A superb game tipped into the realm of epic yesterday in the Gaelic Grounds, as Kilmallock put Cratloe to the sword in a Munster club final that had to go to extra-time to find a winner.
Credit Kilmallock, but don’t forget it takes two to create a classic, and both sides did their part, keeping the 6,365 in attendance warm on a crisp November evening.
The Limerick champions outscored Cratloe 0-11 to 0-3 in extra time, surging forward to hit the long-range points that were their trademark blow yesterday. Cratloe, clearly feeling the effects of extra time in their Munster club SFC game last week against The Nire, flagged in the extra period, but they fought to the bitter end.
Kilmallock boss Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin said afterwards: “I don’t know what the final score was but there were some unbelievable scores got. It actually was taking away from decision-making really. The overall context of the game was up and down and they were moving all over the place. It was very hard to pin down and say you should do this or do that.
“I think the lads took a lot of it on board themselves and the one thing I asked them to do was to stick in there. I said it to them before — we could be up five points, we could be down five points but don’t panic. I think, to be fair, they didn’t.”
They needed to be calm. As an advertisement for dual commitment, Cratloe’s first quarter couldn’t be equalled. They were fresh and sharp and after 10 minutes they had a fine goal in the bank: McGrath and Cathal McInerney combined to set up Gearoid Considine, who blasted home from close range.
Kilmallock were 1-3 to 0-1 down at that stage, but conceding a goal woke them up. Eoin Ryan (free), Graeme (two) and Jake Mulcahy all hit points before midfielder Bryan O’Sullivan found his range.
Though McGrath and Liam Markham (65) kept Cratloe ticking over, the Limerick side dominated the second quarter, with Bryan O’Sullivan’s long-range shooting the highlight. When he hit his fourth of the half from the middle of the field — with practically no backlift — Kilmallock had turned that five-point deficit into a three-point lead, 1-6 to 0-12.
Cratloe looked to have lost their chance early in the second half, when Conor McGrath lost the ball with the goal yawning; Kilmallock responded with points from Kieran Kennelly and Gavin O’Mahony and pushed their lead out to four.
The sides exchanged points as the game flagged a little, but at the three-quarter stage it took what could have been a decisive twist.
Liam Markham’s long-range effort found Cathal McInerney loitering near the square, and he flicked home for a goal to give the Clare side a one-point lead.
Before the ball could be pucked out Kilmallock lost Gavin O’Mahony to a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident.
“It looked pretty poor at that stage alright for us,” said O’Loughlin afterwards.
“But the game nearly went outside of anyone’s control really, it was that type of game.”
Kilmallock didn’t lie down. Paudie O’Brien and Bryan O’Sullivan kept them in touch, and when sub Robbie Hanley made ground down the left, his ball across the goal was batted home by Jake Mulcahy: Kilmallock 1-18 to 2-13 up with five minutes left.
The drama didn’t end there. Time remained for Conor McGrath to strike for a third Cratloe goal, but Graeme Mulcahy nudged Kilmallock ahead as injury time approached. Martin Og Murphy, however, blasted over a fine Cratloe equaliser in the 62nd minute and extra time beckoned.
Kilmallock produced that winning surge in the extra 20 minutes, but Cratloe boss Joe McGrath was rightly proud of his men.
“We had good goal chances early on in the match when we were fresh, we created three or four very good goal chances and we took one. If we’d gotten one more, it might have opened up a bit of a gap.
“We were three points down at half-time and we were five down in the middle of the second half but we kept on fighting.
“We might have lost the match but we didn’t lose much else. For our players to put in the performance they did today, I’m tremendously proud of them.”
In the green corner, O’Loughlin was loud in his praise of the Limerick men. “When you’re involved with a club team as a player, you want to try and win a county championship and then you’d want to try and win a Munster club.
“It’s so hard to do. I tried it myself for 15, 16 years and could only manage one. It’s so hard to get there, number one, and to have the panel of players capable of doing it.
“I think that’s the one thing I’ve seen this year with Kilmallock, that they have the panel that can do it.”
He proved that yesterday. What more can they do?
Kilmallock prove the value of fighting spirit
Sports science has made great advances in amateur sport in recent years in areas such as distance covered and intervals of activity as an aid to improving performance.
What science cannot do however is measure the level of resolve and spirit in a team.
It was Kilmallock’s never-say-die spirit and attitude, as well as skill, which saw them home yesterday against a highly committed Cratloe side.
With a minute left in normal time, Cratloe dangerman Conor McGrath had the presence of mind to lift and strike the ball in the square when Kilmallock keeper Barry Hennessy blocked his first effort. A ground effort would have been blocked. This goal pushed Cratloe ahead by a point. But the men in green refused to yield and replied with two points of their own. Cratloe equalised with the last puck of the game.
Cratloe were beaten in extra time last week in the Munster football SFC semi-final down in Dungarvan. Only the Cratloe players know if it militated against their chances of winning in ordinary time. Once the game went to extra-time, the fresher Kilmallock players held all the aces and outscored them 11 points to three.
Both teams play a very structured, short game intent on finding a man in space and Kilmallock were more adept at this. Their ability to score points from long range powered them to a half-time lead of three points and their ability, fitness and enthusiasm saw them home in extra-time.
It would be simplistic to say Cratloe’s defeat was down to fatigue. Kilmallock’s teamwork, pointscoring ability and character in bouncing back when they looked in trouble were the basis of their success.
Cratloe started well and they carved out some good openings with neat combination play. Gearoid Considine struck a great goal. Sean Collins was put through by brother Podge but shot straight at Barry Hennessy, who saved well; earlier Sean Collins had gone for goal when a point was the better option while Conor McGrath was dispossessed at the edge of the square when a goal looked on after 32 minutes.
Cratloe needed to convert all their chances and they found the going tough around midfield and in the half-back line.
Kilmallock captain Graeme Mulcahy, named in the right corner, started at the edge of the square but roamed out to the half-forward line and the Cratloe defence couldn’t get to grips with him, brother Jake or Bryan O’Sullivan. He scored four points and set up another for his brother Jake.
Midfielder Bryan O’Sullivan supported his forwards cleverly and hit seven points overall.
Even when trouble struck, Kilmallock were able to rally. Gavin O’Mahony was sent off halfway through the second half, just after Cratloe’s second goal and it was a huge blow to the Limerick men.
O’Mahony had done ferocious work supporting his half-backs and midfield and keeping the Cratloe half-backs under pressure. However Kilmallock were able to respond and held Cratloe to a draw with 14 men, returning to 15 for extra time.
Kilmallock certainly got more from their substitutions. Minors Robbie Hanley and Paddy O’Loughlin made important contributions.
Kilmallock were flagging a bit at that stage but Hanley’s ball-winning ability and speed in possession gave them an extra weapon at a crucial stage. He created a goal for Jake Mulcahy and pinned Cratloe back with strong direct running.
They scored 1-32 in 80 minutes but only five of their points came from placed balls: a terrific return, and reminiscent of the 3-16 they got from play in the semi-final against Sarsfields.
The fact that they had so many scorers proves how well-balanced a team they are.
Cratloe shut him down to an extent in the second half, but Jake Mulcahy, my man of the match, then stepped up with 1-4 in the second half.
Cratloe, on the other hand, were heavily reliant on Conor McGrath and struggled to put him in possession in dangerous areas.
The Clare men led at half-time in their previous games and were able to protect their lead in the second halves of those games.
Yesterday Cratloe had to come out and chase the game which takes a physical toll and it left gaps which Kilmallock were able to exploit.
Extra time was one-way traffic and Kilmallock will face the Ulster champions in February with great confidence.
In 60 seconds
Jake Mulcahy’s goal on 50 minutes gave Kilmallock a vital shot of adrenaline when it was most needed.
How much did last weekend’s extra-time in the Munster club football semi-final against The Nire take out of Cratloe?
A better Munster club final? Don’t think so.
Kilmallock were thankful to both Jake Mulcahy, with 1-6 from play from wing-forward, and to midfielder Bryan O’Sullivan’s 0-7 from long range, also from play.
Fergal Horgan handled the game well.
Kilmallock play Portaferry in the All-Ireland club semi-final next February. Cratloe take a well-earned rest.
Scorers for Kilmallock: J. Mulcahy 1-6; B. O’Sullivan 0-7; G. Mulcahy 0-6; E. Ryan 0-5 (0-4 fs, 0-1 65); P. O’Brien 0-4; G. O’Mahony, K. Kennelly, K. O’Donnell, P. O’Loughlin 0-1.
Scorers for Cratloe: C. McGrath 1-6 (0-3 fs); C. McInerney 1-3; G. Considine 1-0, S. Collins and L. Markham (0-1f, 0-1 65) 0-3; D. Collins, M. Murphy and P. Collins 0-1.
Cratloe subs: D. Collins for S. Gleeson, HT; D. Browne for G. Considine, 57; B. Duggan for S. O’Leary, 73; G. Considine for M. Murphy, 77.
Kilmallock subs: R. Hanly for K. Kennelly, 50; P. O’Loughlin for G. O’Mahony, FT.
Referee: F. Horgan (Tipperary) Cratloe