Reigning Limerick SHC champions Adare were beginning to look as though they’d pulverise Croom, as the hapless young challengers struggled to come to terms with what looked like the most well-oiled machine on display on the day.
In ideal Gaelic Grounds conditions, with 31 minutes gone on the clock Adare led by 0-12 to 0-3, all twelve of those points having come from play.
Five of the six Adare forwards scored, Conor Fitzgerald and Brian Sexton leading the field with a hat-trick apiece, Stephen Lavin, Con Murphy and Donncha Sheehan each with a brace. Superb scores they were too, one better than the next in a show of real class.
Using every square yard of the pitch, those high-powered Adare forwards ran Croom ragged, pulled them wide then exploited the spaces in between. Fitz and Lavin on the wings, Sexton and the ultra-speedy Sheehan inside, with the power of Murphy and Foley up the middle, all driven on from the back by that other Foley, team captain Mark.
Intelligent hurling too, epitomised by a number of well-placed short frees from the same Mark, finding his forwards with precision though on the move, and ending in single-shots between the sticks.
All very delightful to watch, though surely not for the large Croom contingent in the estimated 8,000 attendance. Late starter, county star Stephen Lucey, made no impression whatsoever in the unfamiliar role of centre-forward, while their most inspirational player this season, Peter Lawlor, also struggled to get into the game. Three points was all they managed in those opening 31 minutes, two from free-taker Marcus Cregan, the other from Lawlor, when, almost on the stroke of half-time, they were thrown a life-line. A long delivery from Lucey, now playing well in his best position of centre-back, breaking ball to corner-forward Martin Linehan, and his first-time shot from close-range gave Timmy Houlihan no chance.
Still, even at 0-12 to 1-3, and with the advantage of the breeze to come, you couldn’t see Croom coming back to win this one. Credit to them that they came back at all, and when, after a plethora of changes, their defence settled down to control those previously-lordly Adare forwards, this one became a bit of a contest. Where previously they couldn’t miss from play, now Adare struggled to score, three points from frees by Fitzgerald all they had to show for the second half, until injury-time. In the meantime however, it was the turn of their defence to rise, and despite doing well in the possession stakes, the Croom attack could manage only five points themselves in that period, U-21 star Mickey Cahill looking most dangerous, with a good deal of the supply coming from midfieldfer Patsy Keyes, surprisingly replaced with still five minutes to go.
Those five points brought it back to 0-15 to 1-8, five minutes to go, but even then, it was impossible to see Adare losing. So it proved, and with Sexton and Sheehan getting back on song, a point apiece from play in time added on, they ended comfortable victors. Half-a-loaf better than no bread, perhaps, but playing half-a-game doesn’t win county titles. Still, you never know, Ahane didn’t impress either. The final in a week’s time, both Adare and Ahane are capable of producing a classic. Both will be happy to have got to the final, but neither can be too happy with the manner in which it was done.
Scorers for Adare: C. Fitzgerald 0-6 (0-3 frees); B. Sexton 0-4; D. Sheehan 0-3; S. Lavin 0-2; C. Murphy 0-2.
Croom: M. Cregan 0-4 (0-3 frees); M. Linehan 1-0; M. Cahill 0-2; P. Lawlor, P. Cahill, 0-1 each.
ADARE: T. Houlihan; J. O’Brien, JP Healy, P. Lavin; M. Clifford, M. Foley (c), E. Fitzgerald; J. Foley, C. Cribben; S. Lavin, C. Murphy, C. Fitzgerald; B. Sexton, B. Foley, D. Sheehan. Subs: B. Heffernan (Cribben 52); A. O’Gorman (J. Foley inj. 58).
CROOM: J. Cahill; L. Ryan, B. Crofton, R. Kelly; H. Flavin, N. Cregan, M. O’Riordan; P. Keyes, P. Cahill; P. Reidy, S. Lucey, P. Lawlor; M. Linehan, M. Cregan, M. Cahill. Subs: T. Carmody (Ryan 45); K. Cregan (M. Cregan 50); J. Quirke (Keyes 59).
Referee: M. O’Connor (na Piarsaigh).