GIVEN its impoverished recent history, yesterday in the Gaelic Grounds was a momentous afternoon for Clare football.
Despite the favouritism tag being attached to Portlaoise, Kilmurry-Ibrickane conjured up a powerful performance in this All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final.
In the process they ensured that there will be a Banner county representative in the St Patrick’s Day club football showpiece next month for the first time ever.
This was no fluke victory. Kilmurry-Ibrickane had the best performers on the pitch and their sideline operators had a key input as well. The post-match revelation that the template for victory was borrowed from their illustrious football neighbours to the south was highly intriguing.
On Saturday night manager Michéal McDermott sat his squad down and whipped out a copy of last summer’s All-Ireland quarter-final between Kerry and Dublin from the video vault. The genesis of Kerry’s success that day was their blistering start as they capitalised on Dublin’s long spell in cold storage. McDermott surmised that the circumstances before yesterday’s game were a replica and instructed his players to produce a hurricane opening. They duly obliged to blow Portlaoise away in the first-half and ahead by 0-9 to 0-4 by half-time, they were firmly on course for a final placing.
Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s cause was certainly helped by a dramatic opening to the game as Portlaoise’s numbers were cut to 14 when wing-back Brian Mulligan was dismissed after a mere 40 seconds for a reckless challenge on Shane Hickey. That shocking start clearly unsettled Portlaoise and the subsequent outpourings of vitriol from members of their camp at half-time were not beneficial either.
Then the second-half dismissal of captain Brian McCormack for a second yellow card was the final nail in Portlaoise’s coffin as they lost one of their better exponents on the day.
But those controversies should not deflect from Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s brilliant showing. Overall it was not a spiteful game with the defining feature being Kilmurry’s superiority rather than Portlaoise’s sending-off’s.
Kilmurry-Ibrickane exploited the early good fortune of being handed a spare man as Enda Coughlan and Evan Talty alternated intelligently to fill that role in the half-back line. That helped them to construct a barrier to repel Portlaoise’s attacking advances, and further back Mark Killeen and Martin McMahon kept a tight rein on Paul Cahillane and Colm Byrne.
Cahillane entered the game with a gilded attacking reputation from Portlaoise’s Leinster campaign, but Kilmurry-Ibrickane identified him as a threat and went about blunting his impact from the word go. They forced Cahillane onto his weaker right foot on several occasions and the one goal opening he had in the 20th minute became fruitless when the Kilmurry-Ibrickane defence swarmed around him and turned over possession.
Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s attacking play was strikingly good from the start as well. Scoring has not been their forte in this campaign but they reversed that trend by cutting loose in front of goal here. Several of their forwards hit full speed from the outset with Ian McInerney’s freetaking and playmaking exemplary, Stephen Moloney’s hard work seeing him shine on the left flank, and Michael O’Dwyer and Noel Downes both emerging as attacking diamonds inside.
By the close of the first quarter Kilmurry-Ibrickane were 0-5 to 0-2 ahead and that was a reward for their swift passing movements which created chances. Their excellent work ethic was maintained for the rest of the half as Portlaoise defenders found it extremely difficult to clear their lines and points by Michael and Peter O’Dwyer, and Downes left them 0-8 to 0-3 up by the 26th minute.
It was proving to be a miserable occasion for Portlaoise who relied on the promptings of Cahir Healy, McCormack and Craig Rogers to keep them afloat.
McCormack appeared the only attacking card they possessed and he kicked two tremendous points in the opening period. But the half ended in adversity for him as he picked up a costly yellow card in injury-time for protesting to referee Michael Duffy about the build-up play to a Kilmurry-Ibrickane free. It seemed valid to complain as Noel Downes touched the ball on the ground but the Clare side got the break and McInerney’s free gave them a five-point cushion at the break.
Once it became apparent early in the second-half that Kilmurry-Ibrickane were going to maintain the high standards and tempo of their football, they never looked like being defeated.
It was 0-11 to 0-5 when McCormack saw the line in the 39th minute and then the match was killed off when Downes beautifully finished to the net five minutes later after a perceptive pass by substitute Mark McCarthy. Kilmurry-Ibrickane confirmed their superiority in the closing stages with their most celebrated name Odhran O’Dwyer jumping off the bench to claim a wonderful score at the death and seal a handsome eight-point win.
Scorers for Kilmurry-Ibrickane: N Downes 1-2, I McInerney 0-4 (0-3f, 0-1 ‘45), M O’Dwyer 0-3, J Daly 0-2 (0-2f), E Coughlan, P O’Dwyer, O O’Dwyer 0-1 each.
Portlaoise: P Cahillane 0-3 (0-2f), B Fitzgerald (0-2f), B McCormack 0-2 each, C Healy 0-1.
KILMURRY-IBRICKANE: D O’Brien; D Hickey, M Killeen, M McMahon; S Hickey, E Coughlan, E Talty; P O’Connor, P O’Dwyer; M Hogan, I McInerney, S Moloney; M O’Dwyer, O O’Dwyer, N Downes.
Subs: M McCarthy for Moloney (43), O O’Dwyer for Downes (46), B Moloney for Talty (58).
PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; E Bland, K Fitzpatrick, M McNulty; B Mulligan, C Healy, K Lillis; A Fennelly, B McCormack; C Boyle, B Fitzgerald, B Glynn; P Cahillane, C Byrne, C Rogers.
Subs: T Fitzgerald for Byrne (half-tine), B Smith for Glynn (42), J Fennell for Boyle (49), P McNulty for Cahillane (55).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).
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