“Unbelievable” would ring out from the microphone on a further four occasions during his passionate and, at times, emotional acceptance speech. For that is exactly what Clonmel’s Munster final victory, and the manner in which it was achieved, was: unbelievable.
As the clock ticked into the second minute of second-half injury-time, Seamus Kennedy was fouled on the halfway line. With the scoreboard reading 0-9 to 0-7 in Nemo Rangers’ favour, there was no option, and, indeed, no time but to punt it long in the direction of the opposition posts.
In went Kennedy’s Hail Mary, Michael Quinlivan breaking the ball down to himself. Collecting it at the second attempt, the Clonmel full-forward took two paces to his left to move clear of the two black and green shirts in close attention before rolling the ball with his left foot into the right corner of Michael Aodh Martin’s goal.
The clock read 61 minutes and 32 seconds; a 20-minute barren spell ended. Cue scenes of unbridled joy and euphoria.
The final whistle sounded not long after the ensuing kick-out and Clonmel Commercials celebrated a first Munster club senior title at the fifth attempt. In denying Nemo a 16th provincial crown and condemning the Cork side to only a fourth Munster club championship defeat, Clonmel became the first Tipperary club to stand atop the provincial summit.
“I just can’t believe it,” said Harney. “To beat Nemo, who have always been the top club around, it is just unbelievable.” In truth, the Tipperary champions looked a beaten docket when the fourth official raised his board to signal two minutes of additional time.
Nemo, held scoreless from the 25th to 45th minute, had kicked four points without reply to move from 0-7 to 0-5 in arrears to 0-9 to 0-7 in front.
At the root of Clonmel’s difficulties was their failure to recover from the air of injustice which hung over the decision not to award Quinlivan a penalty on 39 minutes, and the experience tabled by their opponents was now a telling factor in a changed tide.
To the fore in hauling Nemo back into pole position were David Niblock, Paul Kerrigan, Ciaran O’Shea, Barry O’Driscoll, and half-time sub Luke Connolly; each player growing in stature, confidence and influence as the second half progressed.
The Cork side were patient in their build-up and when the smallest of gaps appeared, Steven O’Brien’s charges surged through, to maximum effect.
On 45 minutes, Kerrigan kickstarted their revival with a fine score off the right. Put through by Luke Connolly three minutes later, his goal effort bounced off the butt of the right post and wide. It is debatable if Clonmel would have survived a goal.
As it was, a Connolly free from a most acute angle following a foul on Kerrigan levelled the game at 0-7 apiece. Clonmel forays into the opposition danger area were, by this juncture, sporadic and when the Nemo threshold was crossed, one of the 11 black and green shirts camped deep in their own half tended to step forward and put an end to the Commercials attack.
A rare moment of indiscipline in the Nemo defence afforded Clonmel a glorious opportunity to return in front on 55 minutes. Although off target with four first-half frees, Quinlivan’s successful placed ball effort midway through the second-half picked him out as the most capable man to accept responsibility. Instead, sub Ian Barnes was handed the ball. His kick went well wide.
Paul Kerrigan, so often a leader for his team this season, popped over the lead score two minutes from home. And when William Morgan, having been picked out a by a superb Barry O’Driscoll pass, offloaded to Jack Horgan in the subsequent action, Nemo moved two in front for the first time since the fourth minute.
With the clock now in the red, the 15-time champions strung pass after pass across the middle. ‘Keep ball’ was their sole priority.
One slip up allowed Clonmel wrestle back possession and there followed a truly unbelievable conclusion.
Earlier, having fallen two behind inside the opening four minutes, and somewhat lucky not to be further in arrears given Jamie Peters was called upon to tip over the crossbar a Kerrigan goal drive, Clonmel settled through Kevin Harney and a Michael Quinlivan ‘45.
Nerves weren’t a factor and their defensive ferocity was summed up by two Donal Lynch blocks on Dylan Mehigan. Every ball they chased and chased and chased.
Niblock, David O’Donovan a subdued James Masters were the early Nemo point-scorers, with Jack Kennedy, Aldo Matassa and a sublime Jason Lonergan kick leaving it finely poised at 0-5 apiece at the break.
The Clonmel players received a standing ovation as they returned to their dressing room and their supporters were back on their feet when the long whistle sounded just before 3.30pm. They were now applauding history-makers.
M Quinlivan (1-3, 0-2 45s, 0-1f); J Kennedy, A Matassa, J Lonergan, K Harney (0-1).
P Kerrigan (0-3); J Masters (0-2, 0-1f); L Connolly (0-1 1f), J Horgan, D Niblock, D O’Donovan (0-1).
J McDonald; J Peters, D Lynch, F Condon; L Moore, K Fahey, K Harney; J Kennedy, A Matassa; I Fahey, S Kennedy, J Lonergan; J Harney, M Quinlivan, P White.
I Barnes for J Harney (39), P Looram for J Kennedy (42), D Madigan for White (47), E Fitzgerald for Fahey (59).
MA Martin; C O’Shea, A O’Reilly, D O’Donovan; K Fulignati, T Ó Se, A O’Donovan; D Niblock, M Dorgan; C O’Brien, P Kerrigan, D Mehigan; J Masters, B O’Driscoll, C Horgan.
L Connolly for Mehigan (HT), C Dalton for C Horgan (38), P Morgan for Dorgan (44), W Morgan for Masters (50), J Horgan for O’Brien (52).
R Hickey (Clare).