A TRANSFORMATION bordering on the miraculous by South Liberties in the second half of an exciting Munster Club IHC final at the Mallow GAA complex yesterday powered them past Cork champions Douglas.
Though playing with a huge gale at their backs in the opening half, the Limerick champions had been completely outplayed by Douglas, who looked a class apart in building up a 0-7 to 0-5 lead. During that period, the Cork men were completely dominant, starting in defence where Alan Barry and Eoin Cadogan were imperious down the centre, continuing in midfield where Colin O’Mahony and the strong-running Barry Fitzgerald were on top, and on to a hard-working forward sextet, five of whom got on the scoresheet, with the sixth, towering wing-forward Marc Collins, doing some superb setup work.
That two-point lead should have been much more had Douglas converted any of the several clear goal-chances they created, brothers Stephen and James Moylan denied only through desperate last-ditch tackling, while the former also opted for a point from close range when a goal was on.
Nevertheless, as the teams headed for the sanctuary of the dressing-room it was set up for Douglas and even the most fervent of the huge South Liberties following, among whom were such luminaries as former Liberties stars Pat Hartigan, Joe McKenna and Eamonn Grimes, must have feared for what was to come.
“It didn’t look good,” admitted winning captain Shane O’Neill. “Two points down, facing a strong wind, people might have thought that we were going to get slaughtered, but we knew, if put our heads down, worked hard, we’d get back into it. We’ve hurled better against the wind all year; the wind holds the ball up and we have small corner-forwards, that gives them more time to get onto the ball. We never let them get away from us, and that was the main thing.”
Indeed it was. Having won the toss and opted to play into the wind, the first part of the Douglas plan – containment – had borne fruit. Now it was time for phase two – capitalise. It was vital for the Liberties, then, that they wouldn’t allow this happen. They did concede the first point of the second half, Marc Collins converting a superb crossfield ball from Richard Murphy, but they didn’t concede again til the 14th minute.
It was heroic defence by South Liberties, Shane himself playing his part on the wing, with full-back Niall Shanahan doing a superb marking job on Douglas dangerman Mark Harrington, Shane Geary also prominent, with former Limerick U-21 scoring star Mark Keane delivering some good ball from centre-back. More importantly, however, during this period South Liberties also scored two points, one each from substitute Derek Grimes and free-taker Keane, to bring the deficit back to just one point (0-8 to 0-7), only quarter of an hour left for play.
Douglas did manage the next two points, from Harrington and Murphy, but the destructive seeds of doubt which had already been sown in the minds of the increasingly desperate Douglas players became full-blown and full-grown in the 49th minute with the first goal of the game.
Fine solo from defender Shane Geary, fine finish from corner-forward Davy O’Neill – brother of captain Shane – which gave keeper Brian Boyle little chance. That goal tied it up, and now, wind or no wind, it was game on. Two points each the teams exchanged over the next ten minutes, the title very much in the balance, until, in the last minute of normal time, the Liberties got their noses in front with a superbly struck point into the wind from wing-forward Brian Slattery.
Two minutes later, they looked to have really locked up the win when the same player pounced on a loose ball and tapped home from close range for second South Liberties major. Back came Douglas, a goal of their own when Marc Collins got on the end of a huge Eoin Cadogan delivery. Seconds remaining, however, it was just too late, and against all the half-time odds, South Liberties had done just enough.
“You can see (from the fan reaction) what this means to South Liberties,” said a delighted Shane O’Neill. “We’ve had a lot of pain over the last few years, lost a lot of county finals, but we always wondered how far we’d go in Munster if we finally got out of Limerick. We have a great tradition in this club, lost two senior Munster finals, to Mount Sion and Glen Rovers, but we have a fabulous setup now; it’s great to finally come out with a win.”
Scorers for South Liberties: B. Slattery 1-3 (0-2 frees); M. Keane 0-4 (all frees); D. O’Neill 1-0; A. Owens 0-2; D. Grimes 0-1.
Douglas: M. Collins 1-1; M. Harrington 0-4 (0-1 pen); R. Murphy 0-4 (0-3 frees); O. Mulrooney, S. Moylan, J. Moylan, 0-1 each.
SOUTH LIBERTIES: A. Shanahan; S. Garry, N. Shanahan, T. Carroll; T. Ryan, Mark Keane, S. O’Neill (c); W. Hickey, Mike Keane; B. Slattery, A. Owens, R. O’Neill; C. Godfrey, C. Carbery, D. O’Neill.
Subs: E. O’Connell (Hickey 30); D. Grimes (Godfrey 30); M. Moynihan (Carbery 48).
DOUGLAS: B. Boyle; D. McSweeney, A. Barry, F. Tobin (c); C. Dineen, E. Cadogan, R. Keating; C. O’Mahony, B. Fitzgerald; M. Collins, O. Mulrooney, S. Moylan; R. Murphy, M. Harrington, J. Moylan.
Subs: T. Cullinane (Mulrooney 55); C. Lucey (Fitzgerald 59).
Referee: S. Roche (Tipperary).
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