O'Meara thrilled by 'Bridge's rise on Banner wave
Sixmilebridge 1-17 Midleton 1-13
Munster Club SHC semi-final
Not for the first time, a rising tide appears to be lifting all the boats in Clare. The last time the Banner were the dominant force in the country at county level, there was a neat spin-off for their clubs too.
On the back of the 1995 and '97 successes there were All-Ireland titles for Sixmilebridge (1996) and St Joseph's Doora Barefield (1999) during an unprecedented spell of achievement that saw six successive Munster titles shared by four Clare clubs from 1995-2000, Wolfe Tones (1996) and Clarecastle (1997) also getting in on the act in addition to provincial victories for Doora Barefield in 1999 and Sixmilebridge in 2000 that completed the provincial sweep.
After a glorious September, it might not be unreasonable for Clare supporters to anticipate another club gold rush in the years ahead.
Sixmilebridge were the pioneers in the mid-'90s and they are trailblazers again now, returning to their first Munster final in 11 years and seeking a first success for the county since their own 2000 triumph.
Only seven days on from their county final success over Newmarket, they showed no ill effects from a heavy schedule over the last seven weeks with a confident performance over fancied Cork champions Midleton.
This game mirrored Clare's dominance over Cork – whose champions will now be absent from the provincial club decider for the seventh successive year.
Maybe a depth of ambition was the ultimate difference between the teams. Midleton had won their first Cork championship in 22 years two weeks earlier, and their manager Peter Smith admitted that was the summit of their ambitions for 2013.
"We never thought about it until after we won the county. We were so long waiting for a county," said Smith.
"It's been delivered and we're so proud of the lads. We can't ask any more. No complaints today... maybe bit disappointed with some of the refereeing decisions."
Conor Lehane had shot the lights out in the Cork final, hitting 2-10 (2-7 from play), and curbing his influence was pivotal to the 'Bridge's success.
Lehane started at left half-forward but within seconds had moved into full-forward before eventually drifting out to right half-forward. Everywhere he went he was pursued by Paidi Fitzpatrick, with others on alert around him.
"Conor scored 2-10 in the Cork final and there was no way we were going to let that happen again," said Sixmilebridge coach John O'Meara. "A goal and a few scores and we'd have been happy enough. I thought Paidi was outstanding on him, as was Aidan (Quilligan) on Luke O'Farrell inside."
The obsession with Lehane was most obvious at one stage in the second half when he was converged upon by three defenders but managed to get the ball away to Paul Haughney, availing of the additional space, for the first of his two quick-fire points to reduce the gap to 1-9 to 1-7.
But for the most part Sixmilebridge kept a tight rein on Lehane, restricting him to just 1-1 from play from a 1-5 total. Even at that the goal was came from a rebound from a close-range free that Lehane had taken. Failing to connect properly he shot low and was blocked, but reacted superbly to bat home on 28 minutes, leaving just two points in it, 1-7 to 1-5, at that stage after a dominant 'Bridge spell.
The game had started slowly with just one score each (Niall Gilligan from a free, Lehane from a '65') in the opening quarter. But it burst into life with a flurry of activity as the 'Bridge took command, Alan Mulready's goal on 18 minutes giving them impetus.
Caimin Morey was a dominant presence throughout at centre-back while Jamie Shanahan was most productive at midfield, where he got great assistance from Kevin Lynch, who had to retire injured early in the second half.
For Midleton Jamie Nagle showed well in the first half, while Aidan Ryan worked fruitfully off Morey, but with Lehane and O'Farrell failing to fire consistently they played way below the form that saw them return to the top in Cork. Still they were well in touch by half-time, trailing 1-7 to 1-6, and that was something that vexed O'Meara.
"We were disappointed at half-time to go in only a point up. We had been five points up and gave away 1-1 at the death of the half. We felt at half-time that we had the better hurling done and that we would go out and give this one right lash," he said.
"We got some scores at crucial times. Just in general I thought everyone upped their game at crucial times."
Among those was 37-year-old Gilligan, who once again used his hurling intelligence to good effect, scoring a wonderful first-half point and then setting up two more for Pa Sheehan after the break.
There was steely resolve from the Clare champions when Midleton drew level on 37 minutes, 1-9 each. Over the next 10 minutes they outscored their opponents by 0-5 to 0-1 to lay the foundations for success, with Shanahan at his best in this period.
They got a lucky break when Lehane hit the side-netting after a great Midleton move involving Brian Hartnett and O'Farrell on 49 minutes. Some of the estimated 1,500 crowd felt it was a goal but Lehane's placement of his hands in his head confirmed it was the right call that eventually led to the right result.
Scorers – Sixmilebridge: J Shanahan 0-5 (3fs, 1 '65'), A Mulready 1-1, N Gilligan (0-2fs), P Sheehan 0-3 each, K Lynch, S Morey, C Morey, S Golden, C Deasy 0-1 each. Midleton: C Lehane 1-5 (0-3fs, 1 '65'), A Ryan, P Haughney 0-2 each, P Dowling, L O'Farrell, T Wallace (1f), C Walsh 0-1 each.
Sixmilebridge – D Fahy; B Carey, P Fitzpatrick, A Quilligan; N Purcell, C Morey, J Fennessy; K Lynch, J Shanahan; R Shanahan, S Golden, S Morey; A Mulready,N Gilligan, P Sheehan. Subs: S O'Sullivan for Lynch (34), C Deasy for R Shanahan (53), D Morey for Sheehan (58).
Midleton – T Wallace; K Burke, A Kearney, P O'Mahony; S O'Farrell, F O'Mahony, J Nagle; P Haughney, P Dowling; P O'Shea, A Ryan, C Walsh; L O'Farrell, C Lehane, B Hartnett. Subs: D Ryan for O'Shea (20, inj), P O'Keeffe for C Walsh (59).
Ref – J Ryan (Tipperary).