On paper these two local rivals facing each other in the first game of this year’s 2018 Senior Hurling Championship has all the making of an exhilarating contest, and that was how it panned out, as nothing separated the sides at full time.
Clough-Ballacolla, who were beaten in the county final last year, made the brighter start, leading 0-3 to 0-1 in the early proceedings. Stephen Bergin, Lee Cleere and Wille Hyland all scored, while Rathdowney-Errill could only muster a Mark Kavanagh free in response.
They came back into it though, as they hit four unanswered points to put them in front. Paddy McKane grabbed two, with debutant Brandon McGinley opening his account, along with another Mark Kavanagh free.
Clough-Ballacolla replied well, as Stephen Maher and John Dwyer levelled matters. Paddy McKane and Stephen Bergin swapped points, before Bergin struck for the game’s opening goal.
The corner forward burst past Eric Killeen and his shot hit the roof of the net, as it had enough power to get past Noel Brennan in goals.
The sides traded scores through Stephen Maher and Ronan Broderick for Clough-Ballacolla and two Mark Kavanagh frees for Rathdowney-Errill. Rathdowney-Errill did close the gap though, as Kavanagh struck over two more lovely frees. They trailed 1-9 to 0-10 at the break.
Clough-Ballacolla almost began the second half with a bang, as Stephen Bergin played in Sean Corby, but his shot trailed just wide. Mark Kavanagh (free) placed over the first score of the half, but Clough-Ballacolla made amends and struck for goal number two.
Wille Hyland sent a ball into the square, and Stephen Maher bullied his man out of the way, before firing hard past Noel Brennan.
Mark Kavanagh landed a sublime score, before Rathdowney-Errill had their first sight at goal.
Substitute Tadgh Dowling seemed caught in two minds as he ran through, and he blazed well wide. However, he did place over his first point after a good ball was sent out to the wing by Jimmy Corrigan.
Before that though, Clough-Ballacolla had hit two points, Robbie Phelan and Aidan Corby pointing after a sloppy ball out of defence by Jack Kelly.
Mark Kavanagh and Willie Hyland traded points, before Rathdowney-Errill managed to cut the gap to just two thanks to James Ryan and Joe Fitzpatrick.
Rathdowney-Errill had all the momentum now, as complacency seemed to creep into Clough-Ballacolla. Mark Kavanagh landed a 65’ and a free to level matters with ten minutes left.
Clough-Ballacolla woke up from their mini slumber, as Willie Hyland split the posts, scoring one from play and one from a placed ball.
However, then the drama unfolded. Patrick Purcell, who had been kept quiet for most of the game, came big when his team needed him. He burst through the Clough-Ballacolla rearguard, and slotted past Danny Hanlon in goals.
Stephen Maher quickly responded for Clough-Ballacolla, but Rathdowney-Errill hit their second goal in quick succession, as Paddy McKane travelled all the way in from the corner flag to raise the green flag.
More madness ensued, as Clough-Ballacolla were awarded a penalty after Brian Campion was adjudged to have taken Stephen Maher down in the square. Maher, calmness personified, dispatched the penalty.
Tadgh Dowling thought he landed the winner for Rathdowney-Errill, but with the last play, Willie Hyland slotted over a free to level matters.
Scorers: Stephen Maher (1-0 penalty) 2-3, Willie Hyland (0-4 frees) 0-6, Stephen Bergin 1-1, Willie Dunphy, Ronan Broderick, Lee Cleere, John Dwyer, Robbie Phelan and Aidan Corby 0-1 each.
Team: Danny Hanlon; John A Delaney, Michael McEvoy, Canice Coonan; Eoin Doyle, Ronan Broderick, Lee Cleere; Aidan Corby, Robbie Phelan; Sean Corby, Willie Dunphy, Willie Hyland; Stephen Bergin, Stephen Maher, John Dwyer. Subs: Tim Delaney for A Corby (52 mins), Jordan Walshe for Dwyer (57 mins)
Scorers: Mark Kavanagh 0-11 (0-10 frees), Paddy McCane 1-3, Tadhg Dowling 0-3, Patrick Purcell 1-0, Brandon McGinley and James Ryan 0-1 each
Team: Noel Brennan; Brian Campion, Jack Kelly, John Keane; Eric Killeen, Jimmy Corrigan (C), Alan Delaney; Shane Dollard, James Ryan; Mark Kavanagh, Daithi Poynton, John Purcell; Paddy McKane, Patrick Purcell, Brandon McGinley. Subs: Joe Fitzpatrick for McGinley (41 mins), Tadgh Dowling for J Purcell (41 mins)
Referee: John O’Brien (Portlaoise)
For Clough-Ballacolla, the returning Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher bullied the Rathdowney-Errill defenders at times, and they won’t want to be seeing him again. For Rathdowney-Errill, Mark Kavanagh’s frees kept them ticking over, so he gets the nod here.
There was plenty of turning points near the end, but Rathdowney-Errill’s first goal through Patrick Purcell started the frenzy that would unfold.
John O’Brien must be commended for his display in the middle of the park. He played the advantage rule perfectly and had the courage to bring up Willie Hyland’s free at the end after the Rathdowney-Errill men wouldn’t move away.
Clough-Ballacolla will take plenty of confidence from their performance for the majority of the game in this one, while Rathdowney-Errill still have to welcome back Ross King.
Some of Mark Kavanagh’s free taking was lovely to watch, but Paddy McKane picks up this award after his sublime solo effort for his goal.