Éire Óg 2-11 Loughmore-Castleiney 0-12 (AET)
Extra-time goals through Aaron Fitzgerald and Mark McInerney finally cemented Éire Óg's passage to the last four in the Munster Senior Club Football Championship after holding off a repeatedly defiant Loughmore-Castleiney in Cusack Park, Ennis.
Being the dual Tipperary champions’ 18th successive week in championship action, It had to take such hammer blows to settle a tie that the home side led for the majority without ever definitively putting to bed.
Holding a four point cushion by the 20th minute and three by the two-thirds mark, the Ennis side were reeled in on both occasions but crucially never allowed the visitors to nudge in front until extra-time.
Indeed, John McGrath’s free on the resumption of the additional periods inched Loughmore-Castileiney into the ascendancy for the first time in an hour but was met by a brace of sucker-punch goals in the space of three minutes.
Full-back Aaron Fitzgerald’s overlapping run was picked out by Ciaran Russell for the first while another counter-attack was clinically finished by Mark McInerney in the 68th minute to soar 2-09 to 0-10 clear, a margin that would be persevered by the final whistle.
A dominant start had initially laid an encouraging early platform for the Clare champions. Five unanswered points midway through the opening half, three from captain Gavin Cooney, catapulted the hosts 0-06 to 0-02 clear, by which time the Tipperary champions were reduced to 14 following a black card for Eamon Connolly just before the water break.
In fact, the visitors would perform better with the numerical disadvantage as back-to-back points from cousins Noel and Liam McGrath allied to another from Aidan McGrath, when back to their full complement, slashed the deficit to just one by the break at 0-06 to 0-05.
The same pattern eerily greeted the second period as Éire Óg benefitted from their opponents early profligacy of five consecutive wides to edge three clear by the 50th minute following points from Gavin Cooney, Mark McInerney and a superb counter-attack score finished by Einne O’Connor at 0-09 to 0-06.
However, it still wasn’t sufficient to derail a Loughmore-Castleiney side that only seem to relish adversity as a brace of Liam Treacy frees sandwiched a red card for Éire Óg’s Darren O’Neill at 0-09 to 0-08.
A defining moment arrived on the hour mark when Éire Óg passed up a glorious chance to put two between the sides, only for John McGrath to prove Loughmore-Castleiney’s saviour once more when arrowing over from the kick-out at 0-09 to 0-09.
Neither side could nick it in the five minutes of injury-time so it had to take 20 more minutes to eventually separate the sides. Éire Óg’s superior eye for goal finally surfaced while crucially keeping a seventh consecutive clean sheet of their own by means of a remarkable last gasp save from goalkeeper Nathan Murray to finally get over the line.
It ensures Éire Óg a semi-final showdown with Cork champions St Finbarr’s a fortnight’s time while Loughmore-Casteliney have to quickly pick up the pieces themselves ahead of a Munster Senior Hurling Semi-Final away to Ballygunner next Sunday.
Éire Óg: Nathan Murray; Ronan Lanigan, Aaron Fitzgerald (1-00), Manus Doherty; Ciaran Russell, Conall Ó hAiniféin, Einne O’Connor (0-01); Darren O’Neill (0-01), David McNamara; Niall McMahon, David Reidy, Aidan McGrath; Mark McInerney (1-02, 0-01f), Gavin Cooney (0-04, 0-02f), Philip Talty (0-01).
Subs: Ikem Ugwueru (0-01) for McMahon (40), Dara Walsh for Talty (47), Tadhg Connellan for McGrath (54), Eimhin Courtney (0-01) for Cooney (61), Jarlath Collins for Cooney (75), Gavin D’Auria for Reidy (77, inj), Talty for Ó hAiniféin (81)
Loughmore-Castleiney: Shane Hennessy; Lorcan Egan, Joey Hennessy, Willie Eviston; John Ryan, Ed Meagher, Brian McGrath; Eamon Connolly (0-01, 0-01m), John McGrath (0-03, 0-01f); Conor McGrath, Liam Treacy (0-02, 0-02f), Aidan McGrath (0-01); Conor Ryan, Noel McGrath (0-01), Liam McGrath (0-01).
Subs: Evan Sweeney (0-03, 0-01f) for Conor McGrath (39), Ciaran McGrath for Connolly (44), John Meagher for E. Meagher (47), Tomás McGrath for C. Ryan (47), Ed Connolly for A. McGrath (65), E. Meagher for Egan (70), Eamonn Connolly for Treacy (70),
Referee: David Murnane (Cork)