*Shane Neville & Conor McGrath try to dispossess Seanie Malone. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill.
Cratloe deservedly advanced to their fifth consecutive Senior Football Championship Semi-Final after a powerful finish saw them produce a dramatic seven point turnaround to end St Joseph’s Miltown’s two year reign in Cusack Park on Sunday evening.
St Josephs Miltown 2-08
Venue: Cusack Park, Ennis
This was vintage Cratloe, full of unflinching determination and intensity as despite being sucker-punched by the concession of a goal either side of half-time to fall five in arrears, the 2013 and ’14 champions never wavered and would up the ante sufficiently to outscore the holders by 0-8 to 0-1 in the final 25 minutes.
All that despite losing Conor McGrath to a ten minute sin bin entering the final quarter as Cratloe pushed up on their opponent’s kick-out to lay siege on Miltown when needed most.
Indeed, the beauty of sport and more pointedly championship fare is its unpredictability as this was a complete role reversal of their respective play-off victories at the beginning of the weekend. St Joseph’s Miltown 15 point dismantling of Cooraclare on Thursday night was in contrast to Cratloe’s laboured win over Clondegad 24 hours later. But while Miltown seemed as if they couldn’t be stopped and Cratloe appearing as if they couldn’t get started properly, it was a vastly different experience this time around.
In a seesaw opening half, the champions raced into a three point advantage by the end of the opening quarter as Eoin Cleary (2), captain Seanie Malone and newcomer Cian Mahoney cemented a 0-4 to 0-1 cushion.
Cratloe did carve out two potential goal chances in that period but Rian Considine’s run was checked just in time while a subsequent effort from Conor McGrath was blocked by Gordon Kelly. Still, with their influence growing, Cratloe did have better luck over Sean O’Brien’s crossbar with five of the next six points, three from their previous missing link Cathal McInerney, to inch ahead for the very first time at 0-6 to 0-5 by the 27th minute.
Arguably against the run of play, Miltown unearthed a trademark goal though after Kevin Keavey’s high delivery was excellently fielded and offloaded by Cormac Murray into the path of Eoin Cleary to billow the net on their way to a 1-6 to 0-8 interval lead.
Within a minute of the restart, it looked to be game over as the champions breached Cratloe’s defence through Micheál Murray’s incisive run and finish to ease 2-6 to 0-8 clear. And that gap would be stretched to five by the 33rd minute when Eoin Cleary earned and converted a free.
It was a position that Miltown would invariably thrive on to control matters for the remainder and suffocate their opponents into submission. However, it would be a further 27 minutes before the next Miltown score, by which time a defiant Cratloe had kicked seven unanswered points to soar into the ascendancy.
It was a gradual sea-change that was initially spurred by a three point blitz in as many minutes from placed balls through McInerney (2) and Conal O’Hanlon, with the latter also flashing a goal chance wide soon afterwards.
McInerney’s fourth free of the evening lessened the damage to just the minimum by the two-thirds mark but a black card for McGrath appeared to be a potential blow to Cratloe’s hopes of regaining parity in the 45th minute.
If anything, it only motivated Colm Collins’ side to new heights as they ravenously hunted down Miltown’s kick-outs. Along with a superb Michael Brennan equaliser, Cratloe were somehow denied a goal twice in the 54rd minute as Cathal McInerney’s first shot was blocked by Seanie Malone while Shane Neville’s rebound was brilliantly scrambled off the line by Eoin O’Brien.
Cratloe never relented and after McInerney nudged them in front in the 54th minute, the return of Conor McGrath helped garner a two point lead by the 57th minute when O’Hanlon converted a free in the left corner at 0-15 to 2-07.
With their championship lives on the line, there was finally a response from the holders who picked themselves off the canvas with an Eoin Cleary free before passing up a guilt edged opportunity at a leveller in the next passage of play that would have probably ensured extra-time.
Instead, a relieved Cratloe countered and fittingly it was Cathal McInerney that inflicted the telling blow with his eighth point to issue a timely statement of championship intent that they now have the added ingredient of momentum ahead of the final four in a fortnight’s time.
Scorers for Cratloe: Cathal McInerney (0-8, 5f); Conal O’Hanlon (0-4f); Podge Collins, (0-2); Liam Markham, Michael Brennan (0-1 each)
Scorers for St Joseph’s Miltown: Eoin Cleary (1-5, 4f); Micheál Murray (1-0); Seanie Malone, Cian Mahoney, Kevin Keavey (0-1 each)
1: Pierce De Loughrey
4: David Collins
3: Michael Brennan
17: Enda Boyce
5: Martin ‘Oige’ Murphy
6: Sean Collins
7: Liam Markham
9: Diarmuid Ryan
10: Shane Gleeson
11: Podge Collins
12: Conal O’Hanlon
22: Shane Neville
13: Cathal McInerney
14: Conor McGrath
15: Rian Considine
2: Sean Chaplin for Boyce (50)
8: Billy Sheehan for Gleeson (53)
24: Killian Phair for Neville (65)
St Joseph’s Miltown
1: Sean O’Brien
15: Brian Curtin
3: Seanie Malone
2: Eoin O’Brien
5: Aidan McGuane
6: Gordon Kelly
18: Colin Hehir
8: Oisin Looney
9: Conor Cleary
14: Cormac Murray
10: Micheál Murray
24: Cian Mahoney
13: Graham Kelly
11: Eoin Cleary
20: Ger Malone
19: Kevin Keavey for Graham Kelly (21, inj)
7: Euan Reidy for G. Malone (HT)
24: Sean Malone for Mahoney (50)
21: Cian Flanagan for M. Murray (54, inj)
Referee: Chris Maguire (Wolfe Tones)