IT WAS mightily close, but the Blacks & Whites found just enough room to squeeze past Clara and into the next round of the Northern junior hurling championship, winning by 1-14 to 1-13, writes Trevor Spillane.
The Skeough men had Niall Kennedy to thank for much of their scoring efforts over the hour at a sun and rain-splashed Clara on Saturday.
The centre-forward rattled off 11 points over the hour. None were more important than the treble he picked off at a stage when his side were on the brink of slipping away.
Having coughed up a five-point lead, Skeough looked to be in trouble when Paddy Galavan’s goal - a speculative shot which wriggled its way into the net - and a Brian O’Shea free from half-way pushed a dogged Clara narrowly ahead five minutes into the new half (1-10 to 1-9).
The Blacks & Whites needed a steadying hand at that stage, and got it in Kennedy. Injecting pace and urgency into the forward ranks he calmed his side’s nerves, slotting over three frees in as many minutes as the winners took a decisive grip on matters with 15 minutes to play (1-12 to 1-10).
Opening with the breeze at their backs the hosts made the better start. They edged the early jousts, the lively Jody Crean shooting them into the lead (0-3 to 0-2) after seven minutes.
The corner-forward, a constant threat, should have capped his evening with a goal when he sped through on a bustling solo after nine minutes. Shortening the grip Crean let fly with a blistering shot, but netminder John O’Grady made a fine stop from point-blank range.
Skeough heeded that scare and set about forcing their own tempo on the game. Firming up down the middle of the field they began to win more possession and force it towards their forward ranks. Peter Cleere and Michael Doyle played a key part in this, shutting down an imposing Clara half-forward line and moving the sliotar downfield.
The Skeough half-forwards did their bit also, stringing together six unanswered points in 11 minutes as they surged ahead. John Lennon and Michael Ryan chipped in with a score apiece while Kennedy added four. The last of the run was the most impressive, corner-forward Tommy Farrell fielding a long Cleere free before palming it off for Kennedy to fire over.
Although five points clear (0-8 to 0-3) with 21 minutes on the clock a sudden cloudburst seemed to cool the Skeough charge, allowing Clara to get back into the reckoning. David Mulrooney and Crean ended their dry spell, with Ciaran Prendergast adding an impressive point from way out on the right flank.
The gap was down to one when Peter Nolan landed a minor score on 25 minutes, but Clara could have had so much more. Crean went for a point from distance but saw his effort drop short. O’Grady went to gather the sliotar but saw it wriggle through his grasp - much to his relief the wet goalmouth killed the ball stone dead.
The men in maroon were breathing down the opposition’s necks, but not for long. Within minutes Skeough had the green flag flying, Farrell drilling a ground strike home after Shane Murphy knocked a Kennedy 65 into his path.
The goal had the desired effect. Although O’Shea and Crean narrowed the gap before the break, Skeough were back in the driving seat (1-8 to 0-9).
They had to endure a nervy third quarter, the Blacks & Whites just about held their nerve. They had another scare when Shane Cassin seized on an attempted hand-pass clearance and bore down on goal, but a blanket effort ensured his 47th minute shot was smothered before being cleared.
Clara could look to another long barren spell as the reason for their defeat - they had Skeough on the rack at the start of the second half, then went silent for 18 minutes. Although they outscored their rivals in the closing stages through Brian O’Shea (two frees) and Galavan, a brace of Kennedy frees - he was Skeough’s only scorer in the second half - ensured the Blacks & Whites progressed by the narrowest of margins.
SCORERS: Blacks & Whites - Niall Kennedy (0-11, 0-8 frees, 0-1 65); Tommy Farrell (1-0); John Lennon (0-2); Michael Ryan (0-1). Clara - Brian O’Shea (0-5, all frees); Paddy Galavan (1-1); Jody Crean (0-3); Ciaran Prendergast (0-2); Peter Nolan, David Mulrooney (0-1 each).
Blacks & Whites - John O’Grady, Padraig Joyce, James Brennan, Tomas Joyce, Aidan O’Dowd, Peter Cleere, Michael Doyle, Paul Murphy, John Lawlor, John Lennon, Niall Kennedy, Michael Ryan, John Murphy, Shane Murphy, Tommy Farrell. Sub: Emmet Foley for J. Murphy, 54 mins.
Clara - Michael Bergin, Bill Carrigan, John Phelan, James Dowling, Michael McDonald, Tom Langton, Conor O’Shea, Brian O’Shea, Peter Nolan, Paddy Galavan, Ciaran Prendergast, Brian Prendergast, Shane Cassin, David Mulrooney, Jody Crean. Subs: Tom Brennan for Carrigan, 40 mins; Michael Barcoe for Mulrooney, 40 mins; Conor Phelan for B. Prendergast, 48 mins.
Referee - John Walsh (Rower-Inistioge).