History-making Ballyea primed for a new target
Ballyea 1-21 Glen Rovers 2-10
First-time Clare winners, now Munster masters, next All-Ireland champions? That has become the new and exciting target on a thrilling Ballyea adventure which has already created special memories for the club.
For now though, there are celebrations to be enjoyed.
"When the bus gets back to Ballyea tonight it'll be officially Christmas there so we'll take it and we'll run with it," said manager Robbie Hogan after watching his side out-run and outgun Glen Rovers in Semple Stadium.
They hit a sticky patch in the third quarter but had the requisite endurance and resilience to work their way through it before galloping on again in the final 10 minutes, during which they outscored the Cork champions by 0-7 to 0-2.
Sorting out problems has been a Ballyea speciality this year so it was no surprise that their response to conceding two early second-half goals to Conor Dorris was to reboot their system and return to what they had done so well in a first half, which they won by 1-10 to 0-4.
It was close for the opening 20 minutes, with a goal from Pearse Lillis, giving Ballyea a slight edge before they raised their efficiency levels to heights Glen couldn't reach.
That impressive process was driven by a solid cohesion across every line, with Tony Kelly decorating it all over the pitch. He scored three superb points from open play in the first half and added two more later on.
Unfortunately for Glen, there was little they could do to curb their tormentor-in-chief.
"We all know how good Tony Kelly is. We see him with the county all the time.
"He's an incredible athlete and we just didn't have the legs to stay with him all the time," said Glen captain Graham Callanan.
"It's a bit different at county level because a couple of fellas might have the legs to go with him but at club level he's very hard to stop."
Their problems were exacerbated by the sense of enterprise so many of Kelly's associates brought to the test. Lillis, Niall Deasy and Pat Joe Connolly took their chances well while Gearoid O'Connell, Paul Flanagan and Jack Browne anchored an impressive defensive structure.
O'Connell's contribution extended further as he picked off three long-range points.
Kelly's midfield partner Stan Lineen played a captain's part in a victory that secured a first Munster club senior title for Clare since Sixmilebridge's success in 2000. He emphasised Ballyea's responsibility to Clare as a major driving force in their push to provincial glory.
"One of the things we noticed was how much support we were getting all around Clare. When we came back against Thurles, the stands were shaking.
"We're not just representing Ballyea - we're also representing Clare. The support today and against Thurles was like a 16th player," said Lineen.
They had far more supporters than Glen in a crowd of 4,583, which became especially noticeable when the pressure came on after Dorris' two goals cut the margin to three points early in the second half.
It was as if the goodwill from the stands re-energised Ballyea, leaving Glen unable to stay with them.
"We knew coming in at half-time that there would be a kick in them and there was with those two goals. The thing is that we never panicked all year and it was the same today.
"We kept plugging away - nice and settled - just as we had done before and thankfully it worked. Work hard and the results will come," said Lineen.
Acknowledging that the better side won, Glen manager Richie Kelleher felt that Ballyea's 13th-minute goal was crucial in setting the tone for a first half that ran away from his men from there on.
"Being honest, I thought a couple of our bigger guys didn't turn up today.
"Some days they deliver for us, some days they don't. We are not going to knock them. That is just the way it is," he said.
He didn't refer to any particular player but there's no doubt that Cork star Patrick Horgan would not be happy with his performance.
He scored 0-5 from placed balls but made little impact in open play, unlike Kelly who scored 0-5 and got possession no fewer than 20 times.
And so the Ballyea fairytale continues as they now look ahead to an All-Ireland semi-final clash with Galway champions St Thomas' in February.
Any views on that, Stan? "Haven't thought about it. We'll celebrate this first. It has been some year for us. When we started out all we were thinking of was the Clare championship and now we're Munster champions too," said Lineen.
They will now feel that winning All-Ireland title is a real possibility, a view many will share after tracking their progress in recent months.
Scorers - Ballyea: N Deasy 0-7 (3f), T Kelly 0-5, P Lillis 1-1, G O'Connell 0-3, D Burke, PJ Connolly 0-2 each, G Brennan 0-1. Glen Rovers: C Dorris 2-1, P Horgan 0-5 (4f, 1'65), M Dooley 0-2, D Cunningham, C O'Brien 0-1 each.
Ballyea - K Sheridan; B Carrig, J Browne, J Neylon; G O'Connell, P Flanagan, J Murphy; T Kelly, S Lineen; N Deasy, PJ Connolly, C Doonan; P Lillis, G Brennan, D Burke. Sub: P O'Connell for Connolly (62).
Glen Rovers - C Hickey; C Healy, S McDonnell, G Moylan; D Dooling, B Moylan, G Callanan; D Cronin, D Noonan; D Brosnan, P Horgan, D Cunningham; C Dorris, C O'Brien, D Busteed. Subs: M Dooley for Busteed (37), B Murphy for G Moylan (37), G Kennefick for O'Brien (45).
Ref - J Murphy (Limerick).