CLONOULTY-ROSSMORE claimed the spoils in this Tipperary SHC semi-final in Thurles yesterday despite having played second fiddle for long spells to a Kildangan team that has come a long way in a short time.
All-Ireland intermediate champions in 2005, the nearest that Kildangan had ever come to a Tipperary senior title was in 1938, when they were well beaten in the final by a famed Thurles Sars side. They came into this one with nothing to lose, underdogs against a new-look Clonoulty side that completed four-in-a-row in the west division this year and were bidding to reach their first county final since 1998.
Clonoulty got through but they can be grateful for the heroics of keeper Declan O’Dwyer at one end, plus the phenomenal skill of Tipperary panellist John O’Neill at the other.
Four times O’Dwyer denied the Kildangan attack. His first was a brave point-blank body-block of an Eoin Kelly shot in the 22nd minute and he produced three more super-saves in the second-half. including two in a frantic finish.
Up front, the returning O’Neill (missed the early part of the season with a cruciate injury) was in top form, mesmerising a number of opponents with dazzling close control. He finished with five points, two of those in the final quarter as Clonoulty finally got their act together. Those scores, along with Fiachra O’Keeffe’s goal in the 48th minute, proved the difference between the teams.
The first half was a tame affair, even if the scoreboard was kept ticking over. Kildangan gave early warning that they weren’t in Semple Stadium just to make up the numbers. They raced into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead after five minutes with corner-forward Eoin Gleeson taking advantage of a Kevin Horan slip to notch the goal. With centre-forward and county panellist Darragh Egan going well from placed balls (four pointed frees), they stayed in front to the break, though by then the lead was reduced to two points (1-9 to 0-10).
It could have been more, because it had taken Clonoulty to the 25th minute to find any kind of scoring rhythm and five crucial points in the closing minutes of the half (two from O’Neill) got them back in touch.
The opening minutes of the second half were almost a repeat of the first with Kildangan again looking the more impressive side. Points from sweet-striking wing-back Gerry Slattery (his third of four), Egan and Eoin Kelly quickly had them re-establish a five-points lead.
Again, however, Clonoulty-Rossmore dug deep. John Devane and James Heffernan closed up shop down the middle, midfielders John O’Keeffe and Seán O’Connor came in with a second point apiece while O’Neill continued to work his magic. By the 48th minute it was back to a one-goal game (1-13 to 0-13) and in that 48th corner-forward Fiachra O’Keeffe – hitherto held scoreless – announced his presence. A super delivery from the wide right by O’Neill, a leap by O’Keeffe (the smallest man in a crowded Kildangan goalmouth area) then a one-handed forehand finish, and – against the run of play – the match was tied.
Building on that goal, however, and with the game now on the line, from there to the end Clonoulty-Rossmore were the better team; on that score at least, they were worthy winners.
Scorers for Clonoulty-Rossmore: T Hammersley 0-6 (0-5 frees); J O’Neill 0-5 (0-1 free); F O’Keeffe 1-1; Thomas Butler 0-2; S O’Connor 0-2; J O’Keeffe 0-2; Tom Butler 0-1.
Scorers for Kildangan: D Egan 0-6 (all frees); E Gleeson 1-1; G Slattery 0-4 (0-2 frees, 0-1 65); E Kelly 0-2; C Hanrahan, P Kelly, R Gleeson, 0-1 each.
CLONOULTY-ROSSMORE: D O’Dwyer; J O’Keeffe, J Heffernan, K Horan; P Heffernan, J Devane, L Devane; J O’Keeffe, S O’Connor; Tom Butler, J O’Neill, P White; F O’Keeffe, Thomas Butler, T Hammersley.
Subs: C Ryan for White (36); M Coen for O’Connor (50); J Forrestal for Tom Butler (55). Blood sub: J Forrestal (Thomas Butler 12/14, S O’Connor 15/18, Thomas Butler again 50/51).
KILDANGAN: K Hayes; M Minehan, L Kelly, F Hayes; H Flannery, D Hackett, G Slattery; P Kelly, J Gallagher; P Lynch, D Egan, T Connors; E Gleeson, E Kelly, C Hanrahan.
Subs: R Gleeson for Lynch (38); B Kelly for E Kelly (47).
Referee: W Clohessy (Drom-and-Inch).
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