Can ’Bridge scale Croker heights?

Hungry for scores, but slow to concede them. That could sum up the incredible charge that has left Bennettsbridge just 60 minutes away from national glory.

Hungry for scores, but slow to concede them. That could sum up the incredible charge that has left Bennettsbridge just 60 minutes away from national glory.

It might have taken three attempts to get out of Kilkenny, but the green and gold brigade has cut an impressive swathe through all challengers in Leinster and beyond.

Consider this staggering stat: in the four games they’ve played en route to the provincial title and the All-Ireland semi-final, the ‘Bridge have scored a whopping 8-83 on their charge towards the final.

As sharp as their forwards are, their defence has been just as mean. In those four games they’ve leaked just 27 points - and no goals.

Consider this for a mean back-line: the goal Mooncoin’s Eoin Hennebry scored in the 50th minute of the county final for Mooncoin was the last time Enda Cleere was beaten - and that was back in November!

Bennettsbridge 4-25

Dunderry 0-4

Leinster club quarter-final, Nov 16

Fresh from winning the county title, Bennettsbridge served notice of their provincial intentions when they blasted past the challenge of Meath’s Dunderry in one-sided quarter-final in Trim.

Nicky Cleere led the charge, grabbing six first half points as the Kilkenny side stormed into a 0-10 to 0-2 lead by half-time.

The game was all but over within minutes of the restart when Brian Lannon netted Bennettsbridge’s first goal. With Kevin Blanchfield quickly adding a second, the Kilkenny champions were all set for the semi-final.

Bennettsbridge scorers: Nicky Cleere (0-9, 0-4 frees, 0-1 65); Kevin Blanchfield (2-2); William Murphy, Brian Lannon (1-1 each); Sean Morrissey (0-4); Darragh Wafer (0-3); Jason Cleere, Micheal Shiel (0-2 each); Aidan Cleere (0-1).

Bennettsbridge 1-19

Crossabeg/Ballymurn 0-11

Leinster club semi-final, Nov 23

Bennettsbridge showed their hurling class when seeing off Wexford outfit Crossabeg Ballymurn in a hotly contested semi-final.

After a tame start, the ‘Bridge stepped up the pace and took a decisive grip on the game, helped when Nicky Cleere swept a Darragh Wafer line ball to the net in the 28th minute. That score was a big one, as the Kilkennymen took a nine-point lead in with them at half-time (1-11 to 0-5).

However, they weren’t about to let up. Taking the field for the second half Bennettsbridge kicked on again as they set about putting in a blistering 10-minute spell.

Points from Nickey Cleere (2), Cormac Wafer, Sean Morrissey, Brian Lannon and Liam Blanchfield drove them into a mammoth 15-point lead (1-17 to 0-5) that they would never lose.

Bennettsbridge scorers: Nicky Cleere (1-6, 0-2 frees); Sean Morrissey (0-5); Cormac Wafer, Brian Lannon, Liam Blanchfield, Aidan Cleere (0-2 each).

Bennettsbridge 1-20

Shamrocks 0-3

Leinster club final, Dec 6

The juggernaut that was the Bennettsbridge team showed no signs of slowing down as they ended 2014 with a silver-lined performance.

Offaly outfit the Shamrocks were the latest side to feel the sharp edge of the Kilkenny club’s hurling powers as they were steamrollered away in a one-sided Leinster final in Tullamore.

Such was the mismatch between the teams, this game was all but over by half-time as a combination of well-worked passes and accuracy from placed balls helped the ’Bridge fashion a lead they never looked like losing.

Needless fouls by the Shamrocks contingent, who couldn’t cope with the speed and precision of their opponents, allowed Nicky Cleere to fire over a series of frees as his side dominated possession.

Brian Lannon’s 28th minute goal, poached to perfection after he pounced on a dropping ball, made it 1-10 to 0-1 at half-time.

Even with 30 minutes still to play, it was game over for the bewildered Shamrocks.

Bennettsbridge scorers: Nicky Cleere (0-7, 0-5 frees); Brian Lannon (1-2, 0-1 frees); Hugh O’Neill (0-3); William Murphy (0-3, 0-2 frees); Aidan Cleere, Darragh Wafer, Cormac Wafer, Sean Morrissey, Micheal Shiel (0-1 each).

Bennettsbridge 2-19

Annaghdown 0-9

All-Ireland junior club semi-final, Jan 25

Titles and plaudits are plenty round Bennettsbridge way, but the current crop of hurlers made their own piece of history in January - they gained the club a first ever appearance in Croke Park.

An All-Ireland final showdown with Fullen Gaels was achieved after the men in green and gold showed no mercy when putting Galway’s Annaghdown to the sword in the semi-final in Nenagh.

After an indifferent first half, Bennettsbridge really kicked on when the chance to book that Croker date loomed on the horizon - a whopping 2-15 was racked up in the second half to Annaghdown’s 0-2, as the Kilkennymen made sure of their place in the final.

Kevin Blanchfield was a real force in midfield, ably assisted by Enda Morrissey. They weren’t the only stars, as strong performances from Aidan Cleere, Robert Lannon, Sean Morrissey, Brian Lannon and Jason Cleere set the tone in a serious team display.

Playing into the wind, the ’Bridge trailed by 0-7 to 0-4 at the break - but they didn’t take long to catch up. Nicky (2) and Adrian Cleere rattled off three quick points to level matters, before Sean Morrissey edged the ’Bridge into a lead they would not lose.

Annaghdown’s cause wasn’t helped when they were reduced to 14 men. It got even worse when Liam Blanchfield blasted an unstoppable shot to the Galway net. When he teed up Cormac Wafer to do the same, the Bridge could start dreaming of their big day in Croke Park.

Bennettsbridge scorers: Nicky Cleere (0-6, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65); Sean Morrissey, Brian Lannon (0-4 each); Cormac Wafer (1-1); Liam Blanchfield (1-0); Aidan Cleere (0-2); Darragh Wafer, Hugh O’Neill (0-1 each).

Experienced Gaels

They may be missing the All-Ireland title, but the one thing Fullen Gaels aren’t lacking is big game experience.

The Manchester club have had their fair share of heartbreak, however, losing the 2013 All-Ireland final to Thomastown while they were pipped for a final berth by eventual champions, Creggan Kickhams of Antrim, 12 months later.

Now hoping to make it third time lucky, the seasoned team of Exiles booked their place in the All-Ireland championship with a big 1-15 to 0-2 win over Cu Chulainns in the All-Britain final. The games have been tougher since, but they’ve fought through all-comers to set up that February 15 date with the ‘Bridge.

Fullen Gaels 2-6

Modeligo 0-10

All-Ireland quarter-final, Jan 10

Munster champions Modeligo saw their All-Ireland hopes bite the dust when Fullen Gaels got the better of a tight battle at Birmingham’s Pairc Na hEireann.

Two goals from corner-forward Vincent Morrissey, one in either half, proved crucial as the Manchester men got the better of the Waterford opponents. Sharp-shooter Colm O’Callaghan was also to the fore, his three frees keeping the team on the front foot.

Trailing early on, the Gaels took charge of the game when Morrissey fired a ground strike to the net with 18 minutes on the clock. They never let that advantage go, even after both sides were reduced to 14 men, taking a 1-5 to 0-6 lead in at half-time.

Although Modeligo raised their game after the restart, getting to within a point of the leaders, they couldn’t overtake their rivals. Fullen were kept in front thanks to a Reamonn McEntee point, before Morrissey struck his second goal to help settle their nerves.

Fullen Gaels scorers: Vincent Morrissey (2-0); Colm O’Callaghan (0-4, 0-3 frees); Reamonn McEntee, Paul Duggan (0-1 each).

Fullen Gaels 2-18

Castleblayney 1-7

All-Ireland junior club semi-final, 25

Things were a lot more comfortable for the Gaels in the semi-final as they coasted to a big win over Monaghan club Castleblaney.

Led by powerful performances from Shane Garry and Reamonn McEntee in midfield, the Manchester side took a solid grip on the game when they outscored their rivals by eight points to one in the second quarter, a run which left them six clear at the interval (0-9 to 0-3).

They kicked on in the second half, tacking on a further 2-11 to their tally. Vincent Morrisey and Paul Duggan grabbed the goals before the side finished with eight unanswered points, a run which sealed their place in the Croker decider.

Fullen Gaels scorers: Vincent Morrissey (1-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 65); Colm O’Callaghan (0-7, 0-5 frees); Paul Duggan (1-1); Shane Garry (0-3); Vincent Feherty, Greg Jacob (0-1 each).