Newtown’s ‘big three’ to the rescue

A SUPERB contest in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday as Limerick three-in-a-row champions Adare defied predictions and really put it up to heavy favourites Newtownshandrum in this Munster Club SHC semi-final.

They were denied ultimately only by the enduring magnificence of Newtown’s big three of centre-back Pat Mulcahy, and the O’Connor twins, Ben and Jerry.

True, this was another fine team display by the Cork champions, from the tenacious Jerry O’Mahony at corner-back to youngster Jamie Coughlan at the other end, every player in green-and-gold contributed, none more than captain Dermot Gleeson.

Still, when the chips were down, the game tied and in the balance with only eight minutes to go (1-12 each), it was that old trio of the unflappable Mulcahy at the heart of the defence, Ben in the midfield arena, and Jerry up front, who were to the fore.

Five points Newtown managed in those decisive closing minutes – three from Ben, and one beauty each from Jerry and Michael Bowles – against two from Adare’s outstanding performer, Declan Hannon. But when the final whistle sounded it was still Adare on the attack, looking for that equalising goal. They were denied, Mark Foley’s last-ditch 65 dropping far too short. But in a game that offered great value to the 2,378 souls who made the trip from north Cork and west Limerick, Newtownshandrum were well tested.

“We expected a great match,” said Newtown manager Phil Noonan, “We’ve been watching these guys winning Limerick for the last three years, and they should have won Munster last year, if they’d taken their chances against De La Salle in the final. They came here with nothing to lose, we were hot favourites, but we stood up when it counted. It was a great second half, there wasn’t a moment we could relax, right to the finish.”

Two points apiece it was in the sixth minute, when two big body-hits by two Adare half-backs – Mark Foley and Paul Keane – saw two Newtown players down and receiving attention. Both hits were marginally late, merited the yellow cards shown by referee Pat Casey, and both PJ Copse and Jerry O’Connor, the two victims, were wide open.

Mind you, there were several other hits – on the flying Cathal Naughton especially – that went well beyond the line, and in the first half especially, the Newtown supporters were left baffled by some of the referee’s calls.

By the end, however, the pendulum had swung, with the Adare fans now venting their wrath. “It was very hard to tell what he was blowing for at times,” said Noonan. “At least he was fair, I don’t think he favoured either side, but when you have a good free-taker it makes it very difficult.”

The ‘good free-taker’ Phil was referring to wasn’t his own Ben O’Connor, fine and all a day as Ben had; it was Adare youngster Declan Hannon.

One point was the Newtown lead at half-time, 1-8 to 1-7 – Declan had scored all 1-7 for Adare. Six of those points had come from frees, a few truly baffling, not least the awarding of a free against Newtown for having taken a fast free of their own. The goal, however, was the real peach. Third minute of injury time, Newtown having edged four points in front despite playing into the breeze. A typical quick-fire passing move out of defence that started with Pat Mulcahy, went through PJ Copse and Jamie Coughlan, before ending in the hands of full-forward Jamie Bowles, who blasted home.

Adare were in trouble but when young Hannon stepped back a few paces from the ball, he had one thing on his mind. And still, there was nothing a packed Newtown goalmouth could do about it – goal.

That sums it up, really. With Adare defending like tigers – the full-back line of Stephen Lavin, John Paul Healy and Stephen O’Connell outstanding – Newtown never got into full stride, but instead, and as they had to do against Thurles Sars in the first round, were forced to dig this one out.

Four points Newtown went ahead in the 42nd minute, four points in a row the magnificent Hannon scored to level the match, 1-11 each.

Ben O’Connor edged Newtown ahead again, before Donncha Sheehan became the only scorer for Adare other than Declan Hannon to level it again. Then that finish, and as Phil Noonan said, when the chips were down, Newtown chiselled out the win. Good enough on the day, but will it be enough against the even more physical Ballygunner?

Scorers for Newtown: B. O’Connor 0-10 (0-8f, 0-1 65); J. O’Connor 0-3; J. Bowles 1-0; PJ Copse, R. Clifford, M. Bowles, J. Coughlan, 0-1.

Adare: D. Hannon 1-13 (1-9f); D. Sheehan 0-1.

NEWTOWNSHANDRUM: W. Biggane; J. O’Mahony, B. Mulcahy, D. Gleeson (c); S. O’Riordan, P. Mulcahy, P. Noonan; PJ Copse, C. Naughton; R. Clifford, Jerry O’Connor, M. Bowles; J. Coughlan, J. Bowles, B. O’Connor.

Subs: JP King (J. Bowles 46); J. Herlihy (Clifford 50).

ADARE: T. Houlihan; S. Lavin, JP Healy, S. O’Connell; R. Kennedy, M. Foley, P. Keane; W. McNamara, A. O’Rahilly; D. Hannon, B. Foley, C. Fitzgerald; L. Costello, A. O’Connell, D. Sheehan. Subs: J. Fitzgibbon (A. O’Connell 27); M. Clifford (Kennedy 30); M. Noonan (Costello 45).

Referee: P. Casey (Waterford).


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