Pat O’Leary’s final whistle brought about raucous celebrations for the northsiders, who yet again ensured that senior status was retained and simultaneously booked their place in the last-16 draw.
St Nick’s are not unfamiliar with having to grind in order to stay senior — they haven’t won in the first round since 2007, and in 2012 and ’13 they had to win relegation play-offs — but manager Michael Brosnan felt that there were some benefits accruing from the high-wire act.
“I suppose experience of the situation has very much helped us, on this occasion,” he said. “It’s not the place that we like being but, we know that, being a dual senior club, we’re not going to have everyone available to us.
“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had maybe two or three real training sessions with everyone available and that can have its detriments, but the confidence we got from the Glen winning last week [against Carrigtwohill in the SHC] was a huge bonus for us.”
An unanswered burst of 1-3 in the four minutes plus stoppages before half-time laid the foundations for the Nick’s victory as they opened up a 1-7 to 0-4 lead. Despite playing with the wind in the second half, Clonakilty would only add three points to their interval tally. However, the West Cork side will reflect on a 53rd-minute penalty miss as they pivotal moment in the second period. Clon had scored the only point since half-time when Jack O’Mahony was felled in the large rectangle and Gearóid Barry, who had been substituted, was called back on to take the spot-kick.
His effort was kept out, as Nick’s goalkeeper Kieran McEnery dived to his left. Goalscorer Evan Kearney extended the lead back to six points with the next attack. While Clon did get two late points from O’Mahony frees, they had left themselves too much to claw back and they could have no complaints.
In the first half, the direct play of Nick’s was causing danger for Clon but there was a sense they should have been doing better, with Kearney twice denied by good Pat O’Regan saves when a point might have been a better option.
Clon were catching themselves with unforced errors, but even still, Jack O’Mahony’s close-range free tied matters at 0-4 each after 20 minutes, a more-than-acceptable state of affairs for them after battling against the not-inconsiderable breeze.
Then, Nick’s kicked into gear in devastating fashion. Robert McCarthy-Coade kicked his third point, a free after Dean Brosnan’s mazy run was illegally ended, before Kearney netted. The corner-forward produced an excellent low shot across O’Regan but it was fitting the architects of the move were centre-back Niall Horgan and midfielder Paul O’Brien, two of their best performers over the course of the hour.
Kearney followed his goal with a point immediately afterwards and in injury time he was the player fouled as McCarthy-Coade converted another free to leave six between the teams all of a sudden.
Clonakilty needed something big on the resumption but it took until 10 minutes in for impetus to be injected, half-time sub Barry O’Mahony on target after a couple of early wides. Beyond that, though, they found themselves up against a black and white wall and the penalty was proof that things weren’t going their way. Time ran out for them, and for Nick’s the last 16 beckons.
“If we have everyone back, we feel that we can challenge anyone,” Brosnan said. “It’s not that long ago we were in quarter-finals and semi-finals.” And advice for Clon, from someone who knows what’s needed?
“Just get the head down, work hard and stick together,” he said. “It’s that camaraderie and backbone when it gets tough — and it gets very tough at times — will give you the opportunity to get back into a game and turn it around.”
E Kearney (1-3), R McCarthy-Coade (0-4, 3 frees), K McEnery (0-1, 45).
J O’Mahony (0-4, 3 frees), D Murphy, D Lyons, B O’Mahony (0-1 each).
K McEnery; K Spain, D Óg O’Donovan, T Spain; A Lynch, N Horgan, K McCarthy-Coade; P O’Brien, R Brosnan; David Brosnan, Dean Brosnan, R McCarthy-Coade; E Kearney, B O’Donovan, D Busteed.
L Coughlan for K McCarthy-Coade (51, black card), G Kennefick for Busteed (56), J Morrissey for Horgan (60).
P O’Regan; M Sheehy, F Coughlan, C O’Donovan; D Murphy, T Clancy, P O’Sullivan; S Nagle, G Murray; D Lyons, D O’Regan, G Barry; J O’Mahony, T Anglin, L Lyons.
C Sheehy for O’Sullivan (21), B O’Mahony for Lyons (half-time), I Falvey for Barry (39), D Lowney for D O’Regan (49), Barry for Murray (53).
P O’Leary (Kilmurry).