AIB Ulster club Intermediate hurling semi-final:
Clooney Gaels v Liatroim Fontenoys
Eoghan Ruadh Hurling Club Dungannon
Clooney Gaels have a full panel to select from going into Saturday’s Ulster Intermediate Hurling club semi-final against Liatroim Fontenoys at Eoghan Ruadh Hurling Club, Dungannon.
Manager Hugh Dobbin and his backroom team of Shay O’Hagan and Ryan Doherty attended the quarter-final between Saturday’s opponents and Castleblaney Faughs of Monaghan at Pairc Esler and Dobbin was impressed with what he saw.
The game turned into a shoot-out on a par with the one Liatroim Fontenoys had come through in the Down final against Carryduff.
In that game Pearse Og McCrickard had knocked over 19 points. Against Castleblaney his brother Conor, a Munster club football winner this time last year with St Finbarr’s of Cork, hit the first two points inside 70 seconds on the way to collecting two goals and five points. Pearse Og, with the help of eight frees, totalled 1-10.
Although the McCrickard brothers shot the first three points, the Monaghan champions were level by the 6th minute following some fine scores from Eoin Leonard, Déaglán Crowe and Rafter.
Tiarnán Murphy and Pearse Og edged Liatroim ahead before Conall McHugh took advantage of some slack defending to poach the opening goal.
That score lifted ‘Blayney and they battled away with some nice scores to go three points ahead after 22 minutes. But Liatroim hit back with four of the last five points of the half, including a lovely individual point from Conor McCrickard right on the half-time whistle that left the teams equal on 0-12 to 1-9.
The second half opened with two ‘Blayney goals and a goal and five in reply from Liatroim, all inside the first eight minutes.
Full-back Ruairí McCrickard landed a massive free from inside his own half to start the run, but he was barely back in his full-back slot when Thomas Hughes got inside and found the corner of the Liatroim net. Pearse Og shot two points from play to level the game once more only for a long range free from Rafter to go all the way to the Liatroim net in the 5th minute.
Sean Duggan and Pearse Og replied with points before Conor McCrickard found the net from 15 metres.
The teams exchanged two points each before the game-defining score arrived courtesy of an interchange between Tiarnán Murphy and Pearse Davidson that gave Pearse Og a clear run through the centre and he buried the second Liatroim goal.
Former Rossa colleagues, Collie Murphy and Micky McCullough are the men in charge at Laitroim and they bring a wealth of managerial experience to the job and have the Down champions playing out of their skins.
Murphy said after the game “For a long time, the result could have gone either way. We were pleased the way the goals came from players coming through and feeding off others. We had worked on that in training.
“It is a good result for us tonight, but it only gets us into the next game.
“We have seen Ahoghill play. They are a good side. But we are a decent side too and I think we will give them a good game.”
Ahoghill collected the Antrim title back on the 15th October when they beat Emmet’s Cushendun in an excellent final at Dunsilly. With just over ten minutes remaining, it looked like Cushendun were on their way to victory but the men from Clooney were in no mood to throw in the towel. Led by the brilliant James O’Connell, the Gaels were simply superb in the closing stages, turning a three point deficit into a four point victory.
James O’Connell top scored with 0-13 for his hours work with five points from play. A scintillating display, especially in the first half where he was simply too good for the Cushendun defence and he is likely to come in for close attention on Saturday but that is something O’Connell is used to.
Clooney Gaels are certainly not a one man team and have scoring potential throughout their team with Patrick Graham, Eoin Graham, Ronan Graham, Neil O’Connell and Fionnbar O’Neill all getting their names on the scorecard in the Antrim final.
James’ brother P.J. can be a match winner himself and is likely to dovetail into a two man full-forward line with his younger sibling with Donal Graham dropping further out the field where he is capable of picking off scores himself.
The team for Saturday is unlikely to show too many changes from the one that started that final against Cushendun back in October. Francis Neeson is an excellent keeper and in front of him James Magee and Bernard Graham anchor a solid and mobile defence where the O’Neill brothers, Dan and Fionnbar are always ready to attack from their wing-half berths.
The towering Neil O’Connell and the tenacious and pacey Eamonn Brady are a formidable mid-field combination while Thomas McGlone, Owen Neeson and Colla McDonnell are all very capable forwards if called upon.
When I spoke to manager, Hugh Dobbin this week he sounded relaxed and quietly confident that his side can win Saturday’s semi-final in Dungannon. Dobbin has told me this story more than once. “I was asked along to Clooney five years ago to help out with the team for a few weeks until they found a manger” he said
“The fact that I’m here five years later speaks volumes for the Ahoghgill players and all the people around the club. I can’t speak highly enough of them”
Hugh had a special word of praise for his backroom team. “ Shay O’Hagan and Ryan Doherty have put in a power of work while physio Chantelle Loughlin has done an amazing job in getting all the niggling injuries cleared up for Saturday”
Its a month since that Antrim final against Cushendun but Clooney Gaels have kept busy in the interim with challenge games against Dungannon and Slaughtneil and to date everything has been going to plan.
The ground at Eoghan Ruadh is likely to be heaving on Saturday afternoon with Clooney’s loyal support travelling in numbers to cheer on their side and if the Gaels produce anything like their best form then I believe they will advance to the final but it certainly won’t be easy against what looks like a very good Liatroim side.