It was the first score from play by a Clooney-Quin forward all day. By then Sixmilebridge’s front six had already racked up 1-9 from play over the preceding 42 minutes. Although the scoreboard was saying that Corry’s point had brought his team back to within two goals of the lead, that other tale of the tape was saying the Bridge’s dominance was more like a four-goal lead, not two. Only sheer doggedness and Peter Duggan’s deadball prowess was saving Clooney-Quin from a hiding.
To their credit, the underdogs would continue to hang in there, and finally reel off a series of scores from play; in fact, when a wonder point from Duggan on the turn was quickly followed by another point from Corry’s brother Martin with 10 minutes to go, they had reduced the lead to five and the hope of a first county title in 75 years still flickered. A couple of consecutive wides, though, extinguished it and whatever momentum they had before, the Bridge powered on again.
Once more, tradition had brushed aside romance.
Not that the Clare senior hurling championship hasn’t had its share of romance and novelty in recent times. After the game Sixmilebridge’s manager John O’Meara pointed out how there had been 10 different winners of the Canon Hamilton trophy over the last 14 years. For his players to eke out three county titles in the last five seasons of such a seemingly open period speaks volumes for them.
This county title clearly establishes Sixmilebridge as the Clare team of the decade. In the second round they overcame 2016 champions Ballyea. In the quarter-final they emphatically beat the 2014 champions, Cratloe. In the semi-final, they saw off the 2012 champions Newmarket-on-Fergus, 3-17 to 2-18, in as good a club match as you’ll get outside the Munster club championship.
Clooney-Quin may not have had the pedigree of a Newmarket but last week they were very nearly crowned 2017 champions after what is now generally considered to be the best Clare county final of this millennium. In yesterday’s replay then, the Bridge’s level of performance was as good as anything they’ve hit all year. As open and egalitarian as the Clare championship appears to be, one team is more equal than others.
Right from the start there was a different tone to this game and that tone was set by the Bridge.
It was in their match-ups, with Niall Gilligan in from the start and Seadna Morey taking up Peter Duggan on the wing.
It was in their body language, with Barry Fitzpatrick clipping and wrestling Ronan O’Donnell, last week’s sole goalscorer, before a ball was thrown in.
Then once it was thrown in by Rory Hickey — better known to many as an inter-county football referee — the Bridge struck three points in as many minutes.
Clooney-Quin would rally, and even momentarily go ahead through a Ryan Taylor point on 20 minutes, but crucially they would never settle; the Bridge wouldn’t allow them. By half-time O’Meara’s side were back in front, 0-9 to 0-7, and even that flattered Clooney-Quin. Only one of their scores had been from play. Only one of the Bridge’s scores had been from a free.
Their superiority would reflect itself more on the scoreboard in the second half. Brian Corry, a cousin of Martin and James in the opposing ranks, struck for a goal on 33 minutes. Shane Golden would finish with five points from play, Alan Mulready with three. There was an economy and slickness to their inter-link play, with their capacity to switch the play and find the open man exceptional, while at the back they were dominant in the air, in stark contrast to the trouble they had with Duggan and Lynch last week.
Clooney-Quin would keep fighting, and three minutes into injury time, Martin Corry, with a ground strike, would find the net. But that goal was academic. His cousin Brian’s just after half-time wasn’t.
D Fahy; B Fitzpatrick, P Fitzpatrick, N Purcell; S Morey, C Morey, A Quilligan (0-1); C Deasy (0-1), J Shanahan (0-5, three frees); B Corry (1-1), N Gilligan (0-2), S Golden (0-5); A Mulready (0-3), C Malone (0-1), A Morey.
C Lynch (0-1) for Gilligan (48), G Whyte for A Morey (52), B Carey for Deasy (59), K Lynch for C Morey (59).
K Hogan; R McNamara, S McNamara, B McInerney; C Duggan, C Harrison, P Ward; D Murphy, R Taylor (0-1); P Duggan (0-10, six frees, 2 65s, 1 sideline ball), M Corry (1-1), T Shanahan; R O’Donnell, F Lynch (0-1), J Corry (0-1).
M Culligan for Shanahan (37), D Kennedy for D Murphy (60).