The Nire won an exhausting 80-minute epic at Fraher Field yesterday to take their place in just their second ever Munster SFC Club final and crush Cratloe’s double ambitions.
Austin Stacks now stand between them becoming the first Waterford club team to claim provincial silver. “We are in dreamland,” said manager Benji Whelan. “Going up against the best in Kerry, it’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s fantastic for Waterford football. Clubs in Waterford have a fantastic tradition of coming out of the county and doing well in the Munster championship. Somebody is going to make the breakthrough and maybe it will be us in two weeks time.”
This last-four encounter ultimately boiled down to stamina and persistence. Whelan’s focus on fitness in the background came to the fore and they scavenged for every single ball. “It’s not rocket science, it’s bloody hard work. If you are prepared to work hard and keep grafting and if you have the skills they have, you can continue in this type of competition. I thought the patience we showed was good and we recycled very good ball. We got the right men on the ball at the finish and took our scores because of that.”
That ideal mix of youth and experience also worked in their favour. Teenager Conor Gleeson added to his array of big-match performances with a total of 1-2, including a spectacular leveller in normal time. Jamie Barron and Shane Ryan scored three apiece but also grafted for others. Liam Lawlor sat back as the orchestrator and never sent a ball astray. Justin Walsh, the O’Gorman twins and the Wall brothers Diarmuid and Brian battened down the hatches after Cratloe fired two early goals.
Cratloe’s gruelling schedule of 13 games over 17 weekends hit them hard by the finish. “The longer the game went on, the more chance we had to stay in the match and push it home,” Whelan pointed out. Cathal McInerney’s reliable left boot produced 1-6 and the leadership provided by Sean and Podge Collins also kept them alive. Cratloe seemed to be on the right road when they led by two entering the dying minutes before Shane Walsh and Conor Gleeson forced extra time. Sean Collins nearly snatched it but last-ditch defensive work from Diarmuid Wall halted him.
The sides were still level after the first period but the Waterford side kicked on and continued their 10-game winning streak. Jamie Barron struck the lead score and then handed off for Brian Wall to secure victory.
The sides were level four times over a gloriously open first half (2-3 to 1-6). Both dabbled in short kickouts early on but Tom Wall’s miscued effort proved expensive on 11 minutes. The ball failed to reach Justin Walsh and Conor McGrath intervened. He found Podge Collins on the run before Cathal McInerney punched home (1-2 to 0-2). The Nire reacted positively five minutes later. Jamie Barron’s sumptuous through ball found Conor Gleeson and bamboozled Pierce De Loughrey and fired to the net.
Cratloe hit back within a minute, Conor Ryan slammin the ball past Wall from close range (2-2 to 1-3).
The dancing feet of Gleeson left the defenders dazed. A super point was followed up by the hard-working Jamie Barron. An exchange between Cathal McInerney and Brian Wall completed the first-half excitement. Michael O’Gorman received a black card on the call for half-time for a deliberate pull down.
The Nire owned the third quarter. Frees from Shane Ryan and Brian Wall pushed them two points up. They could have moved further in front but they kicked three wides and dropped one short. The away team absorbed the pressure and reeled off four points in a row. A couple of crafty plays from Podge Collins revived Cratloe along with Cathal McInerney’s left boot. Podge sent over a dazzling point from the right wing to level for the fifth time. McInerney followed up with a double to put them two to the good with seven minutes left (2-7 to 1-8).
The Nire subs Dermot Ryan and Seamus Lawlor were involved before Shane Walsh blazed over the top close in. The Nire’s first score in 23 minutes and they followed up when Shane Ryan supplied a Conor Gleeson special.
There was still time for more drama. Sean Collins seemed certain to score a winner but Diarmuid Wall intervened to save the day.
In extra-time an exchange of points between McInerney and Walsh left the teams level for a seventh time. Shane Walsh dropped the ball into the arms of De Loughrey on the resumption, but The Nire fought on and Barron and Wall brought them one step nearer to Munster glory.
C Gleeson 1-2; J Barron, S Walsh, S Ryan (2fs) 0-3 each; B Wall 0-2.
C McInerney 1-6 (4fs); C Ryan 1-0; P Collins 0-2.
T Wall; Maurice O’Gorman, T O’Gorman, J Walsh; S Lawlor, B Wall, D Wall; C Guiry, S Walsh; Michael O’Gorman, M Moore, J Barron; S Ryan, L Lawlor, C Gleeson.
Subs: K Guiry for Michael O’Gorman (H-T); J Guiry for J Walsh (54); D Ryan for Moore (55); A Lawlor for K Guiry (77).
P De Loughrey; S Chaplin, B Duggan, S O’Leary; D Ryan, M Hawes, E Boyce; J Galvin, F Lynch; C Ryan, S Collins, L Markham; C McInerney, C McGrath, P Collins.
Subs: D Collins for Boyce (34).
D O’Mahoney (Tipperary)