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Healy the hero for battling Kilmaley

KILMALEY 1-10 ST JOSEPH'S 1-9 Clare SHC final IT was all about work-rate, hunger and sheer grit at Cusack Park yesterday, as Kilmaley clinched their first Clare SHC title since 1985, before a crowd of 7,000.

After days of persistent rain and the additional downpour throughout the match, the pitch cut up significantly from an early stage, and so this contest was not an occasion suited to stylish hurling.

The closing stages of this full-blooded encounter neatly encapsulated the general trend of the preceding exchanges.

A replay looked the likely outcome when St Joseph's Seánie McMahon pointed a 65-metre free to level the scores at 1-9 each a minute into stoppage time.

But almost immediately an heroic piece of defensive play by Conor McMahon led to Kilmaley registering the winning point.

Conor McMahon's clearance was gathered by Conor Clancy who off-loaded to Brian Healy, who expertly split the posts from about 45 metres.

"It was a terrific score by Brian as he had to hit the ball virtually over his shoulder because of the intense pressure he was under," remarked Clare ace Alan Markham, who turned in a tour-de-force for Kilmaley at centre-back.

"I think on the day we were a little hungrier than St Joseph's, and even when they levelled just before the end we didn't panic."

His sentiments were shared by Kilmaley captain Colin Lynch. "In contrast to ourselves, St Joseph's have enjoyed a lot of success over the last few years, including winning the All-Ireland. So I suppose it was understandable that we perhaps had a little more desire than they had out there today," remarked Lynch, who was winning his second county medal, having also tasted success with Éire Óg, Ennis back in 1990 as a 17-year-old.

"No matter what happened today, we were fired up to give 100 per cent, and you could see that when St Joseph's came back to level just before the end."

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As well as their tremendous will-to-win, one of the key factors in the success of Kilmaley, who were on level terms 1-5 each at the interval, and three times in the second half, was the superb manner in which they contained three of their opponents' big guns - Seánie McMahon, Ollie Baker and Jamesie O'Connor.

Centre-back Seánie McMahon, who interestingly faced four first cousins - Markham and brothers Conor, Diarmuid & Brian McMahon - was only infrequently able to deliver his massive trademark clearances because of the close attentions of former Clare player Conor Clancy.

At midfield, Baker's touch was unsure and he largely played second fiddle to Diarmuid McMahon. And although he scored four points from frees, centre-forward O'Connor failed to make the scoresheet from play until the 58th minute.

O'Connor was tightly marked by Markham, who, up to this year, had always played in attack for both his club and Clare.

The situation was compounded for O'Connor, by the fact that the Kilmaley defence tackled en masse, and so also made it very difficult for him to bring the best out of his attack.

St Joseph's over-relied on O'Connor to pose their attacking threat, whereas the danger from their Kilmaley counterparts, was more diffused and all six players, including customary Clare midfielder Lynch, who lined out at right half-forward played their part.

Diminutive midfielder Conor Sexton scored a super long-range point for Kilmaley on 44 minutes. And as well as Markham, corner-backs Ciarán Murphy and Conor McMahon caught the eye in defence.

St Joseph's goalkeeper Christy O'Connor made one super save in the first half, and Kenneth Kennedy and David Hoey were often to the fore in the losers' rearguard.

On 15 minutes Kilmaley raced into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead when a long ball by Healy was misjudged by goalkeeper O'Connor and Conor Neylon took full advantage to find the net.

But St Joseph's hit back on 28 minutes when goalkeeper Kieran Dillon and defender Conor McMahon misjudged a delivery from O'Connor, and sub Damien Kennedy nipped in to tap the ball to the net to reduce his side's deficit to 1-4 to 1-5.

SCORERS - Kilmaley: K Kennedy 0-5 (5f), C Neylon 1-0, B Healy 0-2, C Sexton, C Lynch, A Markham (f) 0-1 each. St Joseph's: J O'Connor 0-5 (4f), D Kennedy 1-0, S McMahon 0-2 (2f), L Hassett, E Conroy 0-1 each.

KILMALEY - K Dillon; C Murphy, A Cahill, C McMahon; E Burke, A Markham, E Slattery; D McMahon, C Sexton; C Lynch, C Clancy, K Kennedy; C Neylon, B McMahon, B Healy. Sub: S Murphy for Neylon (61).

ST JOSEPH'S - C O'Connor; C O'Sullivan, K Kennedy, F O'Sullivan; D Hoey, S McMahon, D O'Driscoll; O Baker, K Dilleen; E Conroy, J O'Connor, L Hassett; P Fahy, N Brodie, E Whelan. Subs: D Kennedy for Fahy (21), G Baker for Conroy (55).

REF - R Hickey (Eire Óg).

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