Classy Clonkill create hurling history with thrilling Croke Park victory

Story by Tom Kelly

Saturday, 16th February, 2008 9:00am

Clonkill  4-15

Tommie Larkins, Galway  3-14

A new chapter in the history of Westmeath GAA was penned in the magnificent surrounds of Croke Park on Saturday last when a wonderfully prepared Clonkill side overcame Galway champions, Tommie Larkins to take the All-Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling Championship final.

Ultimately four points separated the sides at the end of an enthralling contest with a brace of Larry Donoghue goals proving crucial in the destiny of the honours.

Donoghue struck in the 22nd minute of the first half and again thirteen minutes into the second period as Clonkill became the first Westmeath club side to win an All-Ireland title. Pat O`Toole`s charges saved their best wine to last as they overcame the challenge of the Cyril Farrell prepared team from Woodford.

In a game which GAA President, Nicky Brennan described as one of the finest he had seen in Croke Park, Clonkill were headed just twice in the contest, with Tommie Larkins scoring the opening point and then when Declan Garvey goaled after 13 minutes but in truth it would have been a travesty if Clonkill had been denied.

On the field of dreams they produced an outstanding performance and every player, from vigilant custodian, Eoin Price to corner forward, Luke Folen played their part in this historic success.

Indeed, in accepting the cup from the GAA President, team captain, Paddy Dowdall was loud in his praise and admiration for all of his teammates and all associated with the club`s success.

In a game which was played in the best of spirit, the first free did not arrive until the 23rd minute with both Clonkill and Tommie Larkin, enjoying their hour in the limelight, concentrating on the skills of the wonderful game.

After Clonkill`s Yvonne Fitzsimons had added to the great occasion with a beautiful rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann, Cork official Cathal McAllister set the play in motion and inside two minutes Tommie Larkins struck first blow with an Alan Garvey point.

Two minutes later, Clonkill`s Luke Folen opened his side`s account when he latched on to an Enda Loughlin knock down to guide the ball over. On seven minutes, Conradh Reilly, who had a wonderful game in the middle of the park, raced through the Woodford defence to put the Loughegar men ahead for the first time.

A wonderful piece of stickwork by full back, Adam Price denied Niall Kelly a certain goal on eight minutes before Eamon Hayes tied up matters. However, Tommie Larkins struck for the first goal in the 11th minute when a misplaced pass by John Fagan caused havoc and Declan Garvey kicked the ball past a helpless Eoin Price.

Indeed the Tribesmen could have had a second moments later when Garvey was again set up by Kelly but on this occasion, Fergal Fagan effected a marvellous block to deny him.

Approaching the end of the first quarter, Brendan Murtagh underlined his enormous worth to Clonkill when he picked up an Alan Dowdall past before firing an unstoppable shot beyond Dara Starr.

Points from Alan Dowdall, Murtagh with a splendid effort and then a further majestic point from Enda Loughlin stretched Clonkill`s lead to three points. Paddy Moroney stopped the rot with a minor for the Galway men on 21 minutes before Larry Donoghue struck the first of his two mortal blows after Daragh Ayres picked him out with a marvellous ball.

Eamon Hayes kept Tommie Larkins afloat with a pointed free - the first of the gamer - before Andrew Mitchell steered over a truly wonderful point from a free four metres inside his own `65.  There was an immediate response from the Woodford side with Niall Kelly firing over.

Daragh Ayres had a chance to really put Clonkill in the ascendancy four minutes from the break but he elected to fire over. As the first half came close to an end, Eamon Hayes and Brendan Murtagh exchanged points before Paddy Moroney narrowed the gap to four points, leaving Clonkill ahead by 2-8 to 1-7 at the interval.

There was no let up to the frenetic pace when the sides recommenced battle. A clearance from Eoin Price on four minutes found its way to Paddy Dowdall and the skipper steered the sliotar between the uprights to extend the lead.

Almost immediately, Larkins were back down hounding the Clonkill rearguard. The impressive Damien Kelly jinked his way through before laying the ball off to his captain, Kevin Hooban to fire over. Within sixty seconds, Brendan Murtagh was upended and he dusted himself down to slot over the free.

On seven minutes, Clonkill put their stamp on the trophy when they rattled the Woodford net for the third time. The goal was created by Luke Folen whose thundering shot came back off the woodwork. It was meat and drink for an alert Daragh Ayres and the corner forward literally slide the ball into the unguarded net.

But Cyril Farrell`s charges were simply not going to slip away in to the night and points from Paddy Moroney and top scorer, Eamon Hayes, narrowed the gap to six points. Enter Larry Donoghue once more. Conradh Reilly swung the ball out right in 13th minute and it was the speed of the delivery from Ayres which unhinged the defence.

There lurking on the edge of the square, as all good full forwards should, was the Clonkill No. 14 and Donoghue`s first time drive fairly whistled past a helpless Dara Starr.

Nine points up, the game and coveted All-Ireland title appeared to be in the bag. But again Tommie Larkins had not read the script and they came back with renewed vigour.  Eamon Hayes pointed a free and then following a period of sustained pressure, Eamon Hayes stroked over a free after the  roving Paul Flynn had been fouled.

Points from Brendan Murtagh and Andrew Mitchell, from a free, steadied the boat but the Galway men weren`t finished yet. After Eamon Hayes had pointed yet another placed ball, Farrell`s men were thrown a real life line when substitute Barry Shiel found the net after a stinging shot from Niall Kelly was brilliantly parried by Eoin Price.

That was in the 24th minute and Price had to come to his side`s rescue in the 25th minute when an Alan Garvey line ball flew through a crowded goalmouth but Price was equal to it.

Brendan Murtagh put six points between the sides following a darting run before the gutsy Galway side struck for their third goal. Niall Kelly was adjudged to have been impeded and up stepped Hayes to slam the semi-penalty past the defensive Clonkill line.

It really was all to play for and on the call of full time, Alan Dowdall eased nerves somewhat with a fine point following good worked by Murtagh and Larry Donoghue. Damien Kelly, now operating in an advanced position narrowed the gap once more but in the fourth minute of additional time it was left to Brendan Murtagh to cap a marvellous individual performance, and team victory by firing over a wonderful point.

Scorers: Clonkill - B. Murtagh 1-6, L. Donoghue 2-0, D. Ayres 1-1, A. Dowdall and A. Mitchell 0-2 each, L. Folen, C. Reilly, E. Loughlin and P. Dowdall 0-1 each. Tommie Larkins - E. Hayes 1-7, P. Moroney 0-3, D. Garvey and B. Shiel 1-0, A. Garvey, N. Kelly, K.  Hooban and D. Kelly 0-1 each.

Clonkill: Eoin Price; Stephen Cleary, Adam Price, Fergal Fagan; Mark Healy, Andrew Mitchell, John Fagan; Conradh Reilly, Paddy Dowdall, captain; Alan Dowdall, Brendan Murtagh, Enda Loughlin; Daragh Ayres, Larry Donoghue, Luke Folen. Subs. Christopher Austin for D. Ayres, Shane Power for L. Folen, Shane Owens for C. Reilly.

Tommie Larkins: Dara Starr; Paul Flynn, Roderick Whyte, James Rohan; Damien Kelly, Ciaran Fahy, Eugene Gorman; Trevor Cavanagh, Alan Garvey; Paddy Moroney, Eamon Hayes, Kevin Hooban, captain; Declan Garvey, Niall Kelly, Mickey Fahy. Subs. Brian McCormack for E. Gorman, Owen Rohan for T. Cavanagh, Raymond Dervan for C. Fahy, Barry Shiel for M. Fahy,  Referee: Cathal McAllister, Cork.