AIB All Ireland Club Hurling Championship
Dunloy 1-14 St Thomas 0-13
Sunday 18 December
Brendan McTaggart reports from Croke Park, Dublin
And the Dunloy juggernaut rolls on. The Cuchullains came to Croke Park on Sunday as underdogs but booked their place in the Club All Ireland final for the fifth time in their history.
Four points separated the sides by the time referee John Keenan called time at the end of the hour, Dunloy having to withstand a barrage of St Thomas attacks on their goal in the closing stages but the winning of this game came in mid-way through the second half and a moment of pure genius from Keelan Molloy. Collecting a pass from Nigel Elliott, Molloy gathered and set off to find a yard of space. The St Thomas defence converged on Molloy but he continued on his merry way, lifting the sliotar to evade a challenge before rippling the onion bag. You’ll travel far to see a finer goal. It felt like a game changer at the time, it proved to be the winning of this game.
Defensively Dunloy were superb. St Thomas rarely looked like threatening Ryan Elliott’s goal with Ryan McGarry, Oran Quinn, Eamon Smyth and Kevin Molloy all superb. The midfield duo of Conor Kinsella and Eoin McFerran snuffed out the threat of the lauded duo of Bernard and David Burke while in attack Dunloy caused problems for the full hour. Ronan Molloy, Seaan and Nigel Elliott going through a mountain of work, Conal Cunning with touches of class while Keelan Molloy is turning Croke Park into his playground.
The Cuchullains made one change to the team that claimed the Ulster Championship two weeks ago, Deaglan Smith coming on for Anton McGrath. They played against the breeze in the opening half but made a superb start. Nigel Elliott with a cracking score inside the first 20 seconds and Conal Cunning two minutes later. St Thomas and Conor Cooney opened their account in the 6th minute but Dunloy were well on top on the opening exchanges and should have been further ahead but for some wayward shooting.
The Galway champions were making the most of the wind at their back with Gerard Kelly’s puck outs going a mile towards Hill 16. Dunloy were dealing with the aerial assault with Kevin Molloy and Ryan McGarry instrumental but St Thomas begun to settle into the game with Damien McGlynn bringing the sides level.
Keelan Molloy’s dummy and strike from out the field restored the Dunloy lead moments later but it would be their last score for fully 16 minutes at St Thomas looked to turn the screw. They opened a two point lead in the same time with Conor Cooney’s second of the day (free) along with scores from Oisin Flannery and Mark Caulfield but Dunloy without scoring, were looking dangerous. When they got past the sweeping David Burke, the inside forward trio always looked like doing damage and they were awarded a penalty after 19 minutes thanks to the brilliance of Nigel and Seaan Elliott. The later dragged down inside the square. Cunning stepped up to take the penalty and while he struck his shot well, St Thomas ‘keeper Kelly dived to his right and at full stretch pushed the sliotar to safety.
Despite that miss, Dunloy looked to have found another gear. Keelan Molloy’s second of the game cut the St Thomas lead to the minimum but the Dunloy radar was faltering with a number of wides.
St Thomas weren’t fairing much better at the other end of the pitch with Conor Cooney uncharacteristically missing a couple of frees.
The closing stages of the first half were key for the Cuchullains. They had another half goal chance with Nigel Elliott going close but they tagged on another couple of scores from Cunning (free and ’65) either side of Cooney’s second converted free of the half to leave the sides tied on 0-6 apiece at the short whistle.
Being level at half time was the bare minimum Dunloy’s performance in the first half deserved. They had created 17 scoring chances against the wind but were wasteful in possession on a couple of occasions.
They started the second half in the same vein of form as the first. Using the width of Croke Park to their benefit to create holes in the St Thomas defence and making the sliotar to the work. St Thomas came out with more intensity with Aaron Crawford having to come off after a dangerous foul that saw David Burke lucky to stay on the pitch. With ‘Snoozer’ leaving the pitch, it hurried the introduction of Paul Shiels, ‘Shorty’ instrumental as Dunloy looked to wrestle momentum and dominate the middle third.
St Thomas troubles in front of the target continued in the third quarter and while Dunloy weren’t exactly prolific, they opened a three point lead with Coby Cunning putting daylight between the sides.
Conor Cooney’s free in the 44th minute was the first score for St Thomas in the second half but Molloy’s major followed. Brilliant from Nigel Elliott, the catch and vision to find Keelan Molloy coming off the shoulder. The run and finish simply outrageous from Molloy. A goal good enough to grace any pitch in Ireland, Keelan Molloy did it in headquarters.
Anton McGrath followed up Molloy’s goal with a sublime effort from his left, wide on the left but St Thomas found another level. They kept Dunloy scoreless for 10 minutes while Caulfield, Cooney (free) and McGlynn all fired over to leave two between the sides with five minutes remaining.
With the game in the melting pot, Dunloy delivered once again. Three scores in a two minute spell from Nigel Elliott, Cunning and a huge score from Eamon Smyth put them five clear.
The fourth official showed four minutes of injury time and St Thomas laid siege on Ryan Elliott’s goal. It was never coming. Dunloy defended heroically in the closing stages with an Eanna Burke point all the Galway men could muster as the final whistle blew.
With this current Dunloy team finally getting over the line in Ulster, they are now one step away from becoming hurling immortals.
On 22nd January, Ballyhale awaits.
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Ryan McGarry, Oran Quinn; Aaron Crawford, Kevin Molloy, Eamon Smyth; Conor Kinsella, Eoin McFerran; Ronan Molloy, Keelan Molloy, Nigel Elliott; Seaan Elliott, Conal Cunning, Deaglan Smith
Subs: Anton McGrath for D Smith (29); Paul Shiels for A Crawford (33); Nicky McKeague for N Elliott (58); Gabriel McTaggart for R Molloy (60)
Scorers: C Cunning 0-7 (3fs 1’65); Keelan Molloy 1-2; N Elliott 0-2; E Smyth 0-1; S Elliott 0-1; A McGrath 0-1
St Thomas’: Gerard Kelly; Cian Maloney, Fintan Burke, John Headd; Evan Duggan, Mark Caulfield, Cathal Burke; Bernard Burke, David Burke; Brendan Farrell, Conor Cooney, Oisin Flannery; Victor Manso, Eanna Burke, Damien McGlynn
Subs: Conor Headd for B Farrell (HT); Shane Cooney for V Manso (42); Darragh Boyle for M Caulfield (53)
Scorers: C Cooney 0-6 (4fs); D McGlynn 0-2; M Caulfield 0-2; E Duggan 0-1; O Flannery 0-1; E Burke 0-1
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow)