Ballyea secured top spot in Group 2 of the Clare SFC by grinding out a draw with Cratloe on Sunday afternoon.
Venue: Cusack Park, Ennis
Conor McGrath’s late contribution of 1-01 in the final six minutes of the contest looked to have sent Cratloe to top of the group but a late free from Niall Deasy from behind his own 45m line levelled matters and maintained their place at the head of the pile.
This result now means that the two time champions face rivals Kilmaley while Cratloe will do battle against an unbeaten Inagh/Kilnamona outfit.
Injuries impacted both sides before a ball was pucked, Tony Kelly (ankle) and Jack Browne (hamstring) ruled out the county duo for Ballyea while the quartet of Cathal McInerney, Enda Boyce, Micheál Hawes and Daithí Collins were unavailable for the South Clare men.
A lacklustre opening few passages did little to warm supporters to the heat of championship with the sides registering a combined five wides inside the first 210 seconds of the game.
Clare footballer Cathal O’Connor helped bring the game to life on six minutes intercepting a handpass from Shane O’Leary before firing the sliotar low past Gearoid Ryan. It would be the Coolmeen man’s first score in the Clare SHC and came as the ideal response to Shane Gleeson’s opening point.
Well-worked moves saw Cratloe settle with Diarmuid Ryan and Rian Considine both finding the target. However this was undone when Ballyea fired four points without reply, three from Niall Deasy placed balls and a white flag from O’Connor to leave them 1-04 0-03 ahead, the gap reduced by one at the first water break thanks to a Considine score.
This tight nature continued throughout the second quarter with a trademark Diarmuid Ryan point leaving the sides level pegging as the half-time whistle sounded.
Cratloe were the sharper of the sides in the third quarter but Ballyea fired the final three scores of this spell in succession to lead by one by at the final water break.
In an exciting final period, Cratloe looked to have edged it but up stepped Deasy with a pivotal free to ensure that neither side would collect their first loss of the championship.
Niall Deasy, Cathal O’Connor, Stan Lineen and Brian Murphy were most effective for the winners while Diarmuid Ryan, Liam Markham, David Collins and Conor McGrath were the standout players for the 2014 double champions.
Scorers Ballyea: N Deasy (0-10 7f 1’65), C O’Connor (1-01), M Gavin (0-02), A Griffin (0-01), C Brennan (0-01), P Lillis (0-01), S Lineen (0-01).
Scorers Cratloe: C McGrath (1-04), R Considine (0-05 3f), S Gleeson (0-02), D Ryan (0-02), S Neville (0-01), L Healy (0-01), S Collins (0-01), P Collins (0-01).
1: Barry Coote
4: Brian Murphy
3: Paul Flanagan
2: Peter Casey
5: James Murphy
7: Brandon O’Connell
19: Cian Meaney
11: Gary Brennan
9: Stan Lineen
12: Cathal O’Connor
10: Pearse Lillis
17: Cillian Brennan
13: Mossy Gavin
14: Niall Deasy
15: Aaron Griffin
18: Martin O’Leary for Griffin (55)
21: Morgan Garry for Gavin (62)
1: Gearoid Ryan
4: David Collins
3: Liam Markham
17: Shane O’Leary
5: Diarmuid Ryan
6: Damien Browne
7: Aaron Costigan
13: Conor McGrath
2: Sean Collins
10: Shane Gleeson
14: Padraic Collins
19: Luke Healy
12: Shane Neville
11: Rian Considine
22: Jack McInerney
24: Sean Chaplin for McInerney (37)
32: Sean Gallagher for Gleeson (42) (Inj)
21: Kevin Danaher for Healy (50)
23: Patrick O’Gorman for S Collins (64)
Referee: Rory McGann (Newmarket-on-Fergus)