For the second successive Sunday, Clare’s county final ended on level terms after Clonlara secured a last gasp equaliser to deny Ballyea a first ever senior title.
Not since 1982 have the Clare hurling and football finals both been forced to replays but after Cratloe and Kilmurry Ibrickane could not be separated a week earlier, Cathal ‘Tots’ O’Connell ensured that Clonlara would also receive a second chance this afternoon.
All that after it was the 2008 champions Clonlara who appeared to be closing in on only their third ever title in front of an attendance of 5.036 when they led by five points with 20 minutes remaining.
Ballyea, thanks to three Tony Kelly frees and dominant sweeper Gearoid O’Connell, had opened up a 0-04 to 0-2 advantage by the end of the opening quarter.
However, Clonlara would outscore their opponents by 1-03 to 0-01 for the remainder of the half as points from O’Connell, Darach Honan and James Hastings were surpassed by an injury-time goal from Colm Galvin who blocked down a Ballyea clearance and received the ball back off Oisin O’Brien to fire past goalkeeper Kevin Sheehan at 1-05 to 0-05.
That timely boost gave Clonlara a cushion that they would build on for the new half as despite a Kelly opener straight from the throw-in, county seniors John Conlon, Galvin and Honan would all point to hand their side a 1-8 to 0-6 lead by the 40th minute.
They simply couldn’t put the game to bed though as a Tony Kelly-inspired Ballyea finally gathered momentum, with the 2013 National Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year chipped away at the arrears before substitute Martin O’Leary raided for a superb equalising goal in the 53rd minute at 1-09 to 1-09 when he successfully weaved his way past Clonlara’s last line.
Kelly edged Ballyea in front for the first time in 25 minutes with a ’65, only for Cathal O’Connell to finally regain parity on the 60 minute mark.
However, in an increasingly scrappy and anxious finale, there was still plenty of drama to come as Kelly gladly accepted a stray Clonlara clearance to arrow over from 60 metres in the 62nd minute before a puck-out broke to O’Connell to relievedly share the spoils with the last puck of the game.
The Clare football final Replay between Cratloe and Kilmurry Ibrickane takes place in Clare Headquarters next Sunday so it is expected that the hurling version will be fixed for a fortnight’s time, with details to be confirmed by Clare’s CCC tomorrow afternoon.
Clonlara: G O’Connell; P McNamara, D O’Donovan, C Fennessy; C O’Donovan, N O’Connell (0-01, 0-01f), N Ryan; O O’Brien, J Hastings (0-01); P O’Loughlin, C Galvin (1-01), C O’Connell (0-04, 0-02f); J Conlon (0-02), M O’Loughlin, D Honan (0-02)Subs M White for P O’Loughlin (44 mins), D Fitzgerald for M. O’Loughlin (57 mins), G Kennedy for Ryan (60 mins), S O’Brien for McNamara (64 mins, inj)
Ballyea: K Sheehan; J Murphy, J Browne, B Carrigg; P Flanagan, G O’Connell, J Neylon; T Kelly (0-09, 0-04f, 0-01’65), S Lineen; N Deasy, G Brennan, C Doohan (0-01); PJ Connolly, E Donnellan, P LillisSubs: M O’Leary (1-01) for Neylon (Half-Time, inj), D Burke for Connolly (38 mins), D Egan for Donnellan (60 mins)