*Scariff celebrate. Photograph: Gary Collins
Sheer necessity finally inched a determined Scariff over the line as they relievedly made it third time lucky to cement a first Intermediate Hurling Final appearance in 38 years following an epic heavyweight derby bout with a truly gallant Smith O’Brien’s in Sixmilebridge on Sunday evening.
Smith O’Briens 0-21
Venue : O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge
With the sides level on no fewer than 12 occasions over what extended to a 90 minute extra-time slugfest and never more than a puck of the ball between them at any stage, it eventually had to take a slice of luck at one end and a moment of defiance at the other to finally separate these worthy opponents.
Indeed, those wafer-thin margins was exemplified by a fittingly frenetic crescendo as Mark Rodgers benefitted from immense goalkeeper Adrian Power’s valorous attempt to prevent a Conor Hayes point in the 77th minute, to scramble home the only goal of a compelling encounter.
But the drama was far from over as with neither side deserving to be on the losing side and penalties seemingly the only solution for long periods of extra-time, this ultimate derby was in fact decided by a penalty deep into injury-time when Scariff goalkeeper Liam Doyle expertly tipped over Tommy Reddan’s effort.
It was a cruel twist to end such a thrilling semi-final tie, particularly as Smith O’Brien’s never once took a back step despite this being their second 80 minute knock-out battle in the space of seven days.
Scariff meanwhile had a three week lead-in but appeared more ring-rusty than fresh for large chunks of this penultimate stage clash, their third in as many seasons. Consequently, it took both scorers-in-chief Diarmaid Nash and Mark Rodgers to match Tommy Reddan’s unerring freetaking as amazingly Scariff and Smith O’Brien’s fared better into the strong conditions.
Smith O’Brien’s had its aid in the opening period but had to bow to Scariff’s early push through Nash and Rodgers’ placed balls at 0-6 to 0-3. However, the Killaloe/Bridgetown side never wavered and stood up to the challenge through the electric Reddan along with two top drawer saves by goalkeeper Power.
First parrying a Shane Corry effort, Power’s reflexes somehow managed to tip away a Conor McNamara thunderbolt to inspire a full Smith O’Brien’s recovery by half-time at 0-9 to 0-8. And having dismissed any nagging self-doubts of three previous semi-final reverses in five years, Smith O’Brien’s only grew in confidence as the second half developed.
A Redden hat-trick of points in as many minutes on the restart nudged his side three clear by the 35th minute, with Mikey Gough denied a goal soon afterwards when goalkeeper Doyle smothered his attempt.
Back came Scariff with a similar rally, that included another Power stop from McNamara, before Diarmaid Nash (2) and Patrick Ryan regained parity for the sixth time at 0-13 to 0-13 by the end of the third quarter.
From there to the finish, it would be an anxious blow-for-blow derby on four more occasions before Scariff substitute Sean Minogue forced a merited extra 20 minutes at 0-17 to 0-17.
That pattern would be maintained into the additional periods too as singles for Mark Rodgers and replacement Conor Hayes were equalled by the irrepressible Reddan by the midway mark at 0-19 apeice.
With fatigue inevitably setting in, it looked as if neither side wanted to win it. But the pivotal break would fall Scariff’s way in the 77th minute when a Diarmaid Nash free from his own ’65 broke to Conor Hayes whose effort for a leading point was clawed back from over the crossbar by Adrian Power, only to fall to the welcome path of Mark Rodgers to flick to the net.
Far from wallowing in self-pity, Smith O’Brien’s went immediately on the offensive once more, with Mikey Gough earning a 20 metre free that was stopped by Liam Doyle. But in the resulting scramble, Tommy Reddan was handed a second bite of the cherry, this time an injury-time penalty to potentially equalise for the 13th time.
It wasn’t to be however as his accurate effort was tipped over the bar by Doyle. So while Reddan lowered the arrears to just the minimum with a subsequent free, time ultimately ran out for Smith O’Brien’s as Scariff clung on for a famous victory.
What an advertisement this was for intermediate hurling and while Scariff are now preparing for a final showdown with Tubber next weekend, Smith O’Brien’s, while understandably crestfallen, should be exceptionally proud of their relentless never-say-die performance.
On the flip side, after the heartbreak of semi-final losses to Feakle and particularly St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield in back-to-back semi-finals, falling over the line by any means possible was essential to Scariff’s development path.
And with that monkey now off their backs, it could be the perfect release to play with freedom in the decider. Perversely, taking a leaf out of Smith O’Brien’s undying valiance wouldn’t be out of place if they are to reclaim their senior status after a six year gap.
Scorers for Scariff: Mark Rodgers (1-6, 4f, 1s/l); Diarmaid Nash (0-6, 5f); Conor McNamara (0-2); Tomás McNamara, Patrick Ryan, Michael Barrett, Sean Minogue, Conor Hayes (0-1 each)
Scorers for Smith O’Brien’s: Tommy Reddan (0-14, 1 Pen, 9f, 1’65); Eddie Bourke (0-2); Mark Stritch, Dwane Sheedy, Mikey O’Shea, Cathal Stritch, Keith Stritch (0-1 each)
1: Liam Doyle
4: Padraig Brody
3: Michael Scanlan
2: Cathal Madden
5: Conor Moloney
6: Daniel Treacy
7: Diarmaid McNamara
8: Tomás McNamara
9: Diarmaid Nash
12: Patrick Ryan
11: Ross Horan
10: Shane Corry
13: Fergus Madden
14: Mark Rodgers
15: Conor McNamara
20: Michael Barrett for Corry (24)
25: Sean Minogue for Horan (49)
19: Conor Hayes for F. Madden (49)
21: John Scanlan for Minogue (70)
10: Shane Corry for C. McNamara (76, inj)
23: Martin Cunningham for Ryan (79)
11: Ross Horan for Brody (83, inj)
16: Adrian Power
12: Micheál Ryan
3: Cian Nolan
4: Cian Maloney
5: Dwane Sheedy
6: Cathal Stritch
8: David Gough
9: Eddie Bourke
10: Marc O’Halloran
18: Mark Stritch
11: Mikey O’Shea
7: Evan Connolly
2: Mikey Gough
14: Keith Stritch
15: Tommy Reddan
17: Declan Power for O’Halloran (53)
23: Pa Aherne for O’Shea (54)
22: Kevin Walsh for Sheedy (59)
26: Kevin McEvoy for Maloney (60, inj)
10: Marc O’Halloran for McEvoy (70)
25: David O’Shea for Aherne (76)
1: Mark McInerney for Power (78, inj)
11: Mikey O’Shea for Bourke (84, inj)
Referee: Rory McGann (Newmarket-on-Fergus)