Murray inspires Coolderry into final
AS the Gaelic Grounds pitch cleared on Saturday, talk among the Coolderry support had already turned to the final and the St Patrick's Day showdown with Antrim's Loughgiel Shamrocks.
Coolderry had controlled the previous 60 minutes -- the Offaly side were never headed -- and comfortably outscored the Galway men to reach their first All-Ireland decider.
However, as news of Loughgiel's extra-time win filtered through, Coolderry boss Ken Hogan sounded a note of caution ahead of the final, where his side will go in as clear favourites.
"There's a huge tradition to Antrim hurling. They're the only (Ulster) club with an All-Ireland club championship, and they won that after a replay with an Offaly team," said Hogan.
"Damien Martin was on that team and he reminded me of that a few weeks ago.
"They (St Rynagh's) drew with Loughgiel in Croke Park and after that they were thinking, 'oh we have our second chance' -- but no, Loughgiel won. So they were the only team in the last four with that pedigree of having won an All-Ireland."
While Coolderry were slight favourites going into this match, the margin of victory was surprising. The bookmakers weren't keen to take on either of these sides but by half-time, when Coolderry enjoyed a four point lead (1-10 to 0-9), Gort already looked in trouble.
Eoin Ryan had bagged the game's opening goal with a deft finish and with Damian Murray -- who landed the point of the day with an acrobatic over-the-shoulder effort on 26 minutes -- and Cathal Parlon in fine point-scoring form, the Offaly men looked dangerous.
Gort relied heavily on the free-taking of Gerard Quinn to stay in touch, and their cause was further hampered when full-back Mark McMahon went off with a knee injury he carried into the game.
Coolderry extended their lead to eight points five minutes after the break with the best move of the day. Murray started it, with Ryan applying a clever pass before Murray scooped a ball across goal that Parlon shovelled to the net.
That goal sparked a Gort revival and they landed the next four points, including a huge effort from Jason Grealish.
However, Brian Carroll, who had been largely anonymous in the opening half, landed two excellent scores to steady the ship before Murray's late goal put a gloss on the scoreline.
"Thankfully we got over the line -- we worked as hard as we could," said Hogan. "Gort had a few chances of goals in the first half, but we got the breaks that put a bit of daylight between us and them.
"The goal we got gave us some breathing space, and thankfully the likes of Martin Corcoran showed his experience, and his ball-winning ability was unbelievable. We have guys on the sideline, and they're what makes the team."
Gort manager Mattie Murphy missed out on a appearance in Croke Park six months ahead of his almost-annual trip there with the Galway minors in September, but he insisted the better team won, even though his side beat All-Ireland champions Clarinbridge to secure the Galway championship.
"We can have no complaints," Murphy said. "The better team won. We thought we had prepared very well, which we probably had, but goals win matches -- we conceded three and scored none. That's the bottom line I suppose.
"I thought we played exceptionally well for 10 or 15 minutes of the second half. We conceded another goal and that put us on the back foot, but we brought that back to four points again.
"We had opportunities at that stage to have maybe got points or at least a goal, which would have put us right into the game, but we didn't get them. The third goal really was the sickening blow."
And Murphy was impressed with Coolderry, but backed his team to bounce back.
"They didn't allow us to get a run on goal. They were happy enough to concede a free 30 or 40 yards out. They'd remind you a bit of Kilkenny in that," he said. "We were probably a bit naive in letting them open us up a bit too easily but it's all a learning curve."
SCORERS -- Coolderry: D Murray 1-8 (0-5f), C Parlon 1-2, E Ryan 1-0, B Carroll, B Teehan 0-2 each, K Teehan, M Corcoran 0-1 each. Gort: G Quinn 0-10 (0-7f, 2 '65), G O'Donoghue 0-2, B Regan, J Grealish, A Harte, R Cummins, O Fahy 0-1 each.
Coolderry -- S Corcoran; B Kelly, T Corcoran, A Corcoran; B O'Meara, J Brady, D King; K Teehan, K Brady; B Carroll, B Teehan, M Corcoran; E Ryan, C Parlon, D Murray. Sub: K Connolly for K Teehan (47).
Gort -- P Cummins; A Coen, M McMahon, M Cummins; G Lally, B Regan, S Og Linnane; J Grealish, S Forde; G Quinn, P Killilea, A Harte; R Cummins, O Fahy, G O'Donoghue. Subs: T Linnane for McMahon (28), K Killilea for Forde (h-t), M Mullins for Regan (43).
Ref -- J Sexton (Cork).