AFTER a somewhat tentative start, Clare senior hurling champions Sixmilebridge produced an outstanding performance to overcome Midleton in the provincial senior club championship semi-final at Pairc Úi Caoimh on Sunday.
The ‘Bridge were fully deserving of the win, which gives them a Munster final date with Na Piarsaigh from Limerick on Sunday. The involvement of former Sixmilebridge great, Sean Stack, as manager of the Limerick outfit, will add spice to the tie.
Midleton, who had ended a 22-year wait for victory, in the Cork championship, had a two week break ahead of Sunday’s meeting, while the Clare champions captured their 11th title when defeating the holders Newmarket just seven days previously.
It took the Clare champions a while to settle and they can count themselves fortunate not to have been a few points behind at the end of the opening quarter, when Midleton were guilty of some poor shooting. They hit five wides in that period, some from very scoreable positions.
The first 15 minutes was a very low scoring affair, with each side managing just one score, Niall Gilligan pointing a free for the winners in the first minute and Conor Lehane replying when converting a ’65, five minutes later.
Gilligan opted to try for a goal when the Bridge were awarded a 20m free in front of goal in the 14th minute but he didn’t get a good strike on the ball and the effort was comfortable saved.
At the start of the second quarter, the tempo rose considerably. Good work by Seadna Morey led to a Pa Sheehan point but straight from the puck-out, Conor Lehane had the Cork champions level.
In the 18th minute, Jamie Shanahan delivered a superb 60m pass to Alan Mulready who scored the game’s opening goal. As play swung from end to end, scores came fast and with five minutes to play in the half, the winners had opened a four-point gap, 1-6 to 0-5. Gilligan, with a superb point, pushed the margin to five.
However, the Cork side finished the half strongly to leave just the minimum between the sides at the half-time break. Conor Lehane’s effort for a goal from a 20m free was saved but he followed up and drilled the rebound to the roof of the net. He followed with a point from a free to leave the score at 1-7 to 1-6 at the halfway point.
There was some great hurling in the opening minutes of the second half. Pa Sheehan and Gilligan, from a free, stretched the winner’s lead to three. In between those scores, the Clare champions lost Kevin Lynch to injury, with Sam O’Sullivan taking his place.
Two long-range efforts from midfielder Paul Haughney and one from Aidan Ryan had the teams level at 1-9 each, seven minutes into the half. Within a minute Niall Gilligan set up Pa Sheehan for the lead again and in the next nine minutes they went four clear, with points from Jamie Shanahan (3) and Seadna Morey.
Ten minutes from time, Midleton supporters were, for a brief moment, on their feet cheering for what they thought was a goal by Conor Lehane. However, the Cork star’s reaction when he hit the ball confirmed that the ball had hit the side netting. Lehane’s shot had come at the end of a great Midleton move and seconds later they came close again but Noel Purcell came to the rescue for the Clare champions and he cleared the danger.
From here to the finish, points were exchanged three times as the ’Bridge held firm for a merited victory, which gives them another Munster final appearance.
Voted man of the match in the Clare final, Jamie Shanahan sparkled on Sunday; as did Caimin Morey, team captain Aidan Quilligan, Shane Golden and Pa Sheehan. In a reshuffled side, Sheehan and Brian Carey started in place of Danny Morey and the injured Tadhg Keogh.
Midleton’s best were James Nagle, Padraig O’Mahony, Paul Haughney and Conor Lehane
Sixmilebridge: Derek Fahy; Brian Carey, Noel Purcell, Aidan Quilligan; Paudi Fitzpatrick, Caimin Morey, John Fennessy; Kevin Lynch, Jamie Shanahan; Rory Shanahan, Shane Golden, Seadna Morey; Alan Mulready, Niall Gilligan, Pa Sheehan.
Subs: Sam O’Sullivan for Lynch (inj) (34), Conor Deasy for R Shanahan (inj) (53), Danny Morey for Sheehan (inj) (58) and Brian Corry for Mulready (60).
Scorers: Jamie Shanahan (0-5, 4f), Alan Mulready (1-1), Niall Gilligan (2f), Pa Sheehan (0-3 each), Caimin Morey, Kevin Lynch, Seadna Morey, Shane Golden and Conor Deasy (0-1 each).
Wides: 4; frees for: 13; 65s: 1.
Bookings: Brian Carey.
Midleton: Tommy Walace; Killian Burke, Aylwin Kearney, Patrick O’Mahony; Seamus O’Farrell, Finbarr O’Mahony, James Nagle; Paul Haughney, Peter Dowling; Padraig O’Shea, Aidan Ryan, Conor Lehane; Luke O’Farrell, Cormac Walsh, Brian Hartnett.
Subs: Declan Ryan for P O’Shea (inj, 20) and Pádraig O’Keeffe for C Walsh (59).
Scorers: Conor Lehane (1-5, 0-4f), Cormac Walsh, Paul Haughney, Aidan Ryan (0-2 each), Tommy Wallace (f) and Luke O’Farrell (0-1 each).
Wides: 10; frees for: 10; 65s: 1.
Bookings: Pádraig O’Shea (11) and Seamus O’Farrell (34).
Referee: Johnnie Ryan, Tipperary.
Sports Editor Seamus Hayes