Goalkeeper Danny Hanlon is a certainty for the ‘Hero of the Year’ award from Clough-Ballacolla as, for the second time within five days, he came to their rescue and landed another long range pressure free to save his side against plucky Castletown-Slieve Bloom.
On Saturday night last he had landed a massive puck from his own 45 to send the game to a replay, and on Wednesday he was again called on in injury time and from 80m out and almost on the terrace sideline, he again did the business in dramatic fashion. This was a game that had everything and certainly lived up to expectations, and while Hanlon was the hero for his side, Ben Conroy just came up shy of winning the accolade as his shot for parity deeper into injury time just tailed off wide of the post with the pressure on his young shoulders.
It had been a turbulent few days for Clough-Ballacolla since Hanlon secured a draw, as, within minutes of the final whistle, their manager John O’Sullivan had departed in dramatic circumstances and by early Sunday he had been replaced by former Dublin U-21 manager John McEvoy. Those dramatic developments were the talk of the county and brought a huge crowd to O’Moore Park in anticipation for the replay, and those in attendance were not disappointed with another enthralling encounter that had the crowd on their toes right to the finish, and one could not have envisaged such a nail biting and controversial end.
At half time Clough Ballacolla did indeed look as if they would go on for a decisive victory as they led by double scores, 0-8 to 0-4, with Ben Conroy landing three of those from frees, but by the end of the third quarter they were back on level terms as they produced a magnificent fight back that had the champions on the ropes.
Clough Ballacolla weathered that storm and hit back to lead by two again only for Castletown-Slieve Bloom to again come back and level with three minutes remaining, and at this stage they certainly looked like they would go on and cause another shock if they got the breaks in the final minute. The breaks, however, fell to the champions and when Gearoid Gaughan was penalised for overcarrying two minutes into injury time as he attacked down the right side, up stepped Hanlon to deliver the killer strike. It was a big call for referee Liam Moran but he did give Castletown-Slieve Bloom the chance from the puck out, that alas they failed to take.
Ben Conroy had opened the scoring but heavy pressure saw Mick Dunphy level and then Picky Maher capitalised on a poor clearance for the lead that they never relinquished again. Ben Conroy caught a puck out and fired it straight over to level after five minutes but Clough-Ballacolla then took control of the game and picked off five of the next six scores for what looked a commanding lead.
Willie Hyland landed a free, Bill Duggan after great work by Shane Hanlon, Picky Maher and two excellent points from play by Willie Hyland to just a lone point by Brian Ferns had the champions 0-7 to 0-3 ahead after 20 minutes. Then Clough Ballacolla had a chance to put their opponents out of sight when, after Mick Dunphy was grounded in the small square, Willie Hylands shot for goal from the penalty was stopped and cleared. Then minutes later at the other end Paddy Mullaney was through for goal, but somehow his shot for glory screamed wide of the posts. Willie Hyland extended his sides lead to five points but deep in injury time Ben Conroy pointed for a 0-8 to 0-4 half time score line.
Ben started his side’s comeback six minutes into the second half when showing his range of talents he pointed from a sideline cut from all of 45m, then set up David Cuddy for the next score and landed two frees on the trot to level by the 14th minute. Castletown then looked as if they were taking the lead when a David Cuddy shot was heading over, but Danny Hanlon got the hurl to it and cleared it to safety before Willie Hyland caught a puck out from him, turned, and popped it over for the lead.
The goalkeeper was the central character in the final quarter as he came out to his own 65 and landed his first point of the night for a two point lead again, and as Picky Maher and Ben Conroy traded points the gap was still two 0-11 to 0-9 with five minutes left in the game. Castletown Slieve Bloom showed all of their fighting spirits as first Brendan Reddin narrowed the gap and then Cyril Cuddy landed a massive battling point to tie the game up with normal time up. Then came those dramatic few minutes of injury time that saw the champions book their place in the semi finals.
SCORERS - Clough Ballacolla: Willie Hyland 0-5 (two frees), Stephen Maher 0-3, Danny Hanlon 0-2 (both fress), Mick Dunphy and Bill Duggan 0-1 each; Castletown-Slieve Bloom: Ben Conroy 0-7 (six frees), Brian Ferns, David Cuddy, Brendan Reddin and Cyril Cuddy 0-1 each.
CLOUGH-BALLACOLLA: Danny Hanlon; John A Delaney, Darren Maher, Pat McEvoy; Brendan McEvoy, Mick McEvoy, Tom Delaney; Shane Hanlon, Canice Coonan; Damien Bergin, Bill Duggan, Stephen Maher; Willie Dunphy, Willie Hyland, Mick Dunphy. Subs: Shane Hyland for Damien Bergin, Aidan Doyle.
CASTLETOWN-SLIEVE BLOOM: Ger Cuddy; Tom Phelan, Gearoid Gaughan, Enda Conroy; John Gaughan, Declan Keenan, Cyril Cuddy; Fionan Cuddy, Paul Cuddy; Paddy Mullaney, Brendan Reddin, David Cuddy; Ben Conroy, James Hooban, Brian Ferns. Subs: Tom Delaney for Enda Conroy, Barry McKelvey for Brian Ferns.