*Éire Óg’s Danny Russell. Photograph: Chris Copley
It simply took a spark to finally ignite Éire Óg’s challenge and steer them into a sixth senior quarter-final in seven years in Cusack Park on Sunday afternoon.
Trailing a previously assured Cratloe by six points by the two-thirds mark, the Townies required a lifeline and it would inevitably come through poacher Danny Russell who instinctively pulled on a breaking ball from a defensive free to billow the net at 0-14 to 1-08.
It was the only goal of the contest and easily the most decisive score as a buoyant Éire Óg only grew in stature with every passing minute whereas in contrast a flagging Cratloe never recovered from that impactful sucker-punch.
In all, the Ennis side outscored the back-to-back finalists by 1-10 to 0-01 over the last 20 minutes which itself demonstrated the remarkable sea-change in proceedings.
Considering that Éire Óg also tallied 13 wides, a third successive defeat to Cratloe (following quarter-final meetings in 2014 and ’16) would have been a difficult pill to swallow. Fortunately, they avoided any such introspection as chief marksman Danny Russell (1-11), Shane O’Donnell, David Reidy and Darren O’Brien led a rousing charge to the finish line. Indeed, they had to equalise twice before finally taking the lead for the first time in the 56th minute from a Danny Russell free.
And by that stage, there was only one side with all the momentum as Reidy (2), Russell and substitute Niall O’Connor completed a merited victory.
Up to Russell’s goal, Éire Óg had been frustrated by seven first half wides as Cratloe, with the aid of the conditions in the opening period, led the way.
The sides traded points on three occasions by the tenth minute, with Russell’s frees matching Shane Neville (2) and David Collins points.
Rian Considine had a goal chance superbly tipped away by goalkeeper Philly Walsh a minute later but Cratloe persisted and in their most clincial period of the game, rallied with six unanswered points through as many different scorers to put clear daylight between the sides for the first time at 0-9 to 0-3 by the 23rd minute.
A misfiring Éire Óg did respond with the final three points of the half, two from the stick of Russell who almost broke the crossbar with the last at 0-9 to 0-6. However, with Cratloe regrouping at the break, Conor Earley’s men would snatch back the whip hand on the restart with five of the first seven points, three from Rian Considine frees, to restore a six point cushion by the 38th minute at 0-14 to 0-08.
Danny Russell’s opportunist goal altered matters irrevocably though as it provided the belief to push on for victory whereas Cratloe were uncharacteristically devoid of inspiration.
Indeed, finding it diffiult to even win their own puck-outs, Cratloe simply couldn’t hold out as a relentless Éire Óg fired the last seven points in all to book a quarter-final clash with Feakle next weekend.
Scorers for Éire Óg: Danny Russell (1-11, 7f); Shane O’Donnell, David Reidy (0-2 each): David McNamara, Nathan Murray, Niall O’Connor (0-1 each)
Scorers for Cratloe: Rian Considine (0-4f), Shane Neville (0-3); Podge Collins, Conor McGrath (0-2 each); David Collins, Liam Markham (’65), Shane Gleeson, Sean Collins (0-1 each)
1: Philly Walsh
4: Tadhg Connellan
3: Ciaran Russell
2: Conor O’Halloran
7: Aidan McGrath
6: Liam Corry
5: Niall McMahon
24: David Reidy
9: Mikey Moloney
10: David McNamara
8: Tom Downes
12: Kevin Brennan
13: Darren O’Brien
14: Shane O’Donnell
15: Danny Russell
26: Nathan Murray for Brennan (33)
22: Gavin Cooney for O’Halloran (40)
19: Niall O’Connor for D. Russell (63)
1: Gearoid Ryan
3: Mikey Hawes
7: Liam Markham
4: Shane O’Leary
5: Damien Browne
6: Diarmuid Ryan
17: Sean Chaplin
8: Sean Collins
9: David Collins
10: Shane Gleeson
11: Conor McGrath
12: Luke Healy
20: Shane Neville
13: Podge Collins
15: Rian Considine
25: Martin ‘Oige’ Murphy for Hawes (25, inj)
14: Cathal McInerney for Healy (30+2)
2: Enda Boyce for D. Collins (51)
Referee: Chris Maguire (Wolfe Tones)