Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Clare’s Super Sunday was completed when Éire Óg finally halted Loughmore-Castleiney’s momentum-fuelled dual run after a superb extra-time display in front of 1.589 in Cusack Park this afternoon.

Éire Óg, Inis 2-11
Loughmore-Castleiney 0-12
Venue: Cusack Park, Ennis

After sobering provincial defeats for Ballyea, Ballyvaughan and even a frustrated Smith O’Briens, the county craved a Banner bandwagon to join Ogonnelloe, with first Corofin and then Éire Óg responding in spectacular fashion to book their places at the penultimate stage of Munster.

It had to take a clinical brace of goals for the Townies to prevail against a Loughmore-Castleiney side that had built up an unflinching bank of resoluteness over 18 successive weekend of championship action.

With only one defeat in that time, the Mid-Tipp powerhouses had garnered a senior hurling and football double in truly unprecedented dramatic circumstances. However, while that narrative overshadowed their hosts heading into this Munster opener, it’s Éire Óg that are now firmly in the spotlight after the gritty manner of their victory.

In truth, it was no more than the Clare champions deserved after leading for all but four of the 80 minutes. Granted, they may not have been as ruthless as some previous displays but crucially they kept persevering and eventually got their rewards when Aaron Fitzgerald and Mark McInerney goaled in a three minute blitz in the first period of extra-time to open up a five point cushion that they would protect until the final whistle.

Expectedly, there would be a Loughmore-Castleiney backlash as substitute Evan Sweeney kicked a brace of points to leave just a goal between the sides by the 74th minute. However, Éire Óg’s fresh legs were even more influential as Eimhin Courtney first just over the crossbar before Ikem Ugwueru scored a fitting insurance point from 40 metres in the 79th minute.

Even then, the Tipperary champions refused to drop their heads as a last gasp interception teed up John McGrath for what seemed a certain goal before goalkeeper Nathan Murray heroically came to his side’s rescue with a brilliant stop.

It wouldn’t have affected the result but having built up an enviable record of six previous clean sheets, Éire Óg’s miserly defence were determined to maintain that proud run.

All 21 used played their part in a memorable day for Éire Óg that began in encouraging fashion when kicking four points in a row through Gavin Cooney (2), Mark McInerney and Darren O’Neill to move 0-5 to 0-2 clear by the first water break before the captain added a fifth on the restart.

With Loughmore-Castleiney down to 14 men following a needless black card for Eamon Connolly, Éire Óg were expected to put further daylight between the sides, only to be met by a determined rebuttal from the visitors.

Cousins Noel, Liam and Aidan McGrath slashed the arrears to the minimum by the break at 0-6 to 0-5 but any further inroads were hampered by five erratic wides on the resumption. This time Éire Óg did capitalise as sumptuous counter-attacks either side of the final water break were finished by Mark McInerney and Einne O’Connor to blaze 0-9 to 0-6 ahead by the 50th minute.

Game over? Not even close as amidst the dismissal of home midfielder Darren O’Neill for a black card on top of an earlier yellow, Loughmore-Castleiney snatched back the impetus to throw everything at their hosts for the remainder.

A brace of Liam Treacy frees got the deficit down to one before what seemed a critical juncture by the hour mark when a missed free for Éire Óg was punished from the kick-out by a John McGrath equaliser that would force extra-time.

McGrath would double the dose with a 40 metre free on the restart to put Loughmore-Castleiney 0-10 to 0-9 ahead. However, one simply couldn’t question Éire Óg’s character either as first Ciaran Russell played an inch-perfect pass for the overlapping Fitzgerald to fire low to the far left corner of the net before another counter-attack saw Dara Walsh tee up McInerney for the decisive second major.

Being their first provincial victory in 21 years, Éire Óg are now only 60 minutes away from a first ever Munster Senior Club Final when taking on new Cork champions St Finbarr’s in a fortnight’s time. Amazingly, Loughmore-Castleiney are in a similar boat in hurling albeit with far less time to recover as they make the long trip to Dungarvan next Sunday to take on Ballyea’s conquerors Ballygunner.

Scorers for Éire Óg: Mark McInerney 1-2 (1f); Gavin Cooney 0-4 (2f); Aaron Fitzgerald 1-0; Philip Talty, Darren O’Neill, Einne O’Connor, Eimhin Courtney, Ikem Ugwueru 0-1 each

Scorers for Loughmore-Castleiney: John McGrath (1f), Evan Sweeney (1f) 0-3 each; Liam Treacy 0-2 (2f); Eamon Connolly (m), Noel McGrath, Liam McGrath, Aidan McGrath 0-1 each

Éire Óg
1: Nathan Murray

4: Ronan Lanigan
3: Aaron Fitzgerald
2: Manus Doherty

7: Ciaran Russell
6: Conall Ó hAiniféin
5: Einne O’Connor

8: Darren O’Neill
9: David McNamara

12: Niall McMahon
20: David Reidy
10: Aidan McGrath

15: Mark McInerney
14: Gavin Cooney
13: Philip Talty

Subs:
11: Ikem Ugwueru for McMahon (40)
19: Dara Walsh for Talty (47)
18: Tadhg Connellan for McGrath (54)
17: Eimhin Courtney for Cooney (61)
21: Jarlath Collins for Cooney (75)
24: Gavin D’Auria for Reidy (77, inj)
13: Talty for Ó hAiniféin (81)

Loughmore-Castleiney:
1: Shane Hennessy

2: Lorcan Egan
3: Joey Hennessy
4: Willie Eviston

5: John Ryan
6: Ed Meagher
18: Brian McGrath

9: Eamon Connolly
11: John McGrath

15: Conor McGrath
8: Liam Treacy
14: Aidan McGrath

13: Conor Ryan
12: Noel McGrath
10: Liam McGrath

Subs:
17: Evan Sweeney for Conor McGrath (39)
19: Ciaran McGrath for Connolly (44)
20: John Meagher for E. Meagher (47)
22: Tomás McGrath for C. Ryan (47)
26: Ed Connolly for A. McGrath (65)
6: E. Meagher for Egan (70)
9: Eamonn Connolly for Treacy (70),

Referee: David Murnane (Cork)

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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