum slowly shifted in Clonmel’s direction and a pair of Jason Lonergan frees made it a one-point game entering the final ten minutes.
Then came Miltown’s only score of the half, via a Conor Cleary free, but everything was turned on its head as Commercials threw off the shackles.
“We were playing too much ball in our own half,” admitted McKeever, “and weren’t kicking enough ball as their high press unsettled us. We were unnerved, but when we started kicking the ball near the end we got the results and got the scores to get out of here with the win.”
When Conal Kennedy’s point on the run provided lift-off, the Commercials suddenly could do no wrong — his brother Jack finally got his coordinates right when landing a long-range free, while Seamus Kennedy raced through the middle before finding the range in the 58th minute.
It gave the Commercials the lead for the first time in the contest, a defining moment Then deep in injury time Jack Kennedy, who received his marching orders just before the end, rounded off this remarkable smash and grab raid with another booming effort from out the country.
“We gave absolutely everything that was inside in us,” reflected Miltown’s manager David O’Brien. “It was a real battle. The football they have played in the Tipperary championship this year, we stood up to that. They took everything we threw at them and they kept coming to win it.”
A win that tees up another Munster final day out for the Commercials against Nemo Rangers in what will be a repeat of the 2015 decider that the Premier County kingpins won with virtually the last kick of the ball.
Scorers for Clonmel Commercials: J Lonergan (frees), J Kennedy (1 free) (0-2 each); M Quinlivan, Conal Kennedy, Colman Kennedy (free), S Kennedy, K Fahey (0-1 each).
St Joseph’s Miltown: C Cleary (0-3, 2 frees), Graham Kelly, Gordon Kelly, O Looney, E Cleary (free) (0-1 each).
CLONMEL COMMERCIALS: M O’Reilly; D Madigan, L Ryan, C McKeever; K Fahey, J Peters, S Kennedy; J Kennedy, Conal Kennedy; P Looram, M Quinlivan, R Peters; Colman Kennedy; S O’Connor, J Lonergan.
Subs: Kevin Harney for Looram (Half-Time), R Lambe for Fahey (48), R Gunne for Peters (52), P Looram for Conal Kennedy (60).
ST JOSEPH’S MILTOWN: S O’Brien; E O’Gorman, S Malone, E O’Brien; A McGuane, Gordon Kelly, G Curtin; O Looney, C Cleary; K Malone, E Cleary, M Murray; B Curtin, C Murray, Graham Kelly.
Subs: J O’Connor for Graham Kelly (39), E Reidy for G Curtin (42), G Malone for M Murray (59), Graham Kelly for K Malone (66).
Referee: James Bermingham (Cork)