IT may have been a routine affair for long stretches, but yesterday’s Evening Echo Cork SFC final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh still managed to conjure up a breathless finish.
The prospect of a finale laced with drama and tension had looked quite remote entering the third quarter as Clonakilty stood tall on the scoreboard with a 1-12 to 0-7 advantage. In front of 10,172 observers, the West Cork men had firmly bossed proceedings with the consequential effect that notions of a contest had drained away.
Yet St Finbarr’s, who had been limp and lifeless for three quarters of the game, summoned a brave and defiant closing display that nearly carried them to an improbable victory.
The first-rate form which had carried them to this juncture eluded St Finbarr’s for a long time, but they were finally ignited into life in the 47th minute. Substitute Jason Sexton slalomed through the Clonakilty defence before sending a measured shot to the corner of the net. And, from there, the Togher side took off. They rattled off the points to draw level by the 56th minute and Clonakilty were faced with the appalling vista of losing a county final they had looked guaranteed to win 10 minutes earlier.
But, just as the momentum lay with St Finbarr’s, Clonakilty kept their heads to wrestle it back in the 58th minute. Team captain Timmy Anglin made a typically lung-bursting run before his progress was impeded and referee Conor Lane awarded a free 45 yards from goal.
With regular free-taker Colin O’Donovan having been substituted, the responsibility was entrusted to wing-back David O’Regan, who had entered the action midway through the first-half when Nigel Hayes was withdrawn through injury. In that context O’Regan seemed an unlikely choice for such a kick, but he adapted to the pressure brilliantly by arrowing the ball straight between the posts.
From there Clonakilty were in defensive mode, repelling St Finbarr’s desperate late thrusts to engineer a levelling score. Sexton had a late chance but, under pressure, his shot drifted wide as Clonakilty clung on grimly to that one-point advantage.
The final whistle saw them deservedly crowned champions, yet they will be the first to admit that they should never have endured such a nerve-jangling passage to victory.
The quality, power and fluency of Clonakilty’s football was exceptional for three-quarters of the game, so it was remarkable that they wound up chiselling out such a slender success.
Scorers for Clonakilty: C McManus, C Callanan 0-3 each, Timmy Anglin 1-0, P Griffin, C O’Donovan (0-1f), M O’Brien, D Murphy, H Kenny, N Griffin, D O’Regan (0-1f) 0-1 each.
St Finbarr’s: F Murray 0-5 (0-3f), J Sexton 1-0, R Leahy (0-1f), J O’Donoghue 0-2 each, G Leahy, R O’Mahony, C O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
CLONAKILTY: E Harte; T O’Sullivan, Tony Anglin, D O’Brien; D Murphy, N Griffin, N Hayes; S Nagle, Timmy Anglin; D Lyons, M O’Brien, C O’Donovan; C Callanan, C McManus, P Griffin.
Subs: D O’Regan for Hayes (inj) (28), H Kenny for O’Donovan (38),
ST FINBARR’S: K McTiernan; P Kennedy, M Shields, G O’Connor; C Lyons, J Coyle, M Ryan; E Keane, A O’Shea; C McCarthy, G Leahy, J O’Donoghue; R Leahy, R O’Mahony, F Murray.
Subs: R O’Dwyer for Coyle (25), C O’Sullivan for O’Shea (41), J Sexton for G Leahy (47).
Referee: Conor Lane (Banteer).
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