Goals give Cloughbawn edge
The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate Hurling Championship Final: Cloughbawn 3-14 HWH-Bunclody 0-17
Cloughbawn were in no mood to slip up for the second year running in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday as they returned to the top flight after a gap of two seasons with a six-point win over HWH-Bunclody in The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate hurling championship final.
Their goal-getting ability got them over the line against their Enniscorthy District rivals, with the three green flags raised in the opening 23 minutes giving them a lead that they had improved upon by the end.
Nonetheless, the accuracy of HWH-Bunclody joint captain Billy Kelly from placed balls kept his side in touch, and the outcome still hung in the balance with four and a half minutes of normal time left when Cloughbawn held a 3-10 to 0-17 lead.
Significantly, though, the Carlow border crew had never looked like getting through for the goal they needed, and that was due in large part to the excellence of veteran defender Tomás Furlong on the edge of the square.
With only a two-point advantage coming down the home straight, Cloughbawn could have been forgiven if a little panic set in and memories of last year's final defeat to Fethard after a replay returned.
In fairness to them, the exact opposite was the case, because they duly reeled off the last four points on the bounce to make the game safe and collect the Intermediate crown for the first time since 1973.
In a game featuring 34 frees in total, 17 per side, it was in keeping with the trend that three of those title-securing scores came from placed balls.
Long-serving county player Harry Kehoe may have carried an injury into the final, but he ended with an impressive 1-10 to his name from frees, including three of those late scores.
The first came after a foul on Bob Whitty, who then made it 3-12 to 0-17 in the 59th minute after being picked out by Connal Flood.
Two more successful frees in added time from Kehoe made doubly sure of the win for Cloughbawn, who managed to overcome the absence of influential midfielder Barry Carton owing to a knee injury picked up in a soccer game seven days earlier.
The game produced as many scores as frees, 34 in all, but it was generally of the stop-start variety as a result.
And for long stages it was a shoot-out between Kehoe and Billy Kelly, with their respective tallies of 1-10 and 0-12 all arriving from placed balls.
Indeed, the opening score from play didn't come until the 18th minute when HWH-Bunclody's Eddie Black intercepted a Corey Bolger clearance on the right flank and split the posts to leave his side trailing by 1-3 to 0-4.
They had shipped a serious blow in the third minute when Harry Kehoe arrowed in his first free at head height from midfield, and the trajectory deceived goalkeeper John Byrne and ended up in the net.
Two Billy Kelly frees steadied the side appearing in their first final since 2012 and seeking a fifth title, but Kehoe replied with a brace before Bob Whitty directed a sweet line ball over the bar from 50 metres on the left flank.
Another Kelly free was followed by that Eddie Black point, and HWH-Bunclody had the margin down to the minimum when a lovely pass from Seán Kenny - who had his suspension lifted during the week - set up Eoin Kelly to make it 1-3 to 0-5.
Their inability to even draw level before the break, let alone edge ahead, meant they were always chasing the game though, and a route one approach from the opposition led to the concession of a second goal from the puck-out.
Noel Carton launched one down the middle, and the break was seized upon by Cloughbawn's most experienced attacker, M.J. Furlong. He had Aidan Nolan on his tail as he embarked on a determined solo run, but he kept going and was able to get his shot away and beat John Byrne to establish a 2-3 to 0-5 lead.
Kelly pulled back a point from a free, only for Barry Carton's replacement, promising youngster Eanna Doyle, to pick off a fine score from close to the sideline under the stand.
HWH-Bunclody continued to hang in there, with Seán Kenny hitting the target despite heavy pressure before another Kelly free made it 2-4 to 0-8.
Once again though, they were undone from a puck-out, as this time Páidí Cullen seemed to move the ball in the direction of Connal Flood who pounced on it and cut through to crash the sliothar to the net.
Just four wides were struck in the first-half, three from Cloughbawn, and they went on to lead by 3-5 to 0-11 at the break after Harry Kehoe responded to a trio of HWH-Bunclody scores.
Billy Kelly had brought his personal tally to seven before a first-time pull by Colm Kehoe was blocked just outside his own 45-metre line by Aidan Nolan who fired over a monster strike at the Clonard end.
HWH-Bunclody had fire in their bellies on the re-start, and they did force parity inside nine minutes thanks to grabbing the first three points of the half.
Two accurate '65s from Kelly came on either side of a rousing score from one-time Leinster inter-provincial player Colm Farrell from close to the stand sideline after he thundered out of defence.
Cloughbawn needed a swift response and duly got it in the form of two Harry Kehoe pointed frees, but Kelly matched that feat at the other end to leave the sides deadlocked (0-16 to 3-7) with eleven and a half minutes remaining.
The bitter, but nonetheless beneficial, experience that comes from losing a final came to the fore from that stage onwards as Cloughbawn reeled off seven of the last eight points to deservedly make their way back to Senior ranks.
Connal Flood restored their lead after latching on to Noel Carton's puck-out, and a couple of Kehoe frees, the second from his own 65-metre line, made it 3-10 to 0-16 in the 52nd minute.
Billy Kelly kept it interesting with the last of his twelve points, but the end of the game belonged to Cloughbawn as those four late scores saw them return to the Senior ranks they had graced without a break from 1974 to 2017.
The winners, who will now take on the Kildare Senior champions, Naas, in the AIB Leinster Club quarter-final at a home venue this Saturday, hit eight of the game's 13 wides as well as sharing the 34 frees.
All is not lost for HWH-Bunclody either, because they can now switch their focus to the long-delayed Intermediate football semi-final replay against St. Mary's (Maudlintown) in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
Cloughbawn: Noel Carton; Gavin Murphy, Tomás Furlong, James Dempsey; Barry Kehoe, Corey Bolger, Colm Kehoe; Eanna Doyle (0-1), Páidí Cullen; Billy Wickham, Alan Carton (capt.), Connal Flood (1-1); M.J. Furlong (1-0), Harry Kehoe (1-10 frees), Bob Whitty (0-2, 1 line ball). Subs. - Paul Foley for Wickham (51), Joey Lawler for M.J. Furlong (60+4), Johnny Cullen for B. Kehoe (60+5), also Barry Carton, Seán Keating, David Doyle-Murphy, Conor Harrington, Davin Murphy, Thomas Foley, Liam Kehoe, Cathal Spratt, Colin Murphy, Jack Fleming, Stephen Casserly.
HWH-Bunclody: John Byrne; Conor Crean, Colm Farrell (0-1), Ciarán Kavanagh; Martin O'Connor, Aidan Nolan (joint capt., 0-1), Lee Levingstone; Páraic Sinnott, Billy Kelly (joint capt., 0-12, 10 frees, 2 '65s); Eoin Kelly (0-1), Seán Kenny (0-1), Eddie Black (0-1); Edward Dunbar, Peter Atkinson, Tadgh O Ceallaigh. Subs. - Jason Cowman for O Ceallaigh (56), Kevin Dunne for Black (58), also Arthur O'Neill, Matty Byrne, Cathal Doyle, John Dunne, Josh Martin, Barry Kehoe, Diarmuid Crean, Thos. O'Neill, Jamie Kavanagh, Cathal Dunbar, Ronan Roberts.
Referee: Brendan Martin (Ballyhogue).