To label this Charleville’s finest hour would be incorrect, would be misleading. Far more accurate is it to catalogue their second-half performance as the most outstanding 33 minutes of hurling ever produced by a Charleville team.
At half-time in this Munster intermediate final, Feakle held a fully deserved 1-13 to 0-6 lead. It was easy to see how, two years ago, they had come within one hour of a place in the Clare senior decider. Their movement was sharp, intelligent. Their shooting was first class, evidenced by a return of 14 first-half scores from 17 attempts. There wasn’t an individual battle they weren’t winning.
By way of contrast, Charleville, for whom 10 of their starting team are U21, were stuck to the proverbial ground. Their embattled defence was second to every ball. Those further up the field were being hounded and harassed by a hungrier opposition. They went scoreless from the seventh to the 21st minute, during which they were hit for 1-7 without reply.
Half-time came and there was absolutely nothing to suggest this young Charleville team were capable of pulling back the 10-point deficit. What they proceeded to produce upon the change of ends was of a special variety, outscoring the Clare champions by 0-6 to 0-1 in the opening eight minutes of the second-half and by 2-4 to 0-1 in the closing 14 minutes.
Kevin O’Connor set the tone when clipping over a point within 19 seconds of the game restarting. O’Connor, younger brother of Ben, had been part of a midfield utterly outgunned by Shane McGrath and Conn Smyth in the first period. It was the first shot of defiance by a hurler in red. Many more followed.
Darragh Fitzgibbon and Feakle’s Oisín Donnellan, the two outstanding forwards on display, swapped points before Fitzgibbon, captain Danny O’Flynn and Andrew Cagney (0-2) reeled off four on the bounce. The scoreboard read 1-14 to 0-12. Charleville were finally up and motoring. Comeback on, game on at the Gaelic Grounds.
Of the next nine scores, five went to Feakle. A rhythm of tit for tat took rule over proceedings.
Two frees and one via open play from Shane McGrath, along with a fine Gary Guilfoyle minor, kept sufficient daylight between the sides. On five occasions the Cork champions had pegged back the margin to five points, but no closer could they inch themselves of their opponents.
A Fitzgibbon ‘65 on 50 minutes left five between them for the sixth time. In the ensuing passages of play, though, both O’Connor and the All-Star midfielder were guilty of particularly poor wides. It was as if fate was dictating the gap should shrink no smaller.
Then, the floodgates opened, with Charleville charging through.
Fitzgibbon hammered over a long range free; Jack Doyle blocked down Eibhear Quilligan’s attempted clearance, Andrew Cagney pouncing on the loose possession and splitting the posts.
Seventy seconds from the hour mark, the Cork representatives drew level (1-19 apiece). Quilligan superbly repelled a Cagney drive, with Jack Doyle on hand to snap up the rebound and dispatch the sliotar to the Feakle net.
Thirty seconds later and Charleville hit the front for the first time since the third minute, Fitzgibbon arrowing over his fifth from play.
Extra-time seemed inevitable when Oisín Donnellan scored his sixth point of the afternoon two minutes into overtime, excellently fetching a McGrath free amid a crowded goalmouth. There was to be one last play, however, one final twist in the narrative.
Cian Collins’ puck-out landed in the Feakle half of the field, possession won by Charleville. The sliotar was popped out to Conor Buckley, a wave of red shirts now hurtling in the direction of the opposition posts. Buckley’s effort was half-blocked, the sliotar squirting through to the unmarked Darren Casey. One-on-one with Quilligan, the sub’s gentle stroke saw the ball trickle into the Feakle goal. Sixty-three minutes on the watch, the North Cork club went bananas.
Kevin Jordan’s final whistle sounded thereafter, a club who began the decade wearing junior status now stand one hour from an All-Ireland intermediate final appearance at Croke Park. In between, there have been three county and two Munster titles. And given they were outscored by 1-10 to 0-1 during a 17-minute period early in the first-half yesterday, this comeback of comebacks will surely go down as the sweetest victory of the lot.
Scorers for Charleville: D Fitzgibbon (0-9, 0-3 frees, 0-1 ’65); J Doyle, D Casey (1-1 each); A Cagney (0-3); M Kavanagh (0-1 free), K O’Connor (0-2 each); C Buckley (0-1), D O’Flynn (0-1 each).
Scorers for Feakle: S McGrath (0-9, 0-7 frees); O Donnellan (0-6); G Guilfoyle (0-3); R Bane (1-0); S Conway, M Daly (0-1 each).
Charleville: C Collins; D Butler, J Meade, F Cagney; A Dennehy, J Buckley, C Carroll; J O’Callaghan, K O’Connor; D Fitzgibbon, J Doyle, M Kavanagh; C Buckley, A Cagney, T Hawe.
Subs: D O’Flynn for Hawe, D Casey for Kavanagh (both 26).
Feakle: E Quilligan; J Nelson, E McMahon, J Noonan; E Conway, E Tuohy, K Bane; S McGrath, C Smyth; O Donnellan, E Noonan, S Conway; R Bane, M Daly, G Guilfoyle.
Subs: G Hanrahan for S Conway (51); A McMahon for E Noonan (56); C Naughton for R Bane (60).
Referee: K Jordan (Tipperary).