Extra-time was the order of the day, before Austin Stacks and The Nire advanced to the AIB Munster Club Senior Football Final in two weeks, after semi-final wins this afternoon.
Stacks were most impressive in extra-time, as Greg Horan delivered a Man of the Match display for the Kerry champions to book a place in the final, thanks to a 0-15 to 1-9 win over Ballincollig.
Cratloe’s dream of reaching two Munster Senior Club finals was quenched under the Fraher Field floodlights, as Waterford side The Nire reached the final for the second time, with a 1-13 to 2-8 win.
A carnival atmosphere prevailed throughout at Austin Stack Park, Tralee, and while Ballincollig led by six points after 20 minutes, Stacks came storming back.
The Kerry side led by two points, with less than 13 minutes left on the clock, with Ballincollig needing a brace of points, including a last gasp John Miskella effort to force extra-time.
Earlier Ballincollig lorded possession in the opening quarter, and were full value for their 1-4 to 0-1 lead after 15 minutes, with Pa Kelly scoring the only goal in the seventh minute, after the ball slipped through the fingers of Fergal MacNamara.
Kelly took the ball with his right hand, and turned to push his side 1-1 to 0-1 clear.
John Kelly and Cian Dorgan were in excellent form as Ballincollig pushed six points ahead.
However, Austin Stacks took control before the break and fired five unanswered points with Horan, David Mannix and Shane O’Callaghan among those on target to cut the deficit to a point at the interval.
Indeed the sides could have been level at the interval, but for an excellent clearance by Ballincollig defender Stephen O’Donoghue.
1-4 to 0-6 in arrears at the interval, Austin Stacks pushed two points clear inside five minutes of the restart thanks to a brace of Shane Carroll frees.
John Miskella equalised, but Stacks forged ahead, and led 0-10 to 1-6 with 11 minutes left on the clock.
The closing 10 minutes were dominated by short passing movements, with both defences hard to break down.
In the second minute of injury-time Ballincollig broke through, with the ball passing through three players before landing in Miskella’s hands as the corner-forward forced extra-time with his effort from 40 metres.
Stacks were strongest in extra-time, with Darragh Long, Pa McCarthy and Mannix contributing to an unanswered run of scores which helped them to a 0-13 to 1-7 interval lead.
Kieran Donaghy pushed Stacks four points clear on the restart, and although Miskella and Dorgan kept the Ballincollig scoreboard ticking over, Stacks held out for their first final since 1976.
Cathal McInerney scored 1-6 for Cratloe, but it wasn’t enough as The Nire booked a place in their second ever provincial final, and a first since 2006, as they dug deep for victory at Fraher Field.
No more than three points separated the sides over a keenly contested 80 minutes of action, in a game played in front of a 2,000 plus strong crowd.
Having already booked a place in the Senior Hurling decider against Kilmallock next weekend, Cratloe were keen to keep their march to another provincial decider alive.
The Clare champions started brightly with McInerney firing over his first score after 3 minutes, and while Shane Walsh soon equalised, Cratloe took the lead once again after a Podge Collins score.
Jamie Barron proved a key link-man throughout for The Nire, and the UCC student claimed their second point to tie the game after nine minutes.
Both sides were using a short kick-out strategy well in the opening minutes, but it proved The Nire’s undoing in the 11 minute, after Conor McGrath intervened on a short kick-out, with Collins flicking the ball to McInerney who pounced for the opening goal.
1-2 to 0-2 in arrears The Nire worked hard on a comeback, with Shane Ryan snatching a point, before Conor Gleeson netted their lone goal to regain the lead at the start of the second quarter.
But immediately from the kick-out Cratloe punished their opponents once again with Conor Ryan on target, after McInerney and McGrath were also involved.
Scores from Gleeson and Barron brought the game level for the third time, before McInerney and Brian Wall swapped scores to ensure a 1-6 to 2-3 interval score-line.
The Nire lost midfielder Michael O’Gorman to a black card before half-time, but despite losing such a key player they came out strongest on the restart.
The Waterford champions threw everything at the Cratloe defence in the third quarter, but didn’t fully make it count on the score-board.
Granted Ryan and Brian Wall both added points, but The Nire kicked three quick wides, and saw two further efforts drop short.
Four unanswered points, including three from McInerney helped Cratloe move 2-7 to 1-8 clear with eight minutes remaining.
The Nire now looked like they had run out of steam, but they worked hard in the dying minutes, with Shane Walsh cutting the gap to a point, before teenager Conor Gleeson levelled matters with an effort off his left boot.
Cratloe had a chance to sneak a winner from Sean Collins, but Diarmuid Wall put his life on the line with an excellent block to ensure extra-time.
Scores were at a premium in extra-time, with McInerney and Walsh trading points during the opening period.
On the restart defences held firm, but The Nire took control late on with points from Barron and 35-year old Brian Wall to ensure a provincial final date.