Ballyea 1-17 Inagh-Kilnamona 1-16
The kings of character gathered momentum at the perfect time once more as Ballyea garnered their third Clare Senior hurling title in six seasons with a narrow one-point win over Inagh-Kilnamona in Cusack Park.
Trailing the senior final debutants for the majority, the turning point arrived in the 50th minute when a defensive error allowed Aaron Griffin to race through, only to be hauled down for a penalty that placed ball specialist Niall Deasy gladly dispatched to the net, levelling up the tie for only the third time at 1-12 to 1-12.
Inagh-Kilnamona initially responded positively to restore a two-point cushion, thanks in the main to National Young Hurler of the Year nominee Aidan McCarthy. However, Ballyea simply refused to yield and despite 17 previous wides, finally honed their radar with a four-point blitz in as many minutes by the hour mark at 1-17 to 1-15.
Aidan McCarthy did pull back an injury-time free but an experienced Ballyea ground out the win to bridge a three-year gap to their last title.
All that without the talismanic services of current All-Star Tony Kelly, a factor that arguably makes this their greatest county title success of all.
Deasy's free-taking was a crucial guiding light as Ballyea had to recover from Aidan McCarthy's opening goal in the first minute when fielding a Cian McInerney line ball to fire to the net.
Five Deasy placed balls handed Ballyea the whip hand by the first water break at 0-08 to 1-03 but the tables were turned when Aidan McCarthy raided for the last four points of the half to put Inagh-Kilnamona into the ascendancy by 1-08 to 0-09.
With Ballyea frustrating in totting up the wides, the newcomers only prospered further to move 1-12 to 0-12 clear by the turn of the final quarter.
However, Deasy’s penalty completely altered the narrative of the tie as with the bit between their teeth, experienced campaigners such as Jack Browne, Paul Flanagan, Niall Deasy and Gary Brennan weren’t about to pass up the opportunity to reclaim the Canon Hamilton Cup for only the third time in their history.
Ballyea: Barry Coote; Peter Casey, Paul Flanagan, Cian Meaney; James Murphy (0-01), Jack Browne, Brandon O’Connell; Gary Brennan (0-02), Stan Lineen; Cathal O’Connor (0-02), Pearse Lillis, Cillian Brennan; Aaron Griffin (0-01), Niall Deasy (1-09, 1-00 Pen, 0-07f, 0-02 ’65), Mossy Gavin
Subs: Morgan Garry (0-01) for C. Brennan (44), Martin O’Leary (0-01) for Gavin (51), Ryan Griffin for Lineen (56), Aonghus Keane for A. Griffin (57)
Inagh-Kilnamona: Patrick Kelly (0-001, 0-01f); Colin Shannon, Keith White, Cathal McConigley; Kevin Hehir, Jason McCarthy (0-01), David Fitzgerald (0-02); Darren Cullinan, Conner Hegarty (0-01); Seamus Foudy, David Mescall (0-01), Niall Mullins (0-01); Cian McInerney, Aidan McCarthy (1-07, 0-04f, 0-01’65), Josh Guyler (0-02)
Subs: Gerry Coote for McInerney (HT), Shane McInerney for Coote (52), Conor Tierney for Mescall (54), Evan McNamara for Guyler (58)
Referee: Johnny Healy (Smith O’Brien’s)