Munster Senior Football Club Championship Quarter-Final: Miltown, St Joseph’s 1-11 Rathgormack (Waterford) 0-11.
AIB market the club championships as The Toughest, and it was easy to see why in Hennessey Park on Sunday afternoon as the Clare champions battled their way to a last four spot.
The crowd of 1,816 that braved the bitingly cold breeze were treated to a tense affair as two evenly matched sides produced a thriller. The Deise outfit had to play the final quarter with 14 men after corner back Cathal Crowch picked up a second yellow card, but they rallied to kick the last two scores of the game to force extra-time.
Throughout the normal time period, there were never more than two points between the sides and they shared parity on six different occasions, including at the end of 60 minutes. It might have held dry until the final whistle was blown, but a strong Atlantic winter breeze that cut across the field made for difficult conditions for scoring, with keeping possession being the name of the game. Goals will always prove huge scores in games like this, and it held true once more as Eoin Cleary’s belter in the 22nd minute following a brilliant delivery from Seanie Malone would ultimately prove the difference.
When leaders were needed for Miltown, they emerged all over the field but it was the performance of Cormac Murray in particular that stood out more than most. His work rate in tracking back was as impressive as his willingness to make the unselfish runs up front, while his ability to win his own ball and use it intelligently was crucial. He might not have got on the scoreboard until the 6th minute of extra-time, but his contribution before that was as vital as the two points he fired over. Conor Cleary continued to show his class with a powerful midfield performance while Eoin’s reputation as one of the best forwards in the country continued to grow as he accounted for 1-5 of the Miltown tally. They will feel they left scores behind them too though, with 10 wides over the course of the contest being an obvious point to work on ahead of this weekend’s showdown with Clonmel Commercials. It was a defensively solid performance with Gordon Kelly anchoring the back six while Sean O’Brien’s pinpoint restarts were of their usual high standard.
Kieran Malone was another who was outstanding throughout as he helped himself to 0-4 from play, and it was the county man who opened the scoring inside the first minute. His driving run through the heart of the Rathgormack defence saw the space open up and while the goal was gaping, he opted for the point to settle any early nerves. It was a blistering start from Miltown and the lively Murray saw his shot saved by Padraig Hunt in the Rathgormack goal when the point may have been the better option. Ratahgormack grew into the game with chief marksman Jason Curry levelling proceedings from placed balls. Graham Kelly’s presence in the full-forward line gave Miltown an outlet to aim for, and he did well to tee up Eoin Cleary to put them back into the lead. Robbie Flynn and Cleary traded scores as neither side could seem to assert any dominance on the contest, with Kieran Malone and James Power swapping points to see them level at 0-4 each after the opening quarter.
Rathgormack were playing with confidence with Jason Gleeson and Conor Murray posing problems for the Miltown defence. Another Curry free sent them back into the lead but it would prove to be the last time they were ahead in the contest, as Eoin Cleary blasted to the net after stealing a march inside and being spotted by the roving Seanie Malone. It should have been a score that signalled the time for Miltown to kick on, but Rathgormack struck back with an excellent Conor Murray point to leave just a point between them at the break.
Kieran Malone profited from more tireless work from Graham Kelly to open the second half scoring, but indiscipline in defence was punished as two more Curry frees levelled matters at the turn of the final quarter. A hammer blow for the home side almost materialised when William Hahessey’s break created an opening for Stephen Curry to find the net but he was off target. It seemed to spark Miltown into gear with two from Cleary, including a cracker off his right, put them back into control on the scoreboard. One of those was from a free, which came when Crowch picked up his second yellow for a foul on the hard working Cormac Murray. There was plenty more drama to come as Conor Murray lashed over a brilliant point from distance before converted what was a questionable free to level the game and force the added period. There was more drama to come though as Eoin Cleary had the chance from a difficult free to win the game that just tailed wide, while captain Gordon Kelly would miss out on the extra-time after picking up a late black card.
The extra-time period was all about Miltown as two from Murray and one from Eoin Cleary saw them build up the biggest lead of the game so far as they led 1-10 to 0-10 at the break. The lead became four early in the second period as Malone profited from good work by Cleary and Murray to score, while it took until three minutes from time for Curry to register Rathgormack’s only point in extra time. There was a few hairy moments late on as the Miltown goal was under siege but Sean O’Brien was in no mood to be beaten. He kept his goal intact with an excellent diving save to claw the ball away to safety late on after a flicked effort from close range while he also gathered the resultant 45m free to clear his lines. Another 45m free materialised but fittingly it was Conor Cleary underneath it to lift the siege and set up a last four showdown with Clonmel Commercials on Sunday.
Miltown: Sean O’Brien; Enda O’Gorman, Seanie Malone, Eoin O’Brien; Aidan McGuane, Gordon Kelly, Gearoid Curtin; Oisin Looney, Conor Cleary; Micheál Murray, Eoin Cleary, Kieran Malone; Brian Curtin, Graham Kelly, Cormac Murray.
Subs: Shane Curtin for O’Gorman, Jamesie O’Connor for Gordon Kelly (black card). Euan Reidy for M. Murray, Enda Fox for Looney, Eoin Curtin for Graham Kelly, M. Murray for Curtin (inj), O’Connor for Graham Kelly, Colin Hehir for M. Murray.
Scorers: Eoin Cleary (1-5, 1f), Kieran Malone (0-4), Cormac Murray (0-2).
Rathgormack: Padraig Hunt; Cathal Crowch, Conor Walsh, Liam Connolly; William Hahessey, Michael Curry, Robbie Flynn; Tom Walsh, Jason Curry; James Power, Stephen Curry, Billy Power; Conor Murray, Paul Drohan, Jason Gleeson.
Subs: Ronan Cahill for Connolly, Declan Hennebry for Flynn, Jamie Kirwan for Power, John Kirwan for Drohan, Flynn for Tom Walsh.
Scorers: Jason Curry (0-7, 5f), Conor Murray (0-2), James Power and Robbie Flynn (0-1 each).
Ref: David Murnane (Cork).