Clare SHC final
Sixmilebridge 1-21 Clonlara 0-15
On a day when the weather would have blessed July, there was something very fitting that the Clare county final was dictated by a player that continues to enjoy an Indian summer of his own.
Niall Gilligan is 39. The last time he lined out for Clare was 2009. Yesterday confirmed that since he gave up playing for the county, he’s been the most dominant player in the county.
In 2010, a tense Clare Cup final against the old enemy Newmarket-on-Fergus turned on a rocket of a goal from Gilligan that gave a core group of youngsters their first taste of silverware at senior level.
The next year he’d bring them to a county final. In 2013 he’d help them win one, scoring 0-8 out of 1-11 in another one-score win over Newmarket in wintery conditions much more typical of county finals. And yesterday he topped it all. With 13 shots he’d score 13 points.
Twelve of them were from frees. Three or four of those dead-balls were just masterful strokes from a master of the art: out by the touchline, deep in his own half.
“I just said to myself to just concentrate on each one of them and kind of take it like a golf shot really,” he’d explain afterwards. “Make sure you stand over it, and position yourself and clear your head for each one of them, because in a county final, each one can be very important.”
Fellow clubman yet opposition manager Sean Stack would later acknowledge it was an immaculate display of freetaking. And of leadership.
“Gilligan gave a magical performance,” the Clonlara manager would say. “If you have fellas like that, you’re blessed. Today we were searching around the field for leaders and they just weren’t there.”
Clonlara had the bigger names but Sixmilebridge had the bigger hearts and leaders, and in Gilligan, the biggest of them all. His one score from play was probably his most vital contribution of the day.
Nine minutes into the second-half Clonlara had got back to within three points, having rattled off as many scores in as many minutes before Gilligan ran out and rose to catch a clearance at the classic centre-forward spot and promptly turned and swung off his left for a fabulous score.
The Bridge would duly rattle over the next four points to push their lead out to 1-16 to 0-11 entering the final quarter. Clonlara would later have a few half-chances of goals but like everything else about so much of their day, those efforts lacked conviction.
“The best team won by a mile,” Stack would concede afterwards. “They outfought us, they won all the 50-50 battles, they had all the homework done.The lads just didn’t perform. No excuses. It was a perfect day. No wind, dry sod. The lads just have to take it and see where their future lies because that wasn’t good enough. Individually or collectively they weren’t at the races.”
Darach Honan would go scoreless, barely touching the ball a handful of times; you’d hardly have known he was playing, let alone a county player. 2013 All Star Colm Galvin was peripheral all through. Cathal ‘Tots’ O’Connell was about their only county player to bring the fight to The Bridge, and in the last 20 minutes he too was pretty anonymous, as if succumbing to the malaise and mediocrity around him.
From the off, John O’Meara’s side were at the required pitch while Clonlara just weren’t, as if they were thrown by how similar The Bridge’s predominantly- yellow jerseys were to their own. In the opening five minutes Gilligan had converted three frees, and then in the seventh minute Alex Morey pounced for the game’s only goal.
Seadhna Morey, though wearing number eight, was playing deep as a sweeper, with Jamie Shanahan coming out to partner Brian Carey in midfield, and the physicality that tandem provided, along with the cover and craft Morey was offering at the back, overwhelmed and befuddled Clonlara.
The darting runs of wing forwards Cathal Malone and Shane Golden were causing wreck, with the latter hitting possibly the score of the game with a point off his left along the left touchline.
Even when Colm Galvin and Tots O’Connell came up with a couple of similar scores for Clonlara approaching half-time, they were cancelled out by their defence giving up needless frees which Gilligan converted to give the Bridge a 1-8 to 0-8 halftime lead.
After the restart, the trend continues. A couple of avoidable frees were hit over by Gilligan. Even when Clonlara would respond with their one brief purple patch, Gilligan would snuff it out and take over. For him and for us, may this Indian summer continue.
Scorers for Sixmilebridge:
N Gilligan (0-13, 12 frees); (A Morey 1-0); J Shanahan, S Golden (0-2 each); B Corry, C Morey (free), B Carey, D Morey (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clonlara:
M O’Loughlin (0-7, 4 frees, 2 65s); N O’Connell (free), Cormac O’Donovan, Cathal O’Donovan and Colm Galvin (0-2 each).
D Fahy; B Fitzpatrick, S Morey; N Purcell, C Morey, P Fitzpatrick; J Shanahan, B Carey; C Malone, C Deasy, S Golden; B Corry, N Gilligan, A Morey.
P Sheehan for Deasy (42), D Morey for Corry (53), T Keogh for Purcell (59), K Lynch for A Morey (59), S Lynch for Shanahan (62).
G O’Connell; C Fennessy, G Kennedy, S O’Brien; N Ryan, J Conlon, O O’Brien; D O’Donovan, N O’Connell; I Galvin, C O’Donovan, C O’Connell; M O’Loughlin, C Galvin, D Honan.
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