There was plenty anticipation before this tie after the splendid form both teams had shown in the quarter-finals and the standard of hurling matched those expectations.
Emerging from a tight clash firmly establishes the Limerick school’s credentials to claim silverware and they will enter the final later this month emboldened.
After a closely contested first-half where the teams traded points relentlessly, Árd Scoil Rís made a decisive burst in the third quarter. They outscored their Clare opponents by 2-6 to 0-3 and managing to plunder the only two goals of the game crucially swung matters in their direction.
The first arrived in the 38th minute when Shane Dowling rocketed a 20-yard free to the net after John Fitzgibbon had been bundled to the ground. Árd Scoil Rís maintained the momentum and in the 45th minute a lengthy clearance from Declan Hannon evaded the St Flannan’s rearguard, allowing Oisín Hickey to sprint clear and confidently crash the ball past goalkeeper Eoin Enright.
St Flannan’s conjured up a spirited revival in the closing stages that almost saw them steal the honours. The switch of the outstanding Tony Kelly to attack aided their cause while corner-forward Shane O’Donnell burst into the game as the Árd Scoil Rís defence struggled to cope with his tricky and incisive play. O’Donnell reeled off three lovely points and when he was hauled down in the 54th minute, Kelly banged over the free to leave it 2-17 to 0-20 in favour of Árd Scoil Rís.
The finale was frenetic as St Flannan’s pounded the Árd Scoil Rís rearguard and they did manage to create goal opportunities. But crucially they failed to raise a green flag from either opening. Árd Scoil Rís netminder PJ Hall diverted a close-range whip by Alan O’Neill out for a ‘65 in the 55th minute and then three minutes later O’Neill flicked the ball towards the net in a crowded goalmouth but the ball rolled inches past the post. Árd Scoil Rís had established an adequate cushion on the scoreboard to survive while the composure of substitute Jack Kelleher and Fitzgibbon was important as they landed late points.
The game was illuminated by two exceptional individual scoring returns. Dowling contributed a dazzling tally of 1-10 to the Árd Scoil Rís cause while Kelly racked up a wonderful total of 0-14 for St Flannan’s.
St Flannan’s were grateful for Kelly’s brilliance at the start as they struggled to stifle Árd Scoil Rís in plenty other sectors. The Limerick team sprinted 0-5 to 0-1 clear by the 8th minute with Fitzgibbon and Mark Carmody both illustrating their offensive capabilities.
Kelly managed to ignite St Flannan’s challenge with a series of accurate shots from play and frees, and the teams were level at 0-5 apiece by the 12th minute. From there until the break, the hurling was of an extremely high standard with Kelly and Dowling leading the way for their respective teams. Clarecastle attacker Conor O’Gorman did emerge as a potent force for St Flannan’s at wing-forward as he weighed in with three first-half points.
Scores by centre-forward Martin O’Leary, Kelly with a brace and O’Gorman altered the complexion of the match approaching the interval as St Flannan’s moved from 0-8 to 0-6 down to be ahead by 0-10 to 0-8.
Árd Scoil Rís responded courtesy of Dowling and Carmody to regain the lead by 0-11 to 0-10 but it was St Flannan’s who closed out the half in style with points by Kelly and O’Gorman edging them in front by 0-12 to 0-11.
St Flannan’s did open the second-half in a positive fashion but they were unnerved by the third quarter scoring burst by Árd Scoil Rís, and particularly the goals that Dowling and Hickey registered. Despite a rousing comeback, the Limerick school deservedly advanced to a final meeting with Charleville CBS.
Scorers for Árd Scoil Rís: S Dowling 1-10 (1-7 frees, one ‘65); O Hickey 1-1; M Carmody, J Fitzgibbon 0-3 each; B O’Connor, J Kelleher 0-1 each.
Scorers for St Flannan’s: T Kelly 0-14 (nine frees, one ‘65); C O’Gorman, S O’Donnell 0-3 each; M O’Leary, J Colleran 0-1 each.
ARD SCOIL RÍS: PJ Hall; K Lynch, B O’Connell, D Moloney; A Dempsey, D Hannon, C Keogh; J Shanahan, M Carmody; M Moroney, S Dowling, B O’Connor; K O’Brien, J Fitzgibbon, O Hickey.
Subs: C Lynch for O’Connor (51), J Kelleher for Keogh (55).
ST FLANNAN’S: E Enright; S Morey, G O’Connell, C O’Loughlin; E Boyce, S O’Halloran, C Doohan; T Kelly, J Colleran; P Duggan, M O’Leary, C O’Gorman; S O’Donnell, A O’Neill, J Browne.
Subs: N Purcell for O’Loughlin (50), R O’Loughlin for Browne (56), D Barry for O’Neill (60).
Referee: Noel Cosgrave (Tipperary).