THE genius of scoring machine Liam Watson shattered Coolderry’s hopes of an historic AIB All-Ireland club title success at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day. Wily Watson ran riot, hitting 3-7 as Loughgiel Shamrocks went goal crazy during a devastating first half performance and try as they did, shell shocked Coolderry were unable to conjure up a meaningful recovery.
Loughgiel Shamrocks 4-13
The sides were deadlocked twice during an intriguing and free flowing opening quarter (0-1 apiece after 4 minutes and 0-6 to 1-3 after 14 minutes).
However, rampant Loughgiel outscored their opponents by 3-3 to 0-3 during a decisive second quarter, giving them a commanding nine-point, 4-6 to 0-9, interval cushion and they subsequently never looked back.
Ironically, it was in the second quarter where Coolderry dismantled Gort so ruthlessly in the All-Ireland semi-final but on this occasion they were on the receiving end and were grievously wounded with two of their full back trio – Trevor Corcoran and Brian Kelly – being called ashore prior to the shrill of the final whistle.
In fairness, Coolderry boss Ken Hogan re-jigged his hand for a concluding half where they were out on the pitch far earlier than Loughgiel, and they purposefully set about retrieving the cause.
Four unanswered points during the opening five minutes reduced the arrears to five points, 0-13 to 4-6, and one sensed a famous comeback wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.
That unfortunately was the closest Coolderry got and with Martin Scullion (who plucked umpteen high balls out of the sky), team captain Johnny Campbell and Neill McGarry erecting the shutters and putting their bodies on the line, it was Loughghiel, cheered on by their passionate and vocal fans, that captured their second All-Ireland title, bridging a 29 years gap to when they secured their first crown at the expense of another Offaly club St Rynagh’s.
Coolderry were understandably bitterly disappointed. They didn’t do them-selves justice and the type of breaks required to ensure victory simply didn’t go their way.
Three times during the first half goal opportunities that they were putting away previously went abegging. AIB Leinster hurler of the year Cathal Parlon drilled a first minute strike into the side-netting although he claimed DD Quinn deflected the sliotar away for a ’65 that wasn’t given.
While twice, in the 12th and 14th minutes, Eoin Ryan slipped the attention of Ronan McCloskey to get on the end of deliveries from Martin Corcoran and Barry Teehan, only for his usually assured first touch to desert him and with it went the chance of finding the twine.
Matters were very much in the melting pot at this early juncture and failure to execute these half chances ultimately came back to haunt Coolderry.
In their last four matches (versus Birr, Ballyboden St Enda’s, Oulart-the-Ballagh and Gort), the Coolderry defence conceded just a solitary goal but they uncharacteristically buckled on Saturday, shipping four first half goals and this left them with a daunting task that proved insurmountable.
The skilful and deft turn-of-foot of Shay Casey saw him leave Brian Kelly in his slipstream and he tucked away Loughgiel’s opening goal as early as the sixth minute, 1-1 to 0-2.
29-times Offaly kingpins Coolderry manfully fought back to gain parity by the 14th minute, 1-3 to 0-6, but three minutes later they were dealt a painful sucker blow. Custodian Stephen Corcoran parried a Casey shot back into the path of the vigilant Liam Watson and he flicked the sliotar into the Hill 16 twine beyond the despairing efforts of the ‘keeper and his older brother Alan.
With 25 minutes elapsed, four points separated the sides, 0-8 to 2-6, and it was still anyone’s game although it was evident that Coolderry were struggling to cope with the superior physique and mobility of the Ulster champions.
Then came the crucial two goals in three minutes spurt that decided the destination of the Tommy Moore Cup.
Eddie McCloskey hoisted in a teasing high delivery that the out of sorts Trevor Corcoran misjudged and in his attempt to avert the danger he picked up a yellow card for fouling Liam Watson at the expense of a 21m free. Watson stood over the sliotar him-self and with his stance disguising his intentions he drilled a proverbial bullet to the roof of the net.
And in the 30th minute, another McCloskey strike drifted in behind Corcoran and Watson, showing decent one-hand control managed to bring down the sliotar and slot away his third goal making it 4-6 to 0-8.
Coolderry switched their captain Brendan O’Meara from right half to full back immediately after this but the damage had already been done and a converted Damien Murray free in added time meant the gap at half time was nine points, 0-9 to 4-6.
Considering how Coolderry tended to blow teams out of the water during the opening thirty minutes of matches this was unfamiliar and unchartered territory for them to find them-selves in. Their management reacted by introducing Kevin Connolly for the unfortunate Trevor Corcoran.
O’Meara remained sited at full back, with Kevin Brady taking up duty at right half back. Brian Carroll, who had scored two points, switched to mid-field and Connolly was positioned on the right flank of the attack.
Coolderry won practically none of their own puck-outs and this was putting serious pressure back on them-selves and it was a surprise to see them back on the pitch for the concluding half so soon before Loughgiel.
The interval pep talk from Hogan obviously didn’t fall on deaf ears as Coolderry reeled off four unanswered points through Murray (free), Connolly (pouncing on a DD Quinn short puck-out that went wrong), Parlon and Carroll, 0-13 to 4-6. The Parlon point came after Quinn blocked a Connolly strike that wasn’t nearly as venomous as the one that sealed the Sean Robbins Cup for his side last October.
Loughgiel refused to panic and in the 37th minute they arrested the slide as Watson tapped over a vital free that he won him-self.
Another accurate Murray free ended Coolderry’s eight minute wait for a score, leaving his side five adrift again, 0-14 to 4-7, but the sting of their revival was relenting and Loughgiel took full advantage.
The side coached by Jim Nelson, who was Antrim manager in ’89 when they defeated Offaly in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final, dispatched three quality points on-the-trot courtesy of mid-fielder Barney McAuley and Watson (two, including an exhibition style point from an incredibly acute angle), thereby extending their lead back up to unassailable eight points, 0-14 to 4-10 after 49 minutes.
Loughgiel had well and truly weathered the Coolderry storm and the sight of Parlon being moved away from the edge of the small square in an attempt to gain primary possession out around the central diamond reflected just how seriously in trouble they were.
The teams closed out the match by adding three more points apiece, meaning Coolderry had ‘won’ the second half by 0-8 to 0-7, but it wasn’t nearly enough to turn the screw.
Coolderry did throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Loughgiel in their bid to nick a late goal but it didn’t materialise such was the defiance of the Glensmen who hooked and blocked tenaciously. Indeed, when Barry Teehan sent his last minute shot across the face of the uprights and wide, Loughgiel had no fewer than twelve players back inside their own ’45.
That’s how determined the champions were not to be breached but it could have been oh so different if the rub of the green went the way of Parlon, Ryan and Connolly (who was twice penalised for ‘steps’) when the goal chances presented themselves.
Written off by practically everyone, focused, fit and well drilled Loughgiel Shamrocks were full value for their victory. They made optimum use of the opportunities that fell their way and with Watson having a fairytale outing where everything he touched turned to gold, they weren’t going to be beaten. But it was far from a one man attacking show as Shay Casey, Joey Scullion, Eddie McCloskey and Brendan McCarry also inflicted a lot of damage.
Joe Brady hurled staunchly at centre back for Coolderry but he was the only player of their defensive sextet to emerge with his reputation untarnished and considering how mean they had been previously, this was a major dent to the confidence of the first time finalists.
The primary possession winning ability of Martin Corcoran, Barry Teehan and Brian Carroll that was so prominent against Gort wasn’t replicated and this meant the supply line inside to Parlon and Ryan was intercepted and passes were more laboured giving the Loughgiel defenders a better chance of coping with the scenario.
It will take Coolderry a while to recover from this loss but they didn’t become a bad team overnight and they remain the standard bearers for the chasing pack in Offaly.
After losing to Raharney in the 2010 Leinster championship they did much soul searching, heeded the lessons and emerged a stronger unit following the exercise. Even if the result wasn’t favourable, it was a huge achievement to contest an All-Ireland final and the experience should stand them in good stead.
All of their players are the right side of 30, with Stephen Corcoran, Brian Kelly, David King, Eoin Ryan and Kevin Connolly still eligible for U-21, so they’ll be hard stopped in their quest to complete a hat-trick of SHC titles and their 30th in all. Economic circumstances could conspire to deprive them of some of their players but even so those who opt to write Coolderry off do so at their peril.
They can and they will bounce back.
Coolderry: Damien Murray 0-8 (all frees), Brian Carroll 0-3, Eoin Ryan 0-2, Cathal Parlon 0-2, Kevin Brady 0-1, K Connolly 0-1.
Loughgiel Shamrocks: Liam Watson 3-7 (1-5 frees), Shay Casey 1-0, Brendan McCarry 0-3, Barney McAuley 0-1, Eddie McCloskey 0-1, Joey Scullion 0-1.
Coolderry 9 (6 1st half); Loughgiel Shamrocks 8 (2 1st half)
Red: None. Yellow (2): Trevor Corcoran (27 mins), Seamus Dobbin (31 mins)
COOLDERRY: Stephen Corcoran; Brian Kelly, Trevor Corcoran, Alan Corcoran; Brendan O’Meara (capt.), Joe Brady, David King; Kevin Brady, Kevin Teehan; Brian Carroll, Barry Teehan, Martin Corcoran; Eoin Ryan, Cathal Parlon, Damien Murray.
Subs.: Kevin Connolly for T Corcoran (half time), Mark Bergin for K Teehan (blood sub) (50 mins), Barry Larkin for B Kelly (56 mins).
LOUGHGIEL SHAMROCKS: DD Quinn; Paul Gillan, Neill McGarry, Ronan McCloskey; James Campbell, Martin Scullion, Johnny Campbell (capt.); Barney McAuley, Mark McFaden; Eddie McCloskey, Declan Laverty, Joey Scullion; Brendan McCarry, Liam Watson, Shay Casey.
Subs.: Seamus Dobbin for M McFadden (half time), Tony McCloskey for S Dobbin (56 mins), Dan McCloskey for S Casey (60 mins).
REFEREE: Alan Kelly, Galway.