The drenched victorious Sixmilebridge players are held back from togging in; much less celebrating their three-points win over favourites Clonlara. The team photo is first taken care of, before the players are lined up one-by-one in the middle of the pitch. Even the management are dragged in on the act. With the county final pencilled in for this Sunday, programme officials are keen to clear certain jobs from the schedule.
Eventually John O’Meara is free to his thoughts.
“It is just massive to get to a final,” he said.
“It mightn’t have made for a great spectacle, but the battle qualities of both sides were fantastic. Every ball was fought for as if it was the last of the game. I said during the week that there wouldn’t be much in it and I wasn’t far wrong. They put us to the pin of our collar. It was an absolutely fantastic battle in the second half.”
With more than a handful of Davy Fitzgerald’s All-Ireland winning panel on show, the majority of spectators at Cusack Park on Saturday expected this semi-final affair to be decided by the contributions of Seadhna Morey, John Conlon or Colm Galvin. Not even close. Try Niall Gilligan.
The 37-year-old, 18 years after he bagged a first county title with the ‘Bridge, delivered a virtuoso performance on the edge of the squad, unerring from the placed ball while also contributing two absolute beauties from play — the second of which was sheer class as he somehow got possession in one of the many scrums that dictated proceedings, turned on a sixpence and fired over.
O’Meara coined perfectly the veteran’s display. “He’s like a fine wine, he gets better with age,” he quipped. “We were well up for the battle today and we have come a long way since the 18th of May when we lost to Clarecastle in the groups stages. The lads have worked awful hard over the summer months and I suppose it was an advantage to us that we didn’t have a huge amount of players in with Davy Fitzgerald’s panel.
“The goal before half-time was absolutely massive. We were 0-6 to 0-3 down at the time. We tapped on a point after that and it was a massive turnaround. We could have been in a position where we were going in three down at the break. Instead we were going in a point up.”
Cathal O’Connell (three frees), Colm Galvin (two points) and Jamie Hastings had moved Clonlara into said advantage, but when Seadhna Morey’s tame goal effort was only parried by Ger O’Connell, corner-forward Alan Mulready reacted quickest to whip home the rebound. Jamie Shanahan pointed and suddenly the ‘Bridge were in control.
Cormac O’Donovan, Nicky O’Connell (free) and Darach Honan — introduced at the break — tallied three minors in quick succession to restore Clonlara’s lead, though their challenge faded significantly in the last 20 minutes. At the other end, Gilligan began to turn the screw on the Clonlara rearguard, hitting five points (0-2 65s, 0-2 frees), accentuated by a Páidí Fitzpatrick belter from distance.
Donal Madden’s outfit had one final chance to rescue the result but Cormac O’Donovan’s 21-yard free was repelled and Honan’s rebound was also kept out.
Scorers for Sixmilebridge: N Gilligan (0-8, 0-4 frees, 2 65s), A Mulready (1-0), J Shanahan, S Morey, P Fitzpatrick (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clonlara: C O’Connell (0-5 frees), C Galvin (0-2), J Hastings, C O’Donovan, N O’Connell (f), D Honan (0-1 each).
SIXMILEBRIDGE: D Fahy; B Carey, A Quilligan, T Keogh; J Fennessy, C Morey, N Purcell; K Lynch, P Fitzpatrick; S Morey, S Golden, R Shanahan; J Shanahan, N Gilligan, A Mulready. Subs: S O’Sullivan for Fennessy (52), D Morey for Lynch (60).
CLONLARA: G O’Connell; O’Brien, D O’Donovan, S O’Brien; E Meehan, N O’Connell, C Fennessy; J Conlon, C Galvin; C Downey, P O’Hare, C O’Donovan; J Hastings, C O’Connell, Michael O’Loughlin. Subs: P Nihil for O’Loughlin (20), D Honan for O’Hare (ht), S Downey for Meehan (49).
Referee: Kevin Walsh (Wolfe Tones).