JUST WHEN it looked like the axe was about to fall, Tullaroan pulled victory from out of the fire and saved their senior hurling skins. Having flirted with relegation for most of the season, it looked liked curtains for the long-standing top flight club when they trailed relative newcomers Clara on two occasions in Freshford on Saturday.
The first time it happened, they were left chasing shadows as maroon-clad Clara hit a purple patch and opened up a seven-point lead.
That Tullaroan shaved the gap down to one by the break showed their doggedness, but they almost had to do it all over again as they found themselves four down again within minutes of the restart.
At that stage it didn’t look good for Tullaroan, but from somewhere they pulled out a performance that saw them claw their way back into the reckoning.
The final quarter of the game was nothing short of torture for the supporters. Nails were bitten and nerves left frayed as the sides slugged it out for supremacy. A goal for either side could have settled the game, it was felt. It never came, forcing people to remain on edge.
In the end, Tullaroan can look back to a three point run in two minutes as the source of their life-saving win. Two of those came from Jimmy Coogan, who showed nerves of steel to rifle a pair of frees that levelled the game by the 55th minute.
Sixty seconds later, Tullaroan were back in front. Stephen Maher laid the foundations, bursting out of defence and unleashing a booming clearance that fell at Paul Buggy’s feet.
Despite the pressure - and bedlam around him - Buggy stayed ice-cool, picking up the sliotar close to the Tullaroan dug-out before firing it over the scoreboard end crossbar.
Tullaroan has been equally as impressive in the early stages of the first half, as they took the game to Clara. After nine minutes they were two points in front, a lead which was stretched to three (0-5 to 0-2) by the 13 minute mark.
Clara tried hard to get into the game, but they couldn’t break the grip midfielders Ken Coogan, Tommy Walsh and centre-back Stephen Maher had exerted on the game. They were made to work hard for their opening scores, then threw it away with a needless foul which allowed Jimmy Coogan to make it a two-point game before the hard-working Padraig Walsh restored the early leaders’ three-point cushion by the 13th minute.
Two Keith Hogan frees kept Clara in the game - or so it seemed - by the 16th minute, but the match was about to turn their way.
All of a sudden, Clara hit top gear. That Hogan free in the 16th minute was the first of seven unanswered points that saw them leave Tullaroan in their shadow and go racing into pole position.
Just like Clara had in the early stages, Tullaroan began to concede needless frees. They were like food and drink to Hogan, who converted two in quick succession before firing over a 21st minute 65 - but only after Tullaroan ’keeper Richie Holland had flicked Liam Ryan’s low shot round the post.
Taking control in midfield, Clara went from strength to strength. They were helped by a mammoth performance from centre-back David Langton, who seemed to be in the right place at the right time every time, often moving in to win a pressure ball and then send it away to safety.
One such ball was picked up by James Nolan, who was then fouled. Hogan pointed the resulting free, then added one from play. By the time Tom Ryan added another, Clara were four points in front with as many minutes of normal time left in the half (0-10 to 0-6).
Tullaroan may have been feeling the heat by this stage, but weren’t about to panic. Jimmy Coogan ended a 14-minute barren spell with a close rang free on 29 minutes. He bagged another in injury-time, by which stage Padraig Walsh
had also hit the target, leaving the narrowest of margins between the sides at the interval (0-10 to 0-9).
That slight gap didn’t last for long as Clara, who were smartly out of the blocks, began to restore some of their earlier advantage. James Nolan and Keith Hogan (free) pushed their side three clear before Nolan ran on to another long David Langton delivery and barely broke his stride before pointing, a score which seemed to show Clara’s confidence.
Little did they know, however, that they would only grab one more point in the final 25 minutes of the game as their challenge faded.
Instead it was Tullaroan who would dominate the scoring - although their points came in drips, not a deluge. Tommy Walsh fired over a point before a trip on Stephen Maher gave Jimmy Coogan a simple free from 45 metres out on 43 minutes.
Another Coogan free left just a point between the sides yet again in the 48th minute but Clara, sensing Tullaroan were breathing down their necks, did well to extend their advantage with a super score from Liam Ryan. Latching on to David Langton clearance, Ryan stormed upfield with a blistering solo before splitting the dresing-room end posts.
That point looked like spurring Clara on to victory, but Tullaroan weren’t finished yet. That late three point rally saw them come from behind, level the game and then move into the lead.
The drama wasn’t fully over, however, as Clara had a late chance to snatch a draw after Conor Phelan was fouled by Stephen Maher. Awarded a free, injuries and delays meant it was over a minute before Keith Hogan got to take the placed ball - the shot was good, but the sliotar carried too much to the left and went wide.
Their nerves steeled, Tullaroan held out for the sweet sound of the final whistle which signalled their survival.
Tullaroan - R. Holland, P. Campion, E. Campion, M. Maher, P. Glennon, S. Maher, D. Dowling, K. Coogan, T. Walsh, Mark Walsh, J. Coogan, P. Walsh, Martin Walsh, E. Brennan, P. Buggy. Subs: C. Kenny for Dowling, 39 mins; T. Fitzgerald for Martin Walsh, 44 mins; N. Sweeney for Mark Walsh, 51 mins; Martin Walsh for E. Campion (inj), 59 mins.
Clara - K. Nolan, D. Nolan, S. Prendergast, S. O’Shea, N. Prendergast, D. Langton, T. Ryan, D. Prendergast, Lester Ryan, E. O’Shea, C. Phelan, B. Phelan, K. Hogan, J. Nolan, Liam Ryan. Sub: C. Bolger for E. O’Shea, 58 mins.
Referee - P. Neary (James Stephens).