Having won the championship 13 times, Commercials were stuck on that number for the last eight years, during which they lost three finals, but after a hesitant start, it all came good for them yesterday as they powered their way to a Munster Club semi-final clash with Monaleen.
Playing superb controlled football, Clonmel were never headed after Tony Russell kicked them in front in the third minute, and on the evidence of this performance will prove more than a match for the Limerick champions in a fortnight’s time.
Commercials laid the foundations for their victory at midfield, where the towering figures of Eamon Hanrahan and Fergal O’Callaghan were the dominant pair, and with team captain Paudie O’Keeffe, and the two Ians, Barnes and Cleary, hugely influential up front, the scores came freely, particularly in the last quarter.
Defensively, Commercials were excellent also. Inter-county ’keeper Philly Ryan, never put a foot wrong, and was well protected by some outstanding defending by full back Tommy Galvin and centre back Bernard Walsh. The losers completely overdid the short passing, were regularly caught in possession as a result and while some of their approach work was excellent, they wasted a number of numerous chances through faulty shooting.
To be fair to them they didn’t enjoy much luck around the Clonmel goal, epitomised by a rasping shot from Mark O’Shea which cannoned off the butt of the upright, ran across the face of the empty net before being eventually cleared.
On a day when only Mark O’Brien, Anthony Moroney, Mark O’Shea and Denis O’Shea struck form, Aherlow were made to pay a heavy price for shooting 10 wides, eight of them in the opening half when aided by the wind. For 18 year old Ian Barnes it was an historic day. An international schoolboys soccer player, he was winning his first senior county championship medal at his first attempt, and made a major contribution scoring a goal and three points.
With the county minor final on next Sunday, Barnes is due to go on international training duty, but as he said himself “that may very well change now after today’s victory. It’s a great feeling to win a county senior medal so early into my career. After a shaky start Commercials took a firm grip and with Keith Fahey in sparkling form up front they lead 0-6 to 0-2 at half time, Fahey kicking half of his side’s tally.
Ten minutes into the second half Commercials still held their four point advantage after the sides shared four points, before Aherlow and the game received a timely boost with the game’s only goal.
Working the ball upfield Denis O’Shea picked out Lionel Leonard who had joined in the movement, and the wing back unleashed an powerful kick to the roof of the Clonmel net to leave just the minimum between the sides.
They should have had another seconds later when Tommy Russell was put through, but with only the goalkeeper to beat, he blazed wide and with it went Aherlow’s last chance of pulling this game out of the fire.
Let off the hook, Commercials took complete control, and despite losing Keith Fahey with a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury, they cancelled Leonard’s goal with three points in a row before Ian Barnes put the final nail in Aherlow’s coffin with five minutes to go.
Eamon Hanrahan lofted a high kick deep into the Aherlow defence among a cluster of players, and Barnes, like any cute corner forward should do, waited for the break.
It duly fell to him and turning smartly, he cooly slotted the ball home, before adding a point to cap a splendid performance by one so young. It didn’t win him the man of the match award, that went to outstanding midfielder Fergal O’Callaghan, but young Barnes is an exceptional talent and will be heard of again.
Clonmel coach Ben Keane said it was the ability of his side to use the wide open spaces of Semple Stadium that won them their 14th county title.
“Our game plan was to stretch them at every opportunity and we did that to perfection. I’m thrilled at the victory and we’ll turn our attentions to the Munster Club now and have a right cut off it”.
Scores - Clonmel: I. Barnes 1-3 (0-2 frees); K. Fahey, F. O’Callaghan, P. O’Keeffe 0-3 each; S. Landers 0-2.
Aherlow: L. Leonard 1-0; M. O’Shea 0-3 (frees); T. Russell, C. O’Shea 0-1 each.
CLONMEL: P. Ryan; K. Kelly, T. Galvin, F. Condon; F. O’Callaghan, B. Walsh, S. O’Loughlin; E. Hanrahan, F. O’Callaghan; S. Landers, C. McGrath, P. O’Keeffe; I. Barnes, K. Dempsey, I. Cleary. Subs. K. Dempsey for Fahey; L. Phelan for McGrath; J. Harney for Kelly; T. Kelly for Walsh; D. Pollard for Condon.
AHERLOW: S. Leonard; Leo Leonard, M. O’Brien, F. Clifford; Lionel Leonard, A. Moroney, Cathal O’Shea; D. Peters, T. Russell; M. Moroney, Conor O’Shea, M. O’Shea; S. Peters, D. Cleary, D. O’Shea. Subs. T. Leonard for S. Peters; B. Leonard for M. Moroney.
Referee, J. Kelly.