Last year Clonlara leapt out of the Clare intermediate hurling ranks with the intention of stabilising in senior hurling in 2008. Instead they embarked on a whirlwind ride of successes that brought them to yesterday’s senior final against Newmarket-on-Fergus, the club’s first time featuring in the decider since 1919. And in a game that may not have contained sparkling hurling but did produce a gripping contest, Clonlara continued their extraordinary run with a three-point win.
Clonlara overcame the concession of an early Newmarket goal and a second-half spent playing against a stiff breeze, with a plethora of individual standout displays. The half-back pair of Nicky O’Connell and Domhnall O’Donovan gave terrific displays in repelling the Newmarket attacks, while O’Donovan’s twin brother Cormac got through an amount of work at midfield.
In attack, corner-forward Tommy Lynch grabbed a crucial goal before then moving out the field to give a busy, dynamic performance. Full-forward Donal Madden’s freetaking was sublime while Darrach Honan and John Conlon chipped in with classy scores when needed.
Overall it was a determined team effort with their hunt-in-packs attitude something that would have made Munster rugby star and Clonlara son Marcus Horan proud.
For Newmarket their long drought since county success in 1981 continues and considering their rich heritage of titles in Clare hurling, this loss will have wounded them big time. They were not that far off in the final analysis and centre-back James McInerney gave an outstanding display in driving them on. Paudie Collins and Shane O’Brien did their best to make things happen but their attack could never click.
Clonlara were looking for a steady start to settle their nerves, but what they got instead was a heavy punch in the gut. With 70 seconds on the clock, Newmarket-on-Fergus corner-forward Martin Murphy escaped from a tussle near goal before hitting a bullet across the bows of Clonlara goalkeeper Ger O’Connell.
The opening quarter was defined by that goal as scores were at a premium with both teams struggling to settle as player made rash choices when in possession.
After 15 minutes Newmarket clung to a 1-2 to 0-2 lead but then Clonlara started to express themselves.
Madden struck two points, Honan grabbed one before man-of-the-match Lynch grabbed the critical score in the 24th minute. Madden broke a high ball in the square and Lynch, despite being fouled, stumbled forward to flick to the net. A Conlon point straight after had Clonlara flying ahead by three points.
Yet Newmarket weathered that storm and points by O’Brien and Collins had them back within touching distance at the break. That 1-5 to 1-4 deficit was whittled straight away upon the resumption. Newmarket began to utilise the elements with their striking, gaining extra yards and they rattled off three quick points – O’Brien, Colin Ryan and Collins from a free.
Momentarily it looked as if Clonlara were in jeopardy but they responded in style. With their defence in a determined mood they channelled plenty ball up forward and by the 46th minute, were back in front by 1-9 to 1-7. Conlon and O’Connell hit sublime points while Madden continued to show leadership by adding a brace.
With the excitement mounting Newmarket attempted a salvage operation. McInerney continued to grow in stature in defence and a Collins converted free brought it back to one.
Critically they could not regain parity and a couple of enterprising Clonlara runs yielded frees that Madden was grateful to convert. Collins grabbed one back for Newmarket and they then introduced dangerman Bernard Gaffney, unable to start due to a knee injury, into attack.
Yet surprisingly Gaffney came on for the freetaker Collins and that decision was compounded when Colin Ryan missed a crucial free in the 60th minute.
Clonlara were able to survive with Honan applying the coup de grace with an injury-time point for a win that generated raucous celebrations.
Scorers for Clonlara: D Madden 0-7 (0-5f), T Lynch 1-0, D Honan, J Conlon 0-2 each, N O’Connell 0-1
Newmarket-on-Fergus: P Collins 0-6 (0-5f), M Murphy 1-0, S O’Brien 0-2, C Ryan 0-1.
CLONLARA: G O’Connell; B Woods, J Moloney, P Collins; N O’Connell, D O’Donovan, P Nihill; D Conway, C O’Donovan; J Conlon, T O’Donovan, P O’Hare; D Honan, D Madden, D Lynch.
Subs: B Moloney for O’Hare 45.
NEWMARKET-ON-FERGUS: K Devitt; B Clancy, S Kelly, A Kilmartin; A Barrett, James McInerney Jr, E Barrett; M O’Hanlon, P Collins; M Murphy, S O’Brien, James McInerney Sr; E Kelly, D Barrett, M Murphy.
Subs: E Hayes for Kelly (half-time), P Kilmartin for E Barrett 42, S Arthur for O’Hanlon 45, B Gaffney for Collins 60.
Referee: Ger Hoey (Killanena).