St Flannans’ crusade for a first Munster A Colleges title since 2005 stayed firmly on track on Wednesday afternoon as they powered to a ten-point victory in a contest that had hurling pulses racing for three-quarters of an hour.
It was at this crucial stage that the game’s outstanding performer in 17-year-old Diarmuid Cahill struck a wonder goal that opened up a seven-point gap between the sides and broke the resistance of a St Joseph’s outfit that brought so much to this Clare derby encounter.
First-half goals from Cahill and fellow 2019 county minor Conner Hegarty, on 18 and 25 minutes respectively, had temporarily doused the unrelenting enthusiasm of the Tulla side, as St Flannan’s built up a four-point interval lead, but it wasn’t until the home stretch that matters were finally decided decisively in the Ennis bluebloods’ favour.
“This was the biggest game that some of them have ever played,” said St Flannan’s supremo Brendan Bugler afterwards, “and in the past week to control the hype was a tough, tough job, but they did that, we're very focused, knew what they had to do and went out and finally did it.”
It was his side’s class at crucial junctures that put the 21 times champions on a different level, albeit St Josephs’ heart and commitment and the brilliance of midfielder Darragh Keogh, who had 0-10 to his name, had them bothered and under pressure on plenty of occasions.
St Flannan’s were faster out of the blocks in building up a 0-6 to 0-3 after ten minutes as Cahill, Peter Power and Cian Galvin led their charge, but any notion that it would be easy was ended as two Keogh points and further efforts by Sean Withycombe and Cormac Murphy saw Tulla hit the front for the first time by the 19th minute.
Alas, it was the only time, because while the spirit was very willing in every member of the East Clare side it was the more clinical favourites as personified by the Cahill and Hegarty heroics, who hit 3-7 between them from play over the hour, that took the breath away.
Leading by 2-8 to 0-10 at the interval thanks to their defining strikes, they combined once more to stunning effect at the three-quarter stage to bring an end to Tulla’s dream of a first-ever Harty Cup semi-final.
The underdogs twice halved their deficit in the early stages of the second half as Andrew Conheady, Oisin Clune and Keogh kept the board ticking, but there was no way back once Hegarty put Cahill in the clear in the 45th minute, with the young Corofin star flashing to the net from 25 yards for 3-13 to 0-14 lead.
The margin between the sides, in the end, didn’t do justice to Tulla’s brave efforts, but that was a tribute to St Flannans’ ruthlessness more than any failing on their part as Bugler’s impressive charges made sure of a first semi-final appearance in the blue riband since 2011.
“It was a big, big game to win,” the 2013 All-Ireland winner said. “We have played this Tulla team up along; at first year level they beat us; in a Clare Under 15 final they beat us, so once you get on top of them you have to drive it home to the very end and we did that.”
D Cahill (2-4),C Hegarty (1-3), A Brohan (0-4f), K O’Connor (0-3), P Power (0-1), C Galvin (0-1), D Nagle (0-1).
D Keogh (0-10, 8f), C Murphy (0-2), A Conheady (0-2), S Withycombe (0-1), O Clune (0-1).
C Broderick (Clarecastle); M Reidy (Ballyea), D Healy (Clarecastle), N Walsh (Banner); T Butler (Doora-Barefield), C Galvin (Clarecastle), S Casey (Ballyea); C Hegarty (Inagh-Kilnamona), O O’Donnell (Crusheen); A Brohan (Ruan), K O’Connor (Corofin), D Cahill (Corofin); J Collins (Éire Og), C Cassidy (Clooney-Quin), P Power (Newmarket-on-Fergus).
J Doherty (Clarecastle) for O’Donnell (48), D Cunningham (Clooney-Quin) for Cassidy (58), D Nagle (Doora-Barefield) for Power (58), C Halpin (Clarecastle) for Collins (59).
A Shanahan (Tulla); E Madden (Bodyke), A Hogan (Feakle), L McInerney (Tulla); C Mulqueen (Broadford), P Donnellan (Broadford), R O’Connor (Feakle); O Clune (Tulla), D Keogh (Clooney-Quin); D Withycombe (Tulla), J O’Gorman (Tulla), A Conheady (Tulla); S Withycombe (Tulla), M McMahon (Crusheen), C Murphy (O’Callaghan’s Mills).
: A Curtis (Tulla) for O’Gorman (48), E Maxted (Clooney-Quin) for D Withycombe (56), L Hogan (Feakle) for McInerney (58), D Ryan (Clooney-Quin) for A Hogan (60).
John O’Halloran (Limerick)