Tuesday 23 May 2017

Kerins switch key to 'Bridge glory

Brothers turn on the style to polish off Gaels
Clarinbridge 2-18
O'Loughlin G 0-12
All-Ireland SHC Club final

Clarinbridge's Barry Daly is chased down by Niall McEvoy of O'Loughlin
Gaels during yesterday's All-Ireland senior hurling club final at Croke
Park. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Clarinbridge's Barry Daly is chased down by Niall McEvoy of O'Loughlin Gaels during yesterday's All-Ireland senior hurling club final at Croke Park. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

For the second time in five days a Galway team has overseen a dramatic swing against Kilkenny opponents in the course of a hurling match.

Last Sunday, Galway came from nine points down to lead, at one stage, by nine against Kilkenny in their Allianz league meeting in Pearse Stadium and in Croke Park yesterday, Clarinbridge found themselves five points adrift approaching half-time, yet by the close of business, they were 12 points clear.

Such erratic behaviour is not customary for Kilkenny teams on the hurling field -- at least not in modern times.

But after last September's comprehensive All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary, what was dished out to their county representatives in the second half yesterday, will be heavy medicine for them.

Is the cloak of invincibility that has wrapped itself around the county's hurling teams finally beginning to disappear?

There was much at stake here. In addition to a first ever title, there was a chance to plant the county at the top of the club championship's roll of honour.

The previous six All-Ireland club champions had come from either Galway or Kilkenny and this helped to haul both counties on to the 10 title mark, one above Cork who have been the long time leaders since the competition's inception in 1971.

For Clarinbridge, the day was all about tuning into the same frequency as that of Thurles almost four weeks earlier when they won a wonderful semi-final against De La Salle.

If they could hit that pitch again, then atonement for 2002, when they lost their previous final appearance to Birr, was more probable than possible. But often after such highs and heroism in a semi-final, the big day can pass teams by.

And for much of the first half Clarinbridge minds looked to be still caught up in Thurles, as O'Loughlin Gaels threatened to pull effortlessly out of sight.

The Kilkenny side's centre-forward Mark Bergin ran the show early on, picking off four long-range points as his marker David Forde appeared to guard space in front of his full-back line more zealously.

All of Bergin's points were top class, but he showed frailty from two placed balls in the same period that should have given the Kilkenny city side, managed by former county midfielder Andy Comerford, a better cushion.

battles

O'Loughlin Gaels won all the early battles.

Half-back Niall Bergin hurled a lot of ball, their full-back line was in command and when Mark Bergin wasn't hitting the target, Danny Loughnane and Alan Geoghegan invariably were.

Clarinbridge looked dangerously out of touch in those early stages and could have been further than just 0-8 to 0-3 in arrears after 22 minutes. Maybe the lack of intensity to the exchanges lulled O'Loughlin Gaels into a false sense of security.

Significantly, neither of their county players, Brian Hogan at centre-back or Martin Comerford at full-forward, performed to expectation. Comerford was restricted to just one point.

The Clarinbridge management deserve credit for holding their nerve in that first half and making changes at the right time. The most important of these was switching the Kerins brothers, Alan and Mark, between centre-forward and full-forward, as half-time approached.

The difference was palpable. Alan had the freedom to drift deep into midfield and pick off some intelligent passes and Mark had the strength and combative skills to battle for possession inside.

Keeping Forde at centre-back when his direct opponent Bergin was profiting early on was also important. Forde delivered a stylish master-class in the second half when his hurling skills told.

Getting Enda Collins on the field for an underperforming Stephen Forde also paid dividends, with two points from the replacement within minutes of his arrival.

But it was the switching of the Kerins brothers that was game-changing.

Within minutes Mark held off Andy Kearns to control a delivery from Alan from further outfield for the first goal. And soon after he won a penalty off Kearns, once again having the strength to gather a Barry Daly ball under pressure.

Kerins' subsequent penalty was touched over, but the effect of those two plays was uplifting as the sides raced off for the interval locked at 1-7 to 0-10.

Clarinbridge re-emerged a different team, buzzing with the same energy that allowed them to survive against the Waterford champions in Thurles. Quickly it became apparent that this was their day, the adrenalin was surging through their veins again.

Mark Kerins continued to dictate and was involved in their first four scores of the second half, converting three frees and setting up Collins in another slick move.

Beside him Eoin Forde rose to the occasion and chipped in with a performance full of pace and precision. Alan Kerins, Barry Daly and Eanna Murphy kept the supply lines well oiled.

When Collins skipped out of trouble and landed a second point on 38 minutes, it was impossible to see Clarinbirdge losing.

O'Loughlin Gaels managed just two second-half points, both Bergin frees and were held scoreless for the last 23 minutes.

At the heart of the defence David Forde was immense. Even in the 60th minute with the game won he made a covering interception on Peter Dowling that summed up a 30 minute tour de force.

clearance

It was David Forde's clearance from defence that led to the second Clarinbridge goal, a kind bounce off Shane Burke sending Eoin Forde away with Eddie Kearns in futile pursuit. The finish was in keeping with a team that had the wind in their sails.

For a team that has made life difficult for themselves, this turned into a rout. Frustration told with the Kilkenny champions; rash tackles and yellow cards began to occur.

At the very end the disappointment was compounded when substitute Seamie Cummins pulled wildly across Conor Forde and saw red.

A great day, then, for Clarinbridge. A great week for Galway hurling. An unusual one for Kilkenny.

Scorers -- Clarinbridge: M Kerins 1-7 (4f, 1p), E Forde 1-4, A Kerins, E Collins 0-2 each, P Coen, E Murphy, J Cannon 0-1 each. O'Loughlin Gaels: M Bergin 0-6 (2f), A Geoghegan, D Loughnane 0-2 each, M Comerford, M Nolan 0-1 each.

Clarinbridge -- L Donoghue 7; C Forde 6, B Burke 8, P Callanan 6; J Cannon 7, D Forde 8, M Donoghue 7; B Daly 8, E Murphy 8; S Burke 6, M Kerins 9, S Forde 4; E Forde 9, A Kerins 8, P Coen 7. Sub: E Collins 8 for S Forde (29).

O'Loughlin Gaels -- S Murphy 6; B Kelly 6, A Kearns 6, E Kearns 5; A O'Brien 6, B Hogan 6, N Bergin 7; P Dowling 5, M Nolan 6; N McEvoy 6, M Bergin 8, A Geoghegan 7; B Dowling 4, M Comerford 6, D Loughnane 7. Subs: S Cummins for Dowling (32), B Murphy for Kelly (58).

Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).

Irish Independent

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