When Conor O’Driscoll boomed over a massive kick in the 56th minute to tie up the match, the momentum looked to have shifted irrevocably in Ilen Rovers’ favour.
They had shaved off a five-point interval deficit with a stirring second-half display and seemed poised to plough in front in the finale. But Clonakilty put a sloppy second-half performance behind them to summon the key scores at a critical time.
Wing-back Denis Murphy injected life into their challenge in the 58th minute when he showed a lightning turn of pace to land a point and then as Ilen Rovers pressed for the levelling score, Thomas Clancy raced clear in injury-time before shrewdly opting to fist the point that sealed Clonakilty’s advance to the last eight.
After a breathless finish, Clonakilty manager Sean Cowhig was relieved.
“I always knew it’d be tough, that they were full of running and we’d have to match it,’’ Cowhig said.
“Two years ago we went in at half-time five points up against them as well and we had to decide this year were we going to let it behind us. I think the lads showed at the end that they wanted it.
“I was very worried when they drew level as they had the momentum with them. But I knew our lads had it within them to get the winning scores. We also showed strength-in-depth with our subs doing very well.”
Played in perfect weather conditions before a healthy attendance, it was a tie that lived up to pre-match expectations. There was a sense beforehand that whoever triumphed here would bag some serious momentum to boot, and undoubtedly Clonakilty’s ambition of retaining their title received a serious boost with a victory of this magnitude.
Their first-round win over Dohenys had been achieved with a weakened squad but they were able to welcome back key figures like David O’Regan, Denis Murphy and Pádraig Griffin here. It was easy to pinpoint the importance of their contributions as O’Regan and Griffin combined for two priceless first-half goals. Both strikes were similarly designed as Griffin was isolated inside and O’Regan pumped high balls from the right wing in towards him. The first in the 19th minute saw Griffin fist to the net and the second in the 26th minute was a sublime finish packed with power. That second score pushed Clonakilty 2-4 to 0-5 ahead and by the interval they were still five points to the good, 2-5 to 0-6.
Ilen Rovers were always chasing the game after the concession of those goals. Raising a green flag themselves would certainly have nourished hopes of a revival.
Their best chance arrived in the 51st minute when Kevin O’Sullivan was released near goal but bundled the ball wide. However, he looked to be fouled by Diarmuid O’Brien as he pulled the trigger and it was a big call by referee Conor Lane not to award a penalty. Ilen Rovers were forced to operate without talents like David Coughlan and Alan Holland, but they coped admirably. Cian and Peadar O’Driscoll really stepped up to the plate, while Dan MacEoin was in terrific form with six points. In the second-half MacEoin ignited Ilen Rovers comeback with a couple of outstanding long-range points under pressure and advanced his claims greatly for a starting place in the Cork minor attack for their forthcoming All-Ireland semi-final against Galway.
Ilen Rovers’ comeback was not just founded on youth. Kieran Daly and Brian O’Sullivan were full of energy all night, and grabbed some stylish points in the first-half, while long-serving midfielder Fachtna Collins was immense when introduced before half-time. He broke the dominance Sean Nagle had been enjoying in the middle sector and made several marvellous catches in the second-half. As the half progressed all those factors appeared to be suggest an Ilen Rovers success was imminent, but Clonakilty kept their heads. Murphy, Thomas Clancy and Conor McManus had impressive outings, and coupled with the input of their substitutes, they stayed on course for a quarter-final meeting with Aghada or Duhallow.
Scorers for Clonakilty: P Griffin 2-0; C McManus 0-4 (two frees); D Murphy, T Clancy 0-2 each; C O’Donovan 0-1 (one free).
Ilen Rovers: D MacEoin 0-6 (three frees); K Daly 0-3; B O’Sullivan 0-2; K O’Sullivan (one free), C O’Driscoll 0-1 each.
CLONAKILTY: J O’Brien; D O’Brien, Tony Anglin, M Sheehy; D Murphy, N Griffin, T Clancy; F Coughlan, S Nagle; D Lyons, D O’Regan, Timmy Anglin; C O’Donovan, C McManus, P Griffin.
Subs: C Calnan for Griffin (45), N Hayes for O’Donovan (47), H Kenny for O’Regan (55).
ILEN ROVERS: D Casey; M Hellen, Cian O’Driscoll, D Whooley; P Minihane, Conor O’Driscoll, D O’Donovan; P O’Driscoll, J Wycherley; D Duggan, K Daly, E Sheehy; D MacEoin, K O’Sullivan, B O’Sullivan.
Subs: F Collins for Hellen (28), T O’Regan for Sheehy (45).
Referee: Conor Lane (Banteer).