St Bridget's, Cloughmills battle through the fog to win Ulster Club IHC final
AIB Ulster Club Intermediate Hurling Championship final:
St Bridget’s, Cloughmills (Antrim) 1-11 Eoghan Rua, Coleraine (Derry) 2-6
WHEN referee Colin Murray blew his whistle for the last time, the amber of the St Bridget’s players and supporters brightened up a Ballymena pitch over which the frosty fog had hung for the duration of Sunday’s Ulster intermediate club hurling final.
The fog meant that it was difficult for a goalkeeper to see the action at the opposite end of the field, but there was nothing frosty about the exchanges particularly around the middle of the pitch where play seemed to be condensed for long periods due to the deployment of a sweeper by each team.
However, despite that intensity of tackling, things never boiled over until the 58th minute when Eoghan Rua’s Declan Mullan carried things on a little too much after the play had moved on. Referee Murray brandished his red card and that probably signalled the end of the game as Cloughmills saw out the remaining four minutes of playing time to lift the title for the first time.
However, they looked in danger of throwing away a lot of good work a few minutes earlier when Liam McGoldrick’s monstrous free from inside his own half seemed to go all the way to the Cloughmills net, leaving his side just a point in arrears. Crucially, however, Owen Kinney who had been well marked by McGoldrick at full-back throughout flashed over a point in reply and the Antrim champions regained their composure to see the game out.
That was in contrast to the end of the first-half, when Cloughmills lost a five points’ lead to go into the break level at 1-5 each. Eoghan Rua had started the brighter, with two early points from Ruairí Mooney and Sean Leo McGoldrick, the key man up front for the Coleraine side during the opening half-hour.
But once St Bridget’s shook off their nervous opening ten minutes, they edged general play for the next quarter of an hour and went into a 1-5 to 0-3 lead when Liam Kearns fired over a 27th minute point. Liam Cassley pointed twice during that spell and also smashed home the goal in the 25th minute when Michael Devlin’s long high delivery was broken down in the area.
Amazingly, however, Eoghan Rua reeled in that five point lead in the last four minutes of play before the break, kick-started by a goal that came from a long free from Sean Leo McGoldrick bouncing off a defender’s hand for his brother Colm to bundle over the goal-line.
Ruairí Mooney flashed over a left-handed point from the right corner and Sean Leo completed the comeback, gathering a long free from another brother Liam to shoot his third point of the afternoon. The stats from that opening half showed that Coleraine didn’t shoot a wide, in contrast to five from their opponents including three from frees.
Cloughmills, however, upped their intensity levels all over the pitch on the re-start and picked off the opening four points - from Devlin, Cassley, Geoffrey Óg Laverty and James Doherty, all from play. Those scores laid down a marker for the north Antrim men and, when the Coleraine break came for Liam McGoldrick’s goal, they hit back through Kinney and were able to hold on for the final whistle.
With Coleraine only scoring 1-3 from open play, the winning defence had a pretty decent afternoon, John McGuckian keeping Colm McGoldrick in check on the edge of the area and Aaron Smiley clearing a lot of ball as sweeper. At midfield, Conor Laverty impressed and with all six players, who started up front, scoring from open play, there were always more options in the Cloughmills team.
Eoghan Rua, in contrast, could not find the form of the semi-final against Bredagh and with go-to forward Sean Leo McGoldrick well policed their stars were more in defence, with Owen Kinney only managing to break free from Liam McGoldrick during the last 10 minutes and Niall Holly and Anton Rafferty alternating in the role of sweeper.
Picture by Philip Walsh
ST BRIDGET'S manager Geoffrey Laverty was emotional as he bounced around congratulating his players after the final whistle in Ballymena.
After the presentation, he was much more composed as he articulated what it meant for the club: “A very, very tough game. We had the boys prepared for a battle and, thank God, we got over the line at the end," he said.
“We are lot more experienced now than the team that lost the final in Newry in 2012. We have a great management team in around me and we worked harder than we have ever done to achieve this.”
The manager hailed his players for their comeback at the start of the second-half: “We had most of the play in the first-half. To work so hard to get a lead going into half-time and then to let it slip… Yes, that was frustrating enough for us all, management and players.
“But these boys are a good bunch and, as I said already, more experienced than a few seasons ago. I’m really pleased with how we re-established ourselves in the second half and held out. I feel that we were the better team, and I’m just happy that the score-board tells us that at the end. We are a small club working very hard and winning this should send out a signal to a lot of other small clubs, that if they put in the same amount of work, anything is possible.”
Across the way, his Coleraine counterpart Joe Passmore had no complaints with the result: “We felt that, given the level of fitness of this team, if we were in contention near the end, we would have a great chance. And we were in contention. Colm [McGoldrick] had a chance, but the ball wouldn’t rise for him," he said.
“They took their chances, we didn’t and that’s how it is some days. Fair play to Cloughmills. I was very happy at half time. They looked to be pulling away, and we were still level at half-time. So yes, we were giving it a good lash.”
When asked about the possibility of giving a run near the end to Barry McGoldrick, who had damaged a hamstring early in the semi-final with Bredagh a fortnight ago, Passmore felt that it hadn’t been worth the risk: “The conditions didn’t suit someone with a hamstring problem. Barry wanted to get in, but you have to think what is the right thing to do. On another day, in different circumstances, we might have tried him. But no, you have to think about the player,” he said.
Both managers referred to the delay as Coleraine fought their case to be included in the competition after initially not being included in the draw: “I think some people need to take a look at themselves after the shenanigans around the start of the competition,” said Passmore.
“From our point of view, I think that we gave it a good lash. We have proved that we deserved to be here. We play fair. We are a good hurling team looking to better ourselves and we will continue to do that in Eoghan Rua. We’ll be back.”
Laverty felt Coleraine deserved their crack at the competition as well: “I had no problem with Coleraine being in the competition. They had to beat other teams to reach the final to play us. They deserved to be here and they proved today that they too are good enough to play at this level,” he said.
Next up for the new Antrim champions is a trip to London to play Robert Emmet’s in the All-Ireland quarter-final in mid-January, but the manager was giving his charges a week off before they started to think about that game: “These lads have worked hard and we will enjoy the next few days," he added.
"But in a week’s time, we’ll get them all together, sit down and plan for the next step.”
Cloughmills: C McKernan, S Martin, J McGuckian, S McKendry, M Dobbin, A Smiley, R Laverty, C Laverty, J Doherty (0-1), M Morrison, M Devlin (0-2, 0-1 free), L Kearns (0-2, 0-1 free), G Óg Laverty (0-1), O Kinney (0-2), L Cassley (1-3); Sub: S Smyth for J Doherty (46); Yellow card: S McKendry
Eoghan Rua: P Mullan, C Lagan, L McGoldrick (1-0 free), P Dallas, C Boyle, N Holly, A Rafferty (capt.), D Mullan, R Leonard, R Mooney (0-2), M McQuillan, T Magee, SL McGoldrick (0-4, 0-3 frees), Colm McGoldrick (1-0), Ciaran McGoldrick; Sub: C Gaile for M McQuillan (ht); Yellow card: Ciaran McGoldrick; Red card: D Mullan
Referee: C Murray (Down)