The weight of history may have been against St Joseph’s Miltown, but that burden finally lifted as a glorious flurry of injury time points saw them crowned Clare SFC champions for the third time in five years and for a 15th time in all at Cusack Park yesterday.
Miltown’s denouement to a tense final replay amounted to football with a real flourish — the defending champions responding brilliantly to Keelan Sexton’s tour de force for Kilmurry Ibrickane, which yielded 0-6 over the hour, by reeling off the final five points to put titles back-to-back for the first time since 1906.
It was literally a matter of inches though, with the game finally twisting decisively in Miltown’s favour just when it seemed as if they’d slipped behind on the cusp of injury time.
When substitute Daryn Callinan picked his spot from 40 yards the white flag was in the process of being raised for a 0-9 to 0-8 Kilmurry Ibrickane lead, only for goalkeeper Sean O’Brien to pull the ball down from over the bar and clear his lines.
“It was crucial for us,” admitted Miltown manager David O’Brien afterwards, “because it kept us level, we had possession and then we could get on the front foot, build an attack and try and get a score.”
They did that and much more, with Darragh McDonagh’s lead point finally being the trigger for the floodgates to open in a contest played out before a disappointing crowd of 3,917.
In the end, however, it was Miltown’s legs that saw them home, with the towering performances of twin brothers Conor and Eoin Cleary, as well as McDonagh’s closing cameo being decisive in putting daylight between the sides.
It was the Clearys that singlehandedly dragged Miltown back into the game in the first half as a dominant Kilmurry side that bossed the physical exchanges opened up a deserved 0-5 to 0-2 lead with Sexton leading their charge.
With ample possession and chances Kilmurry should have kicked on to a comfortable interval lead only for a booming 50-yard effort from Eoin Cleary in the 28th minute to stop the rot.
Then he followed with a free before Conor Cleary landed another monster to leave the sides deadlocked at 0-5 apiece.
Having held sway for so long in that first 30 minutes Kilmurry must have been crestfallen, but character alone saw them fight every inch of the way in the second half, despite falling behind for the first time when Conor Cleary found the range once more from distance as proceedings entered the last quarter.
Thanks to Sexton, Kilmurry were back in front coming down the stretch as he landed two more placed balls, but just like they hadn’t flinched in the first half so it was that Miltown gathered themselves for the big finish.
They were back level on 55 minutes thanks to a McDonagh rasper that flew over the bar when there was a goal at his mercy, but after O’Brien’s heroics in foiling Callinan it was finally Miltown’s time to turn the screw and kick for home.
McDonagh fired them ahead once more in the 61st minute, with Eoin Cleary, Cormac Murray, and Eoin Curtin providing the afters as Kilmurry’s brave resistance finally buckled at the death.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said manager O’Brien.
“The finish to the game, the tension around the game for that past three weeks, it was incredible. The quality of the game might have been down, but you had two teams that gave absolutely everything. Kilmurry have been the team of the last 25 years and to beat them is huge,” he added.
E Cleary (0-5, 4f), C Cleary (0-2), D McDonagh (0-2), Graham Kelly (0-1), C Murray (0-1), E Curtin (0-1).
K Sexton (0-6, 4f, 1 ‘45), A McCarthy (0-1), I McInerney (0-1f).
S O’Brien; E O’Gorman, S Malone, E O’Brien; G Curtin, Gordon Kelly (Capt), A McGuane; D McDonagh, C Cleary, K Malone, B Curtin, O Looney, Graham Kelly, E Cleary, C Murray.
M Murray for Looney (47), E Curtin for Graham Kelly (54), C Hehir for K Malone (59), J O’Connor for McGuane (64).
I McInerney; M Killeen, C Morrissey, D Hickey; D Walsh, M McMahon, S Hickey, K King (Capt), A McCarthy; M Hogan, M O’Dwyer, D Walsh; K Sexton, E Coughlan, D Coughlan.
E Bracken for King (38), D Callinan for O’Dwyer (43), N Hickey for Hogan (59).
Fearghal Gray (Feakle)