Gilligan turns back the clock to call time on Clonlara's tilt
Sixmilebridge 1-21 Clonlara 0-15
Published 12/10/2015 | 02:30
In the programme pen-pics detailing vital statistics and interests of both sets of players for this Clare senior hurling final, three of the 31 Sixmilebridge squad members listed Niall Gilligan as their favourite sports personality.
Were you to set the questionnaire to the same players at any stage last night the figure is likely to have been revised heavily upwards.
Gilligan, 39 years young, is the toast of the 'Bridge again after steering them to a second title in three years with a metronomic display of accuracy from frees.
If he could convert it to the golf course he was looking at a round in the low 60s, the one miss from 13 shots coming early in the game. He didn't just turned back the clock, he shunted it into a different time-zone.
On a field laden with recent All-Ireland winners, at senior and especially under-21 level, he was the chief protagonist.
His sheer efficiency, just about every time he stood over the ball, gave the 'Bridge a comfort from the opening minutes when he landed his first three frees to establish a lead that only briefly dipped below that coming close to half-time.
But in every aspect of his play there was leadership value to it; his pressure on the Clonlara defence to create the seventh-minute goal for Alex Morey, his point from play from 50 metres after Clonlara had clipped a five-point deficit to just two early in the second half, his clever passes for Shane Golden and Danny Morey that led to scores, his presence.
The context of his performance should be set against his age profile within this team. The 'Bridge's average age is 24. Take out Gilligan and drops to 23!
The next oldest starter was Aidan Quilligan who, at 27, is 12 years younger. Until Tadgh Keogh's late introduction that generation gap remained. But it never showed.
They had other big players too. Séadna Morey dropped to the full-back line and swept everything as Clonlara committed Colm Galvin, wearing No 14, further outfield.
Even when Clonlara pushed a man up he was a dominant figure, with brother Caimin a secure presence at centre-back.
Beside Caimin Morey, Noel Purcell, in opposition for long spells to Galvin, and Paidí Fitzpatrick were dominant, Brian Carey was bullish and forceful around the middle while Cathal Malone and Golden offered decent targets on both wings.
But it all depended on Gilligan continuing to nail his frees from a range of distances, two from within Clonlara territory in the second half.
It was, he admitted, the sweetest of wins because it is the most recent one.
"From a personal point of view, I'm thrilled," said Gilligan. "Naturally when you get older it is more difficult with family commitments. My wife is very good to give me the reins to go. Training was very enjoyable this year, I've loved going down."
Gilligan, who was a Sixmilebridge squad member when they won the title 20 years ago, felt the experience of recent final appearances helped a young team.
"This is our third county final in five years," he said. "We've got a bit more experienced, we've got a bit better at closing out a game. The lads have won a lot at underage, they're all in their early to mid-20s and they're that bit more experienced."
Clonlara manager and former 'Bridge star Sean Stack, who had success with Toomevara in Tipperary and Na Piarsaigh in Limerick in the past, was at a loss to explain a performance deficit. "Today we were searching around for leaders and they weren't there."
Darach Honan and Domhnall O'Donovan were peripheral, and really only Cathal O'Connell and John Conlon took the game consistently to their opponents.
Galvin played only in patches, and when he was hunted down by ravenous pursuers and then stripped of possession for Jamie Shanahan to pick his spot in the 46th minute for a 1-16 to 0-11 lead, the game was up for them. It felt like the signature moment.
Maybe Clonlara can point to an Oisin O'Brien shot parried away by 'Bridge goalkeeper Derek Fahy in the 33rd minute when they trailed by five as a pivotal piece of action. Michael O'Loughlin converted the '65 but the psychological lift of a goal was lost.
They did get the deficit down to two with further points from Cormac O'Donovan and O'Loughlin again from a free, but Gilligan's sole point from play was a momentum-changer.
Scorers - Sixmilebridge: N Gilligan (12f) 0-13; A Morey 1-0; S Golden, J Shanahan 0-2 each; B Carey, B Canty, C Morey (f), D Morey 0-1 each. Clonlara: M O'Loughlin 0-7 (4f, 2 65s); C Galvin, C O'Connell, C O'Donovan, N O'Connell (1f) 0-2 each.
Sixmilebridge - D Fahy; B Fitzpatrick, S Morey, A Quilligan; N Purcell, C Morey, P Fitzpatrick; J Shanahan, B Carey; C Malone, C Deasy, S Golden; B Canty, N Gilligan, A Morey. Subs: P Sheehan for Deasy (42), D Morey for Canty (53), K Lynch for A Morey (60), T Keogh for Purcell (60), S Lynch for Shanahan (62).
Clonlara - G O'Connell; S O'Brien, G Kennedy, C Fennessy; N Ryan, J Conlon, O O'Brien; D O'Donovan, N O'Connell; C O'Connell, I Galvin, C O'Donovan; C Galvin, M O'Loughlin, D Honan. Subs: P O'Loughlin for Ryan (ht), P O'Hare for C O'Donovan (48), D Fitzgerald for O O'Brien (48).
Ref - A Heagney (Corofin).