Courageous Crusheen keep crown

IT won’t bother Crusheen today, their title retained, but the question has to be asked: should this Clare SHC final have been allowed go ahead?

Conditions on the field in Cusack Park yesterday were dangerous with heavy rain falling all through the game on a pitch already water-logged.

As the teams warmed up at either end the ground was already cutting up and during the game itself there was a whole series of rucks, the ball often buried in the mud, forcing referee Rory Hickey to repeatedly throw it in.

Certainly Sixmilebridge captain and full-forward Niall Gilligan, a veteran of many a game at this level, felt it should have been postponed.

“I’ve never played a game in these conditions,” he stated. “I suppose it’s easy to say now, and it might sound like sour grapes, but I don’t think the game should have gone ahead. Clare was one of the first teams to get knocked out of the All-Ireland championship yet here we are only playing our county final now, the end of October, in these conditions.

“Even at that the Munster club championship game is three weeks away – what difference would it have made to wait a week? The field was almost unplayable, turned the game into a lottery really.

“Whoever managed to get a few points ahead was going to have a huge advantage. All they had to do was close up shop and it was going to be almost impossible to catch them. In fairness to Crusheen they did that very well.”

They did, but it took them until well into the second half to do so. After an evenly contested first half in which Crusheen were shot-perfect with Sixmilebridge hitting five wides but 0-4 to 0-3 up. Crusheen centre-forward Jamie Fitzgibbon had two points, wing-forward Gearoid O’Donnell and free-taker Patrick Vaughan with a point apiece, against two for Gilligan and one from Danny Morey for the Bridge.

It was brutal stuff, however, and as stated by Gilligan, a lottery. With the rain pouring down, even Cian Dillon, Crusheen centre-back and man of the match, was questioning whether they should have kept on playing.

“Halfway through the first half I was joking with the ref, saying we might call it off to hell, but it cleared up a bit,” he said.

“Conditions were bad, the ground was awful soft, but listen, we have to play what’s put in front of you and we did that today.”

But the game wasn’t called off. The second half resumed with the two teams on the pitch. Only one of those teams seemed fully tuned in, however. Gilligan had a chance within seconds of the restart, a powerful solo taking him to within about 10 yards of the goal, but his attempt at a short-stick placed shot ended with the ball stuck in the mud and Crusheen keeper Donal Touhy bravely smothered it.

That, together with an earlier penalty which he opted to put over the bar, was about the only opportunity Sixmilebridge got from a mean Crusheen defence from there to the finish.

Six points in a row they scored, the hard-working Gearoid O’Donnell with two of those, corner-forward Paddy Meaney with two more, Patrick Vaughan and Fergus Kennedy completing the scoring.

It wasn’t until the 30th minute of this half that the Bridge finally managed a score, Gilligan again, but on a day when the weather and the conditions destroyed the spectacle.

Even on a good day, Sixmilebridge would have struggled for scores against a defence in which the three Dillon brothers, Cian, Cronan and Cathal, the two Brigdale’s, John and Alan, and the excellent Ciarán O’Doherty were always on top.

“Our defence has been strong all year,” said Cian.

“As a unit we’ve improved. Our whole team play has improved from last year, it’s just excellent now. We weren’t going to let this go today. We came in to this game solely to put in a performance and nothing was going to get in our way conditions, opposition, nothing.”

Scorers for Crusheen: G O’Donnell 0-3, J Fitzgibbon, P Meaney, P Vaughan (2fs) 0-2 each, F Kennedy 0-1.

Scorers for Sixmilebridge: N Gilligan 0-3 (1f, 0-1p), D Morey 0-1.

CRUSHEEN: D Touhy; J Brigdale, Cronan Dillon, A Brigdale; C O’Doherty, Cian Dillon, Cathal Dillon; P Vaughan, J Meaney; G O’Donnell, J Fitzgibbon, D Forde; P Meaney, G O’Grady, F Kennedy.

SIXMILEBRIDGE: D Fahy; T Keogh, A Quilligan, S Morey; J Fennessy, P Fitzpatrick, R Conlon; S Golden, T Carmody; J Shanahan, R Shanahan, Declan Morey; Danny Morey, N Gilligan, C Morey.

Subs: T Purcell for Conlon (46); B Culbert (Declan Morey 46); D O’Connor (Carmody 55).

Referee: R Hickey (Eire Óg).

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