For most of the second half they’d had Sixmilebridge breathing down their necks as the 2015 champions had wiped out a three-point half-time deficit within five minutes of the restart, and there was a sense that at some stage Sixmilebridge’s greater dynastic know-how would tell.
Clooney-Quin had resisted it with all their might, six times nosing a point ahead again whenever The Bridge had drawn level, but when veteran substitute Niall Gilligan levelled matters once again and then centre-back Seadna Morey bucked the sequence of tit-for-tat points by latching onto a half-blocked clearance to fire over his third point of the day, Sixmilebridge’s superior depth and scoring spread seemed to have been decisive.
The underdogs’ fate looked all the more doomed when a terrific Peter Duggan sideline cut was taken off the crossbar by Sixmilebridge’s Derek Fahy similar to how Donal Óg Cusack and Eoin Murphy brilliantly defied those other great romantics, Waterford, at the death.
Clooney-Quin though just would not relent and would carve out an equalising score that typified their many virtues.
As the game entered a second minute of injury time, goalkeeper Keith Hogan collected a long deliverance in his own square. Hogan had been exceptional all through, making at least four outstanding saves, including one from a Jamie Shanahan penalty shortly after half-time, and once more he’d demonstrate his composure and alertness to pick out wing back Padraig Ward over by the left touchline.
Ward, who epitomised the pluckiness and stickwork of Clooney-Quin’s less-heralded names, duly landed the ball on top of the opposing 20m line. And there to grab it was former county man Fergal Lynch whose paw and heft in the second half was a constant thorn to the Bridge and a constant outlet to Clooney-Quin.
Lynch was fouled, allowing Duggan to register his 10th point of the day and earn his team a draw in what has to have been the best Clare county final of this millennium.
“The Bridge probably went ahead at the best time in the game and it’s great credit to our lads that we responded,” Clooney-Quin coach Fergie O’Loughlin admitted.
“It’s a pity we didn’t get over the line ourselves but it’s great to be still there and to have a second county final in 75 years.”
While O’Loughlin was no stranger to county finals, his players were, this being the first time since 1952 that the club had even made it to the semi-final round. That inexperience was one of the reasons why Sixmilebridge were so heavily-favoured to win their third county title in five seasons but there were few signs of over-anxiety here with Clooney-Quin shooting only four wides all day.
“The various writers, pundits and bookies must have seen very little of us all year because our work ethic has been absolutely fantastic,” said O’Loughlin. “A lot of people have said that we’re one-dimensional, that it’s just the Peter Duggan show. You saw there it’s not.”
By the 10th minute mark midfielder Ryan Taylor had shot over two points from play.
In the 20th minute the small but terrifically tidy duo of James Corry and Ronan O’Donnell would combine for the latter to fire to the net to put their team 1-6 to 0-4 up while on the stroke of half-time Michael Corry would conjure a point in a phone booth on the right touchline for a 1-9 to 0-9 Clooney-Quin lead.
As The Bridge’s manager John O’Meara would highlight afterwards though, his team did not panic, even if he himself got into a heated exchange with O’Loughin on the line.
After 23 minutes Sixmilebridge still hadn’t a forward score from play yet within five minutes of the restart Shanahan alone would have rattled over three from play as well as missing that penalty.
Part of O’Meara’s own frustration would have stemmed from some refereeing decisions. “A disappointing thing from our perspective was we had the ball in the net twice and ended up with no goal. On another day they’d have been let go and we’d have ended up with the goals. But the important thing is we’re still in it. We showed good composure.”
As of yet, it is unclear if the replay will be next weekend or the week after.
D Fahy; N Purcell, A Quilligan, B Fitzpatrick; P Fitzpatrick, S Morey (0-3), C Morey (0-1); B Carey, K Lynch; C Malone, J Shanahan (0-10, 4 frees, 2 65s), S Golden (0-1); B Corey (0-2), A Morey (0-1, free), A Mulready.
C Deasy for Lynch, N Gilligan (0-1) for Mulready (both half-time), G Whyte for Carey (48 mins).
K Hogan; B McInerney, S McNamara, R McNamara; C Duggan, C Harrison, D Murphy; P Ward, R Taylor (0-2); P Duggan (0-10, nine frees), M Corry (0-2), D Hannon; R O’Donnell (1-1), F Lynch (0-1), J Corry.
M Duffy for Hannon (half-time).