Ageless Niall Gilligan rolls back years to 'Bridge gap
Sixmilebridge 1-10 Newmarket 0-11
DAVY Fitzgerald and Seadna Morey got the fairytale ending to their dream season when Sixmilebridge returned to the top of the Banner pile with their 11th county SHC title.
Morey lined out at wing-forward and described adding a county title to his All-Ireland senior and U-21 medals as "an amazing year" that he will never forget.
Clare's All-Ireland winning manager was among the sodden punters for this one, watching from a distance as his home club battled to a famous victory over their neighbours, defending champions Newmarket, in biblical conditions.
But one of the men who soldiered in the Clare trenches alongside Davy Fitz as a player was, remarkably, at the heart of their club's return to the big-time.
Inside the first minute a barnstorming run from Alan Mulready earned the 'Bridge a penalty and full-forward Niall Gilligan (37), in his sixth county final, did not flinch, expertly bouncing it home.
By game's end, the oldest man on the pitch was yet again top scorer, with 1-6 to his credit.
And while the 'Bridge's ageless wonder missed three scoring chances before half-time, he more than made up for it in the second half, particularly with the final two points from play that proved his side's insurance scores when the game was delicately balanced.
'Gilly' was only one of two 'Bridge starters who had ever won a county senior title before, so while his younger team-mates danced and chanted in the rain, he was asked to give this victory – their first in 11 years – a bit of perspective.
"This is brilliant! I probably appreciate this more than the few I won earlier in my career, because when you're younger, you take everything much easier," he grinned.
"When you get older, they're hard to come by."
When they lost a county final two years ago, in an even bigger quagmire, Gilligan got some stick for opting to put a penalty over the bar, and that influenced his decision to go bald-headed for goal yesterday.
They now face Midleton in Munster, and any notion of him hanging up his hurl in the near future looks remote as he vowed to keep going until he stops enjoying it.
"Sure it's not professional!" Gilligan quipped. "I really enjoy it and the craic with the lads."
A soaked but overjoyed Morey added: It's been a bit of an amazing year, I probably don't know what's hit me.
"This is one of the most memorable ones because it's something special to win it with your club, it's like winning it with your family.
"My brother and my cousins are on this team and it (the whole year) is something unreal that I'll keep with me for the rest of my life."
The new Clare champions' heroes certainly came in all shapes and sizes.
Towering teenager Jamie Shanahan (19) got the man of the match award in a pivotal performance from midfield.
At half-back Caimin Morey proved a rock, and Shane Golden, one of Clare's All-Ireland winning U-21s in 2012, was another who stood out.
And when it was all hands to the pump as their arch-rivals had them pinned back in their own half after half-time, it was Sixmilebridge's captain Aidan Quilligan who was particularly influential, giving massive leadership in defence where he had the unenviable job of marking county senior sharpshooter Colin Ryan.
He managed to contain him to just a point from play – and Quilligan's performance was all the more remarkable considering he only returned late this season after a cruciate injury.
"Aidan had a horrendous injury last year and only got back to us in August but you could see there why we made him captain, he just gives unbelievable leadership," said delighted manager John O'Meara.
This was a gruelling dog-fight whose nature was dictated by the vile weather and, ultimately came down to hunger.
Sixmilebridge were younger and faster and chased goals despite the terrible conditions which many predicted would suit the defending champions better, and they certainly pursued a relentless route-one long-ball tactic.
Gilligan's penalty set up the 'Bridge's early four-point lead but Newmarket, led by Ryan, David Barrett and Shane Liddy, then kept them scoreless for 14 minutes and went in two points clear (0-9 to 1-4) at the interval.
But the 'Bridge had shot eight wides by then, including four in one three-minute spell and, when their backs weathered a heavy overhead barrage on resumption, they wrested back dominance, keeping their opponents scoreless for 26 minutes while Rory Shanahan and substitute Pa Sheehan helped with the heavy lifting in midfield.
When Gilligan's first score from play after 52 minutes, a great piece of skill off the turn, put them three points clear they looked home free.
But Newmarket, to their credit, wouldn't give up and two great scores from Ryan and Mike McInerney got the gap to just a point with three minutes left before Noel Purcell and Shanahan combined to put Gilligan bearing down on goal and he fired over the insurance point that sealed their victory.
"We're absolutely thrilled," winning manager O'Meara said. "It was an unbelievable battle, as we knew it would be.
"We had a couple of hairy moments towards the end but we've been on a bit of a roll since the first round against Clooney.
"Some of the workrate, tackling and aggression we showed without actually giving away frees, I thought, was the winning of the game in the second half."
Scorers – Sixmilebridge: N Gilligan 1-6 (1-0 pen, 4fs), J Shanahan 0-2, S Morey, S Golden 0-1 each. Newmarket On-Fergus: C Ryan 0-6 (5fs), M O'Hanlon, R Goode, S Liddy, S Kelly, M McInerney 0-1 each.
Sixmilebridge – D Fahy; N Purcell, P Fitzpatrick, T Keogh; A Quilligan (Capt), C Morey, J Fennessy; K Lynch, J Shanahan; R Shanahan, S Golden, S Morey; D Morey, N Gilligan, A Mulready. Subs: B Carey for Keogh (20), P Sheehan for D Morey (37), S O'Sullivan for Fennessy (60).
Newmarket On-Fergus – D Duggan; E O'Brien, J McInerney, S O'Connor; N O'Connor, E Barrett (Capt), A Barrett; E Hayes, M O'Hanlon; D Barrett, S O'Brien Snr, C Ryan; R Goode, S Kelly, S Liddy.Subs: M McInerney for Hayes (40), J Liddy for S Liddy (46), S Kelleher for Goode (56).
Ref – R Hickey.