*Conor McGrath. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
It was effectively a case of all’s well that ends well for Cratloe after an injury-time brace from Diarmuid Ryan cemented a place in Sunday’s quarter-final against holders St Joseph’s Miltown.
Venue: Cusack Park, Ennis
Don’t let the final scoreline mislead you though as this was predominantly not an encounter for the memory bank. Being a full month since the sides’ last action and even then there wasn’t much to write home about, ringrustiness abounded in Cusack Park on Friday evening in a game that failed to live up to its heightened billing.
That won’t unduly perturb Cratloe though as getting back to winning ways was the most crucial factor following an enforced lay-off. So while they underwhelmed for long periods, the most encouraging factor was that in contrast to their hurling exit to Éire Óg five days previously, this time Cratloe were the ones to power past the finish line.
Level at 0-7 to 0-7 by the 37th minute, Cratloe would outscore a faltering Clondegad by 2-4 to 0-2 for the remainder, with Ryan’s opportunist late goal rush finally putting the result beyond any doubt.
Even without that fleshing out of the final margin, Cratloe merited their first championship triumph, once wiping out Gary Brennan’s opening free. With an unusual crossfield wind permeating around Cusack Park, neither side could fully benefit but it was Cratloe that snatched the whip hand through the returning Cathal McInerney (2), Conal O’Hanlon (2) and the lively Podge Collins to move 0-5 to 0-2 clear by the water break.
Clondegad did have the better of the second quarter but disaster would befall them in the 22nd minute when Gary Brennan, positioned at full-forward, fielded a Joe Neylon delivery to bear down on goal, only to see his effort come back off the far left post. It would prove a double whammy as for the former Clare captain injured his foot in executing that chance and had to limp worryingly off the field.
It was a seismic blow to Clondegad’s gameplan but to their credit did rally to lessen the half-time damage to two at 0-6 to 0-4 before maintaining that determined push on the restart.
Impressive substitute Daniel Kelly, Morgan Garry and key driving force James Murphy eventually regained parity seven minutes into the new half. However, that was as effective as their attacking division would be as they largely failed to penetrate Cratloe’s defensive shield thereafter.
Instead, Cratloe got back on track with unanswered points through Cathal McInerney, Conor McGrath and Conal O’Hanlon to put some daylight between the sides as the clock ticked inexorably down.
A Daniel Kelly free did lower the arrears to two entering six minutes of additional time but it would be game over in the next passage of play as Diarmuid Ryan raced through to billow the roof of the net.
Four minutes later, Ryan would better his first effort as he cut in from the right corner and after his initial shot was saved by goalkeeper Declan O’Loughlin, the county senior hurler flicked the rebound to the net and settle matters.
It’s only the first step on their road to redemption though as Cratloe will require a shift through the gears if they are to garner their fifth successive semi-final appearance. After all, standing obstinately in their way are defending champions St Joseph’s Miltown, fresh from their 15 point trimming of Cooraclare, for Sunday’s winner-takes-all play-off back in Cusack Park at 5pm.
Scorers for Cratloe: Diarmuid Ryan (2-0); Cathal McInerney (0-5f); Conal O’Hanlon (0-3, 2f); Podge Collins (0-2); Conor McGrath (0-1)
Scorers for Clondegad: Gary Brennan (2f), Daniel Kelly (f), James Murphy (0-2 each); Joe Neylon, Eoghan Donnellan, Morgan Garry (0-1 each)
1: Pierce De Loughrey
3: Michael Brennan
4: David Collins
2: Sean Chaplin
7: Liam Markham
6: Sean Collins
5: Martin ‘Oige’ Murphy
9: Diarmuid Ryan
12: Conal O’Hanlon
8: Billy Sheehan
15: Rian Considine
10: Shane Gleeson
13: Cathal McInerney
11: Podge Collins
14: Conor McGrath
22: Shane Neville for Sheehan (38)
17: Enda Boyce for Considine (40)
20: Sean Hynan for Chaplin (49)
18: Damien Browne for Gleeson (63)
1: Declan O’Loughlinn
2: Cormac Ryan
3: Conor Gavin
6: Cillian Brennan
7: Tadhg Lynch
18: Brian Murphy
5: Francie Neylon
8: James Murphy
30: Brandon O’Connell
10: Cormac Reidy
12: Morgan Garry
11: Joe Neylon
13: Barry Toner
15: Eoghan Donnellan
9: Gary Brennan
19: Daniel Kelly for G. Brennan (26, Inj)
21: Eoin Glynn for J. Neylon (41)
14: Ryan Jennings for Lynch (49)
26: Peter Casey for F. Neylon (53)
23: Mark Crowe for Garry (60, inj)
Referee: Wayne King (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield)