Sixmilebridge may have retained their U-15 county title at Newmarket on Saturday but they did it the hard way.
Following an authoritative first-half performance, which saw them fashion a 3-9 to 2-2 lead, Sixmilebridge created four clear-cut goal chances in the third quarter and the opportunity to kill off the game.
None were taken, with Paul Finnan and Stephen Mulready hitting efforts into the side netting. The misses almost became costly as Clarecastle, who wrestled the initiative in the final quarter, pressed strongly. Their courageous performance had the ’Bridge on the back-foot and clinging on for dear life but their insistence in going for goals instead of picking off their points was probably unwise.
Sixmilebridge were quickest to settle and with Brian Corry causing problems in abundance for the Clarecastle rearguard with his searing pace, it was he who grabbed the opening goal when capitalising on a defensive mistake. He also chipped in with two points for good measure.
Jamie Shanahan, at the head of the attack, and the industrious Brian Carey at midfield, were pivotal in establishing that early dominance. The advantage could have been greater but for an excellent save by Clarecastle keeper, Conor Liddy to deny Paul Finnan from close range.
Working the ball well when going forward, Clarecastle crept their way into the match. Ten minutes from the break, they had their opening goal when Mikie Casey was on hand to whip a rebound to the net after ’Bridge captain Dylan Fleming had beaten out an effort from Cian Crimmins.
However, the response from the holders was instantaneous. From the puck-out, Brian Corry raced through the defence to place Stephen Mulready for a goal and give the ’Bridge a 2-7 to 1-2 lead.
But Clarecastle responded almost immediately and Mikie Casey caught a delivery from Stephen Ward to find the net for a second time.
With the lead more manageable at just five points, crucially Sixmilebridge struck for a third goal just before the break. Again Brian Corry was at the centre of the attack. He earned the 20m free that Jamie Shanahan duly dispatched to the net.
Holding a 10-point lead at the break, the ’Bridge were in a commanding position and, in truth, they should have wrapped up the game in the third quarter but for their wastefulness.
They left Clarecastle in the game and the Magpies drew encouragement from that. They battled bravely and their comeback was kick-started when Mikie Casey blasted a free, earned by impressive substitute Jack McDermott, to the net.
They then bagged another when Joseph Barry gathered Bobby Duggan’s pinpoint cross and he beat Dylan Fleming all ends up.
Although Bobby Duggan, from a free, and Paul Finnan swapped points, it was Clarecastle who were doing all the pressing.
Darragh McNamara made some crucial interventions at full-back, while Dylan Fleming played a captain’s part between the posts with some crucial stops as time eventually ran out on Clarecastle.
The victory capped a hugely successful underage season for Sixmilebridge as they won the four A titles from U-12 to U-16.
The winners had excellent displays from Dylan Fleming, Darragh McNamara, Conor Deasy, Brian Carey, Jamie Shanahan and Brian Corry, while Mark McGuane, Tommy Howard, Stephen Ward, Mikie Casey, Joseph Barry, Cian Crimmins and Bobby Duggan stood out for Clarecastle.
Sixmilebridge: Dylan Fleming; Keith Slattery, Darragh McNamara, Mark Hehir; Conor Deasy (0-1), John Mulready, Kevin Fennessy; Eoin McMahon, Brian Carey; Stephen Mulready (1-0), Jamie Shanahan (1-5), Brian Corry (1-3); Jamie Williams, Alex Morey (0-1), Paul Finnan (0-2).
Subs: Michael Lynch for Williams, Barry Fitzpatrick for Slattery and Shane McInerney for Lynch.
Clarecastle: Conor Liddy; Joseph Barry (1-1), Conor Clancy, Tommy Howard; John McInerney, Gearóid Ryan, Conor Galvin; Stephen Ward (0-1), Mark McGuane; PJ Dolan, Michael Casey (3-1), Aaron Greene; Cian Crimmins (0-1), Robert Duggan (0-2), Jonathan Griffey.
Subs: Jack McDermott for Dolan, PJ Dolan for Griffey and Pat Tuohy for Greene.
Referee: Ger Hoey (Killanena).