Thursday 24 January 2019

Fabulous Fethard enjoy strong finish

The Courtyard Ferns IHC Final replay: Fethard 0-14 - Cloughbawn 1-9

Joint captains Garrett Foley and Graham O’Grady lift the cup for Fethard
Joint captains Garrett Foley and Graham O’Grady lift the cup for Fethard
The Fethard players and mentors in joyous form after their replay victory in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday
Cloughbawn, whose quest to make an immediate return to Senior ranks ended in bitter disappointment

Alan Lewis

Fethard's fine display in the drawn game was no one-off occurrence, a fact made crystal clear in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday when their ravenous appetite for hard work inspired a fully-merited replay win over Cloughbawn in The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate hurling championship final.

Their loyal followers, huddled together in the main stand on a bitterly cold day, went absolutely wild at the finish, and nobody could blame them after the seasiders hit three unanswered points in the last six minutes including added time to return to the top flight for the first time since 2001.

Thriving in the role of underdogs, and putting their bodies on the line to get the job done, Fethard have now lost just one knockout game out of 13 since their Intermediate 'A' final replay defeat of 2016 to neighbours St. James' - and that was in the All-Ireland Junior decider in Croke Park last February against Ardmore from Waterford, and only after extra-time.

It's a remarkable tale of sporting progress, and it's no more than they deserve after their generally youthful charges produced that powerful finish to leave Cloughbawn shell-shocked and shattered in equal measure at the final whistle.

Let's not forget that, six days before that Intermediate 'A' loss for Fethard two years ago, their rivals over the last two weekends were contesting the Senior decider and only went down to Oulart-The Ballagh by three points.

Their fall from being one of the top two contenders in club hurling wasn't foreseen, and if someone had said back in October, 2016, that Fethard would be Senior and Cloughbawn would be Intermediate in 2019, they would have attracted some curious looks.

That's the beauty of sport, though, the sheer unpredictability of it all, and anyone who watched the draw and replay would have to agree that the St. Mogue's victory was thoroughly deserved.

It was asking a lot to expect a repeat of that excellent high-scoring contest from six days earlier, and this was a more dour affair with the cold and wind certainly not adding to the spectacle.

As expected, Cloughbawn started Colm Kehoe at centre-back after the influence he exerted there following his switch in the drawn game, with Conor Harrington missing out.

Corey Bolger, son of Fethard trainer Kevin, came in at midfield in a bid to keep tabs on Garrett Foley, while Connal Flood was preferred in attack to Colin Doyle and started on the edge of the square, with captain Barry Carton moving to the left wing.

Fethard made just one change in personnel, with Bryan Power replacing Darren Foley in the full-forward line, but Mark Wallace moved out to the '40 while Ciarán Dwyer operated in the number 14 slot.

Defenders rarely get the credit they deserve in club hurling, but the Fethard sextet are due the height of praise for their collective effort in shutting down the Cloughbawn attack.

Corner-backs Daniel Mullan and Martin Power are the unsung heroes of this team, while one fantastic first-half block by Kevin Rowe, that resulted in a Bryan Power point at the other end, will live long in the memory.

Daire Barden further enhanced his reputation with another polished display at centre-back, while Richard Waters and man-marking specialist Rúairí Tubrid also contributed immensely over the two games.

Cloughbawn were first off the mark when Harry Kehoe set up Barry Carton for a point from the left flank after 66 seconds, but Fethard responded when a Barden catch and pass led to Mark Wallace selling a neat dummy before splitting the posts.

All bar four of the winning tally came from Wallace, later named as the official man of the match, and he seemed to revel in the enhanced freedom afforded to him by starting at centre-forward.

He gave Fethard the lead for the first time in the seventh minute from a short Bryan Power pass, before nailing a free to make it 0-3 to 0-1 midway through the opening quarter.

However, while the south county side were enjoying lots of the ball after Cloughbawn won the toss and opted to face the breeze first, the wides were also mounting as they had five amassed already by the twelfth minute.

Kevin Rowe's block on a Bob Whitty point attempt set in train the move that ended with Bryan Power scoring at the other end, and by that juncture Cloughbawn veteran M.J. Furlong had drifted outfield in a bid to win more possession for his team around the middle third.

Uncertain defending from Cloughbawn was punished by Wallace when he rifled over his third point from play in the 17th minute, but the Enniscorthy District side finally started to step things up as the second quarter progressed.

A swift pick and point by Furlong from a Bob Whitty handpass gave them their first score in 17 minutes, and they pounced for an opportunist equalising goal after Garrett Foley fired a line ball wide at the other end.

Noel Carton's puck-out broke off his brother, Alan, into the path of Harry Kehoe who raced into the open ground in front of him at the Clonard end before planting the ball in the net beyond Seán Foley (1-2 to 0-5).

Kehoe followed immediately with a neat lead point from tight to the sideline before a Corey Bolger handpass from a Colm Kehoe clearance led to Bob Whitty doubling his team's lead.

Mark Wallace pulled one back from a free after a trip on John Tubritt, but a Harry Kehoe placed ball provided the last point of the half (1-5 to 0-6) before Fethard finished with four more wides - including a couple of Wallace frees - to bring their tally of misses to ten.

When reliable full-back Tomás Furlong didn't re-appear for the second-half it was a blow to Cloughbawn's chances, and his brother, M.J., moved to right half-back while Barry Kehoe reverted to the edge of the square.

The early stages on the re-start provided poor fare, with Cloughbawn striking three wides and Fethard chalking up another two before Harry Kehoe earned and converted a free in the 42nd minute.

Mark Wallace responded with a placed ball from 90 metres, and it was down to a one-point game going into the last quarter when he registered again after a foul on Graham O'Grady (1-6 to 0-8).

Bryan Power opted for a pass that was intercepted when he might have been better advised to go for his own score, and Cloughbawn availed of that let-off as a Harry Kehoe free and Bob Whitty's second point pushed them clear by 1-8 to 0-8.

Fethard substitutes Mikie Dwyer and Eddie Power both made major impacts, with the latter earning a free for Wallace to convert in the 49th minute.

John Tubritt, moved to right half-back when Power came on, was then taken down after catching a Kevin Rowe clearance, and Wallace did the needful once more (1-8 to 0-10).

The leveller came from the same source, after Harry Kehoe touched the ball on the ground and the placed ball was brought forward after some dissent from Colm Kehoe earned a booking.

Cloughbawn were feeling the heat, but they still managed to edge ahead again when Fethard briefly switched off, with Colm Kehoe playing a short free to his left for Harry Kehoe to knock over unchallenged (1-9 to 0-11).

Fethard are a dangerous animal coming down the home straight with even the slightest possibility of a win though, and so it proved as they reeled off those last three points on the bounce.

A fine long-range strike from the left by joint captain Garrett Foley was followed by four tense scoreless minutes before a Daire Barden delivery found substitute Eddie Power who struck a superb lead point 43 seconds into added time (0-13 to 1-9).

Alan Carton had hit a Cloughbawn wide on their previous attack, and when the tenacious Joe Sutton caught the puck-out after that Power point, they were under pressure once more.

A timely hook on Graham O'Grady led to their last attack of note, but Corey Bolger shot wide from a Carton handpass before Fethard came up with the insurance point.

Mikie Dwyer stepped away from a scramble for possession on the ground and pointed from close to where Power had done the same, a fitting way to bring his injury-ravaged year to an end.

The full-time whistle followed just 13 seconds later, and Fethard were in dreamland.

The second club to win Intermediate 'A' and Intermediate hurling titles in successive years (after Shamrocks in 2013 and 2014), their return to Senior means that the New Ross District will be represented again in the top flight in 2019 after a five-year gap since the relegation of Adamstown in 2014.

For the record, Fethard shot 14 wides and Cloughbawn had eleven, with the victors awarded 15 frees while the losers received seven.

Yellow cards were shown to Joe Sutton, Garrett Foley, Gavin Murphy and Colm Kehoe in a sportingly-contested game.

The victors have a tough Leinster opener in store against Kiltale, the experienced Meath Senior champions, on Saturday.

Fethard: Seán Foley; Daniel Mullan, Kevin Rowe, Martin Power; Richard Waters, Daire Barden, Rúairí Tubrid; Joe Sutton, Garrett Foley (joint capt., 0-1); John Tubritt, Mark Wallace (0-10, 7 frees), Graham O'Grady (joint capt.); Bryan Power (0-1), Ciarán Dwyer, Jimmy Sutton. Subs. - Mikie Dwyer (0-1) for C. Dwyer (43), Eddie Power (0-1) for Waters (45), Darren Foley for Jimmy Sutton (56), also Kieran Furlong, Jesse Foley, Adam Swan, Brian Dillon, James Dillon, Shane Tubrid, Chris Molloy, Seán Sutton, Ricky Rowe, Paul Foley, Adam Waters, Noel Colfer, Aran Murphy.

Cloughbawn: Noel Carton; Gavin Murphy, Tomás Furlong, James Dempsey; Barry Kehoe, Colm Kehoe, Johnny Cullen; Páidí Cullen, Corey Bolger; Harry Kehoe (1-5, 0-3 frees), Alan Carton, Barry Carton (capt., 0-1); Bob Whitty (0-2), Connal Flood, M.J. Furlong (0-1). Subs. - Paul Foley for T. Furlong (HT), Conor Harrington for J. Cullen (51), Colin Doyle for Flood (58), also Seán Keating, Joey Lawlor, Thomas Foley, David Doyle-Murphy, Liam Kehoe, Billy Wickham, Kyle Murphy.

Referee: Barry Redmond (Clonard).

Gorey Guardian