PETTITT'S SENIOR HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP
Rathnure 2-20 Cloughbawn 0-20
The weight of a proud history was on the shoulders of the Rathnure players in Chadwicks Wexford Park on Friday but, rather than being a burden, it served to inspire them in a powerful finish as they overtook neighbours Cloughbawn and stormed to victory in a tension-filled Pettitt’s Senior hurling championship relegation final.
Their incredible unbroken status as a constant presence in the top flight since their Junior title win of 1940 is maintained as a result, but spare a thought for their rivals who had suffered a similar fate when losing to Ferns St. Aidan’s by two points in 2017.
It took them two years to bounce back up from Intermediate on that occasion, and it won’t be any easier now.
And they will be sick to the stomach when thoughts of this clash enter their minds, because it looked set up for a Cloughbawn victory when they led by 0-19 to 0-15 with twelve minutes left.
Rathnure appeared vulnerable but, just like in 2015 when they pipped Shamrocks in the relegation decider by one point, they saved themselves and brought immense joy and relief to their legion of supporters in the process.
It has been a very difficult campaign for the club after losing so many key players to long-term injury, but their spirit never wavered and this quality shone through in an absorbing finish.
Cloughbawn were outscored by 2-5 to 0-1, with the push for survival kick-started by a key contribution from their outstanding performer in the 49th minute.
Corner-forward Seán O’Connor ended the contest with a magnificent 1-7 from play, and his goal started that late scoring surge as he calmly finished off good approach work from Ciarán O’Connor and Michael Redmond at the Clonard end (0-19 to 1-15).
He then latched on to an A.J. Redmond free to equalise, before Bob Whitty edged Cloughbawn back in front after a foul on the excellent Connal Flood in the 52nd minute.
Rathnure were inspired thereafter, scoring 1-4 without reply, although their rivals will rue three late wides as well as the straight red card shown to Johnny Cullen for an off-the-ball pull on Ciarán O’Connor.
There was a large element of frustration attached to that incident, as it came at the start of three additional minutes and after Rathnure had stormed into a five-point lead.
They had responded immediately to that Whitty point that made it 0-20 to 1-16, with Jack Redmond catching the puck-out, earning a free, and splitting the posts.
A diagonal Shane Lawlor pass then picked out Redmond for the lead score, before the former’s astute over-the-shoulder handpass on the left flank split the Cloughbawn defence wide open and resulted in the clinching second goal.
Seán O’Connor turned provider on this occasion, giving a handpass to Michael Redmond who got there just before advancing goalkeeper Seán Keating and placed his shot in the net for a 2-18 to 0-20 lead.
Fittingly, the magnificent O’Connor added the last two points for the winners, with the first a superb improvised scooped effort before he cut out a panicked Cloughbawn line ball and brought his haul to 1-7.
Seán Keating had come forward beforehand to take a free that was saved, while Harry Kehoe’s effort from the rebound was also kept out on a bitterly disappointing night for Cloughbawn.
The big talking point at the outset was the return from the USA of Jack Guiney to assist Rathnure in their hour of need.
While he did win two first-half frees that led to points, he was held scoreless and his involvement was limited – to be expected in fairness, as he came into an environment where most of the other players had five competitive games under their belts with the clear benefit of match sharpness.
Still, his mere presence alone ensured that he had to be closely watched, and it could be argued that Seán O’Connor in particular benefited from that scenario.
Rathnure started with two players, A.J. Redmond and Eamon Wickham, in the immediate vicinity of Cloughbawn dangerman Connal Flood on the ’40, and both had turns in the marking and free-man roles.
This in turn left Cloughbawn captain Barry Kehoe on his own at the opposite end, and he got on a lot of loose ball in the first-half in particular.
Traffic congestion caused a 15-minute delay to the throw-in of a game that had aroused strong interest from all over the county, and the tension rather than the quality made it a gripping contest from the off.
While a nervous Cloughbawn missed a couple of early frees after Bob Whitty nailed his first, Rathnure were quicker out of the traps and moved into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after seven minutes thanks to Seán O’Connor, Jack Redmond (play and free) plus Micheál O’Connor – assigned to mark Harry Kehoe in midfield while his twin brother looked after the bulk of the scoring.
Cloughbawn improved as the half wore on and, with Bob Whitty and Kehoe picking off points and Connal Flood posing a constant threat, they were level (0-5 each) at the start of the second quarter.
And the teams were deadlocked on another five occasions prior to half-time before a late Whitty free left Cloughbawn with a slender 0-12 to 0-11 lead.
Ciarán O’Connor equalised just 21 seconds into the new half, but a huge moment arrived directly from the puck-out.
Páidí Cullen released Liam Flood who bore down on the town end goal and shot from the edge of the square, but veteran netminder Dermot Flynn kept his eye on the sliothar and brought off one of the most important saves he has ever made in a Rathnure jersey.
Jack Redmond (’65) edged the black and ambers in front (0-13 to 0-12), with Connal Flood levelling in the 37th minute.
And while Seán O’Connor settled for a point after a Shane Kehoe interception denied a goal chance, Cloughbawn then came good with four scores without reply between the 41st and 45th minutes.
After Paddy Whitty levelled, Flood, Barry Kehoe and Bob Whitty (free) all followed suit to leave the 2019 Intermediate champions with a 0-17 to 0-14 lead.
Jack Redmond pulled one back from a free, only for Harry Kehoe and Bob Whitty to pick off points that left the first real bit of daylight between the sides (0-19 to 0-15).
It was a critical stage for Rathnure, but the response they produced was typical of a club that has played such an illustrious role in the history of Wexford hurling since that Junior breakthrough in 1940.
Their first win of the year was enough to save them from a fate that simply couldn’t be countenanced.
Rathnure: Dermot Flynn; Stephen Martin, Eoin Boggan, Paddy Whiteley; Philip Redmond, A.J. Redmond, Aidan Redmond (capt.); Micheál O’Connor (0-1), Shane Lawlor (0-1); Ciarán O’Connor (0-1), Jack Redmond (0-10, 6 frees, 1 ’65), Michael Redmond (1-0); Seán O’Connor (1-7), Jack Guiney, Eamon Wickham. Subs. – Owen Lennon for J. Redmond, temp. (29-30+1), Lennon for Aidan Redmond (53), Michael Martin for C. O’Connor (60+2).
Cloughbawn: Seán Keating; Gary Kennedy, Barry Carton, Shane Kehoe; Barry Kehoe (capt., 0-1), Colm Kehoe, Darragh Kehoe; Harry Kehoe (0-4), Johnny Cullen; Páidí Cullen, Connal Flood (0-5), Paddy Whitty (0-1); Liam Flood, Alan Carton, Bob Whitty (0-9, 6 frees). Subs. – Jack Fleming for A. Carton (35), Darragh Redmond for L. Flood (52).
Referee: James Owens (Askamore).