A good day all round for Clara! There was a win; a monkey off the back in terms of the team they beat and a semi-final spot to boot.
This senior hurling championship quarter-final at resplendent Freshford on Sunday may not have been the game of the weekend or any other weekend, but Clara won’t mind. They maintained their winning run and they are in the semi-finals with a league/championship double a possibility.
Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) have a good record at under-21 and senior level against Sunday’s opponents, and Clara, officials admitted, felt the heat. They didn’t play as well as they did in their previous two match.
Then they played as well as they were let, you have to suppose.
That was probably it. Both felt too much heat and the fear of losing took over. As a result, the teams laboured under the pressure and the hurling was tight, tense and hard at times. A minute from the finish Erin’s Own had hard working midfielder, Peter O’Donovan red carded after a short dust up, but that incident was lost in a forest of fine deeds by the individual concerned and even finer by the two teams.
“They were just that bit better than us,” admitted gracious Erin’s Own selector, Larry O’Neill afterwards. “Looking ahead we have to be positive. All our backs and midfielders are young. They all got their chance and they came up trumps during the season.
“We are disappointed. We had hoped to make the semi-finals, but there is no shame being beaten by a good team like Clara.”
The losers last big chance of cracking Clara’s resolve came five minutes from the end when O’Donovan lashed a powerful shot at the town end goal from 20 metres on the left. With the ’keeper out of position and beaten, the magnificent David Langton saved on the line and the ball was cleared.
The score was 0-13 to 0-10 at the time. Erin’s Own were playing with the freshening breeze. While Martin Boran converted a 65 moments later to cut the deficit to a pair of points, they then missed the target from a free in their own half.
The next big win was a puck-out by Conor Phelan, from his own goalie Killian Phelan. The former was fouled, and from a difficult free five metres in from the left sideline and on midfield, Keith Hogan hit the target.
That was the final score, a vital strike as it all but guaranteed Clara against defeat. They saw things out nicely during the closing few minutes to keep alive the hopes of adding the senior title to the intermediate one won in Kilkenny last year, and the All-Ireland one won in Croker Park in February.
After the teams shared equally in four points during the opening seven minutes, Clara gained the upper hand for a while. With Keith Hogan, goalie Killian Phelan (free), James Nolan and Lester Ryan all sharing in the scoring they moved 0-8 to 0-3 in front by the 20th minute.
Things were going well for the winners. Shane Prendergast was reading the game perfectly as a defiant, sweeping centre-back. John Phelan was solid behind him. David Langton was clearing an ocean of ball, something he continued to do throughout the hour.
Then for no particular reason Erin’s Own got back into the game. A near goal snatch by Jimmy Byrne, set-up by Michael Owens, turned the tide for them. A quick point by Michael Murphy, a smashing score from the right sideline, added momentum.
By the break they had the deficit back to a pair of points, 0-6 to 0-8. Martin Boran (0-5) may have been the main source of scores, but there was menace in their hurling during the closing 10 minutes of that half that troubled Clara.
The winners opened the new half with a brace of minors from Keith Hogan and James Nolan, who snapped up a nice pass from Austin Murphy (0-10 to 0-6). That was as good as things were to get for Clara in terms of a lead.
Erin’s Own gave chase, and boy did they chase. With Jerry Callinan outstanding at wing-back, clearing almost as much ball as his opposite number, and Conor Fogarty powerful in the centre they turned the screws slowly but surely on the opposition.
Peter O’Donovan picked off a point. There was a reply from Liam Ryan. A push in the back on Peadar Boran earned Martin Boran a minor from the free shot. A great score from Michael Murphy, after a lovely pick and strike, had the margin back to 0-11 to 0-9 as the game turned into the final quarter.
Clara threatened once at the other end, Jack Langton sending a screaming shot from left to right across the face of goal. They were tense, nervy even. Erin’s Own were pushing hard, but a lack of penetration up front left Boran as their main man in this department.
Twice the divide was back to a brace of points. When Peter O’Donovan sent the earlier mentioned pile-driver at the target in the 53rd minute - to be defied by Langton - the score stood at 0-13 to 0-10. A different outcome to that raid could have changed things.
Clara survived the late bombing. They didn’t play as well as they can, despite the great assistance given by Lester Ryan, Jack Langton, James Nolan and Conor Phelan to the other heroes. The next day they will expect more of themselves. The way to have it!
Scorers: Clara - Keith Hogan (0-4, frees); James Nolan (0-3); Lester Ryan, Conor Phelan (0-2 each); Jack Langton, Liam Ryan (0-1 each); Killian Phelan (0-1, free). Erin’s Own - Martin Boran (0-8, six frees, one 65); Michael Murphy (0-2); Peter O’Donovan (0-1).
Clara - Killian Phelan, Tom Ryan, John Phelan, Sean O’Shea, Neal Prendergast, Shane Prendergast, David Langton, Lester Ryan, Jack Langton, Conor Phelan, Keith Hogan, Liam Ryan, Austin Murphy, James Nolan, Ciaran Prendergast. Sub - Conor O’Shea for A. Murphy.
Erin’s Own - Tom Brophy, Conor Delaney, Pauric Keating, Ciaran Wallace, Robert Moran, Conor Fogarty, Jerry Callinan, Aidan Moran, Peter O’Donovan, Declan Dunne, Peadar Boran, Michael Owens, Jimmy Byrne, Martin Boran, Michael Murphy. Subs - Martin Hawley for M. Owens; Dermot Wallace for D. Dunne; Brian Dillon for A. Moran; Eddie Brennan for P. Boran.
Referee - Gavin Quilty.