Rathdowney Errill remain on course to continue an amazing championship winning sequence of securing a senior title every second year since 2006 but they had to hold out against a grandstand finish from Clough Ballacolla as the reigning champions went in search of a fourth goal which would have secured victory in injury time.
With just two points between the sides as the game edged into injury time Michael Dunphy drilled a low shot to the left of goal but it was saved by Noel Brennan with Willie Hyland connecting with the rebound which was blocked by a sea of Rathdowney Errill defenders at the expense of a 65.
Damien Bergin dropped the ball but as Clough Ballacolla threw bodies forward, the Rathdowney Errill defence stood firm.
It was an amazing end to a game which Rathdowney Errill could have put beyond doubt in the first half. Clough Ballacolla only led briefly over the hour when Picky Maher opened their account after two minutes.
Paddy Purcell responded with five minutes on the clock and from their, Rathdowney Errill drove on with further points from James Ryan and Ross King.
Things turned very much in Rathdowney Errill’s favour with the game just under ten minutes old. A great long-range effort from Joe Fitzpatrick was stopped from going over the bar by Danny Hanlon but the ball fell kindly to Liam O’Connell who finished to the net.
The momentum was very much with Rathdowney Errill and while Clough Ballacolla hit the next two points through Picky Maher (free) and Willie Dunphy, with 25 minutes gone the score was 1-9 to 0-4. The lead could have been more emphatic as Tadgh Dowling lost his marker as the ball dropped in front of goal but he flashed his shot wide, first-time. The same player didn’t enjoy any luck five minutes later when he ran through unmarked but Paddy Purcell’s over-hit pass ran over the line.
Purcell atoned within seconds though, when he struck a point to put Rathdowney Errill nine points clear.
Clough Ballacolla showed their scoring threat as the game edged toward half-time when they rattled off three unanswered points in as many minutes through Picky Maher (free), Willie Hyland and Aidan Corboy. In that half, Clough Ballacolla registered eight wides to Rathdowney Errill’s five, as their forwards only clicked in phases.
On resumption the game burst into life in dramatic fashion as John Keane and Ross King combined to send Paddy Purcell bearing down on goal and he drove to the roof of the net with 33 minutes played.
Clough Ballacolla’s response was immediate as within 20 seconds Robbie Phelan broke the ball to Picky Maher who drove to the net.
Rathdowney continued to pick off points but with their lead stretched to eight, Clough Ballacolla hauled them back with their second goal. A pass from Picky Maher found Robbie Phelan who finished to the net with 43 minutes played.
A pointed free from Damien Bergin then reduced the deficit to four before John Purcell added a point for Rathdowney Errill. It could have been a goal as Paddy Purcell’s initial shot was saved and as the ball looped up, the centre-forward batted the ball goalwards, but it just went over the bar with many in the crowd believing it was in the net.
Clough Ballacolla certainly showed the resilience of champions after that and when Damien Bergin ran through to finish to the net with five minutes left. there was just a point between the sides. Aidan Corboy then gathered the ball and shot over to equalise with four minutes to go.
Rathdowney Errill were not found wanting at this stage, though, and a long clearance from Joe Fitzpatrick was gathered by Enda Meagher who edged his side back in front by a point.
With two minutes remaining the lead was doubled by Eoin Burke before Clough Ballacolla’s dramatic late siege on goal was repelled by Rathdowney Errill.