Clooney undone by slick Liatroim

AIB Ulster Intermediate Hurling Championship Semi-final 

Clooney Gaels 1-15-2-21 Liatroim Fontenoy’s

Kevin Herron reports from Pairc Eoghan Ruadh, Dungannon 

Clooney Gael’s hopes of reaching the Ulster Intermediate Hurling Final were ended this afternoon after they went down 2-21-1-15 to Liatroim Fontenoy’s in Dungannon. 

Despite the Down Champions losing Cormac Lynch to a 12th minute red-card, they were far more efficient over the course of the afternoon and had too much for the Ahoghill outfit. 

James O’Connell’s 19th minute strike had given Clooney a glimmer of hope after a slow-start, but Pearse Davidson’s shot was spilled to the net before the break as Liatroim held a six-point lead at the interval. 

Collie Murphy’s charges kept Clooney at arm’s length, and they failed to get within four-points of them over the course of the sixty minutes with a late Jarlath McAleenan goal the icing on the cake for the Fontenoy’s – who meet Middletown in the decider in two-week’s time. 

Liatroim were fast out of the traps in Dungannon with five scores on the spin, Pearse Og McCrickard took a pass from Pearse Davidson and shot over the opener. 

An angled score from Sean Duggan followed and in between a long-range point from Tiarnan Murphy- Pearse Og McCrickard landed frees. 

It took Clooney seven minutes to register their first reply when Patrick Graham was held-up on route to goal and James O’Connell stroked over the resulting free. 

PJ Davidson and Robert O’Hare extended the Fontenoy’s lead but Collie Murphy’s side were reduced to 14-men with 12 minutes gone after Cormac Lynch was adjudged to have pulled a faceguard in an off the ball tussle.

O’Connell doubled his sides scoring for the afternoon from the resulting free and the Ahoghill outfit went about trying to make the most of their numerical advantage. 

Liatroim stayed in the ascendancy though and three further scores from PJ McComiskey, Davidson and Ruairi McCrickard (free) had them 0-10-0-02 in front midway through the half. 

 Clooney struck the opening goal of the game with 19 minutes on the clock, PJ O’Connell did the spade work and unselfishly picked out brother James to flick home and give their side a much-needed boost. 

PJ then followed up with a point before scores were traded between Pearse Og McCrickard (free) and Neil O’Connell. 

PJ Davidson notched up his second point of the half and just before the half time break the Down Champions stretched their lead. 

Pearse Davidson dropped a high ball into the square that Francis Neeson came to gather, but he spilled it into the net and Liatroim were 1-12-1-05 to the good. 

James O’Connell responded with his first point from play, though his side required a big second half if they were going to turn things around. 

Liatroim started the second period on the front foot with Tiarnan Murphy shooting over from a tight angle and Conor McCrickard landing another after a one-two with PJ McComiskey. 

Their lead was halved however as James O’Connell converted four successive frees in a six-minute period to bring Clooney back into contention (1-14-1-10). 

But Liatroim landed three scores on the spin to move seven ahead with little over ten minutes remaining. 

PJ McComiskey shot between the posts and both McCrickard’s were on target- Conor from play and Pearse Og converting his fourth free of the afternoon. 

Clooney forced it back to a four-point game for the second time in the half with Fionnbar O’Neill dropping a high effort over and O’Connell brothers James (free) and PJ finding range. 

Liatroim never really looked under any serious threat as the game ticked towards it conclusion. 

Pearse Og McCrickard landed two further placed balls and in-between times Tiarnan Murphy swung over another impressive, angled shot and Conor McCrickard popped over to give their side a 1-21-1-13 lead. 

Back-to-back points from PJ O’Connell and Daniel O’Neill finished Clooney’s scoring for the afternoon, but Liatroim weren’t quite done and added a second goal with the final play of proceedings. 

Tiarnan Murphy picked out Jarlath McAleenan with a magnificent pass and he flicked low past Neeson to give the Fontenoy’s a 2-21-1-15 victory at the conclusion. 

Clooney Gaels: F Neeson, H O’Donnell, J Magee, D Graham, F O’Neill (0-01), B Graham, D O’Neill (0-01), E Brady, N O’Connell (0-01), R Graham, T McGlone, P Graham, PJ O’Connell (0-03), D Graham, J O’Connell (1-09, 0-07f). Subs: E Graham for D Graham (41), C McDonnell for T McGlone (46), O Neeson for R Graham (50). 

Liatroim Fontenoy’s: M McCartan, W McCartan, PJ McComiskey (0-02), O Duggan, R O’Hare (0-01), R McCrickard, P Davidson (1-01), PJ Davidson (0-02), C Lynch, T Murphy (0-03), R McCrickard (0-01f), S Duggan (0-01), P Og McCrickard (0-06f), J McAleenan (1-00), C McCrickard (0-04). Subs: M Leneghan for W McCartan (8), B McKey for PJ Davidson (60). 

Referee: Tarlach Conway (Doire)

Clooney can advance to another final

AIB Ulster club Intermediate hurling semi-final:

Clooney Gaels v Liatroim Fontenoys

Eoghan Ruadh Hurling Club Dungannon

Saturday 1-30pm  

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.

Donal O’Hara: “Future’s bright.  We just have to keep pushing on”

Cushendun defender Donal O’Hara speaks to Brendan McTaggart after his side were defeated in the Intermediate Final…

Cushendun’s centre half Donal O’Hara was with friends and family at the final whistle, taking in his surroundings when we approached him for an interview.  Graciously, O’Hara didn’t think twice.  A leader on the pitch for the Emmett’s and showing those attributes also in defeat.  “Ahoghill are a good team” O’Hara started, “they’ve been there or there abouts for the last number of years.  They are a good hard side to put away.  I thought the first half they were the better team but the second half we came out and showed what we could do for 20 minutes but they sort of took over in the last ten.”

Having trailed by three at the interval, Cushendun were superb after the restart and converted that three point deficit into a three point lead inside just 17 minutes such was their domination.  All roads pointed towards the Emmett’s pushing for victory but O’Hara paid tribute to Clooney Gaels on how they came back into the final with their backs to the wall: “We hit a few wides but we maybe took our foot off the pedal as a collective and they came back into it.  Fair play to them. They never stopped and kept coming back at us.  We just couldn’t get back into it in those last 10.”

He continued: “It’s great for a club like ours to get here.  It’s probably the two smallest clubs in Intermediate to get to the final.  It’s great for us.  We won the Junior four years ago and shows how much we’ve progressed.  We played in the first division for a year there and we didn’t win anything but we learned plenty and never gave up and it was tough going.  We kept going and I suppose it shows what our lads have in them too, after a long season of not winning, we brought it back and got to the final of the Intermediate.  On another day we could have won it but it wasn’t to be.”

Despite defeat, O’Hara said the 2022 season has been another step on the trajectory of Cushendun and insists they will be back again to challenge for the Intermediate honours: “The future’s bright.  We just have to keep pushing on.  There’s some really good hurlers in this squad and we’ve just got to keep going.

When we started, there was a group of us lads in the fourth division.  We’ve shown a willingness and determination to push this club on, hopefully we’ll be back here in 12 months time and win it this time.”

James O’Connell: “we dug deep out there today”

Clooney Gaels star James O’Connell speaks with Brendan McTaggart after his side powered to the Intermediate Title against Cushendun….

Clooney Gaels forward James O’Connell was the star of the show on Saturday as his side defeated Cushendun by four points.  O’Connell himself would finish with 13 points out of the Gaels tally of 1-19 in an exhibition of score taking and accuracy from placed ball.

He told us that the pain of defeat at the same stage two years ago was the main driving force for his side to claim the Intermediate title: “Unbelievable.  A couple of years ago when we were beaten by Randalstown, it was a lonely place walking off after.  With Covid there was no changing rooms and it was just a bunch of lads walking back to the car.  It was the most depressing time, I swear to God but look at how we dug deep out there today.  The game looked like it was getting away from us, three points down but men stepped up all over the pitch.”

Despite his scoring exploits, O’Connell was able to laugh off the chance he missed for a major in the first half when he laughed: “I had a goal chance, thought I had a little more time than I had but obviously not.”

Being on the back foot for the majority of the second half, the Gaels found something within them to turn their fortunes around in the final ten minutes.  Their midfield and half back line dominated the restarts and forced turnovers which brought it’s own momentum.  O’Connell wasn’t sure on how the momentum swung so dramatically while he played down his own performance, putting it down as ‘one of those days’ when he continued: “It just clicked today for some reason, it happens sometimes.  But look, a couple of years ago against Randalstown I didn’t hit a ball the whole day.  It just happens that way sometimes, sometimes you get the drop of the ball.”

In what was a titanic tussle, O’Connell was full of praise for the Emmett’s and gave his own prediction for the beaten finalists: “I’m friendly enough with Donal O’Hara and Conor (McHugh) through Jordanstown and that.  How those lads reached this final after getting beat in every game in Division One this year, it’s a credit to them.  You know what I mean, they are going to win one.  There’s no doubt in my mind they are going to win one.  They were beat in the junior before claiming it, there’s a championship going to Cushendun in the next couple of years.”

It’s a great game when you’re winning but someone has to lose

Last weekend I was part of the Saffron Gael team who covered all the football, hurling and camogie finals in Antrim and like my fellow colleagues I got great satisfaction in helping to record these moments in history that will still be there after most of us have gone.

A former friend-now sadly deceased once said to me at a game “PADDY, IT’S A GREAT GAME WHEN  YOUR WINNING” and while I didn’t quite realise the impact of that statement at the time I have come to see what he was talking about over the years.

The joy and happiness and great sense of club and community can be best witnessed after a club has won a county title after the game, as their supporters and fellow club-members race onto the field to greet their heroes and fellow club members after the game.

These celebrations are more profound when a club hasn’t lifted a county title for a while and on Saturday I had the privilege to attend such finals and the celebrations that followed them.

Because of space restrictions that accompany reports I am publishing some of these celebration photographs on their own for the enjoyment of the spectators of Glenarm and Ahoghill and offer my congratulations to those clubs on their weekend achievements.

Shane O’Neill’s Glenarm

Clooney Gaels Ahoghill