Clough-Ballacolla (Laois) 1-16 Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) 1-13
Stephen 'Picky' Maher thrilled again in Portlaoise as Clough Ballacolla - without a win in the AIB Leinster Club SHC before this season - secured a historic provincial final spot at Croke Park next weekend.
A powerful performance full of skill and endeavour, lit up by the scoring ability of Maher who added 1-08 to the 4-64 he'd previously registered since the beginning of the 2021 Championship, secured a first ever final spot.
After beating Wexford champions Rapparees and now the Dublin representatives, Clough Ballacolla may very well face the very best of them all next weekend, Ballyhale Shamrocks, who face St Rynaghs in the second semi-final tomorrow.
Either way, it'll be a famous afternoon for Declan Laffan's side when they run out at GAA headquarters and win or lose they can be proud of a breakthrough season which has already yielded two Laois final wins, in August and November.
Like their win over the Rapps, also in Portlaoise, there was no debate about the merit of this success with Clough Ballacolla leading virtually from start to finish.
Crokes rallied in the second-half but missed chances - the Dublin champions hit 10 wides overall and made a number of general errors - cost them dearly.
Crokes did get the margin down to just a single point with 11 minutes remaining but scores from Stephen Bergin, Willie Dunphy and the excellent Maher secured the win for the local side.
It's half-time in the Leinster SHC semi-final and @Clough_Bcolla lead @KCrokesGAAClub 1-09 to 0-08 at the break with Stephen 'Picky’ Maher claiming the only goal of the half. Watch live coverage on @RTE2 #RTEGAA pic.twitter.com/QGXAxu7l1B— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) December 11, 2021
Bookies built this up as a game Crokes should comfortably win, by four or more points, a prediction partly based upon their 5-19 to 0-15 quarter-final win over Raharney.
But these were two evenly matched teams with similar historical records in Leinster - Crokes with two wins to Clough Ballacolla's one - and the hosts clearly didn't see themselves as underdogs.
They tore into Crokes from the off, initially overwhelming them with their brand of hungry hurling on a heavy, mid-winter pitch.
The hosts laid down an early marker with Maher's fifth minute goal. He could have popped a handy point from the right but literally threw his marker Davy Crowe to the ground and burst through to fire a low finish beyond goalkeeper Eddie Gibbons.
Four points in a row then, including three from Maher, put clear daylight between the teams at the first water break, 1-06 to 0-04.
Crokes were struggling in several areas. Jamie Clinton, for example, was surrounded by a posse of backs and blown for overcarrying, to the delight of Maher who pointed the free.
On another occasion in the second quarter, Lorcan McMullan, wearing 13 but playing in midfield, was flattened with a huge hit from behind. It drew a free for Crokes but was also a statement of intent from the Colla.
Crokes were better in the 10 minutes or so before half-time. They opted again for a two-man full-forward line of twin towers Ronan Hayes and Alex Considine.
Between them, they'd struck 4-7 against Raharney though took their time to get into this game with Hayes suddenly coming alive late in the first-half.
He pointed one free before forcing defender Eoin Doyle to spill possession and finished off that play with another morale boosting point.
Fergal Whitely then hit his second point to leave just four between the teams at half-time, 1-09 to 0-08.
Óisin O'Rourke raised a green flag in the second half but it wasn't enough for @KCrokesGAAClub who fall to a three-point defeat to @Clough_Bcolla in the Leinster SHC semi-final #RTEGAA pic.twitter.com/BvoRV03yMH— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) December 11, 2021
It was a manageable gap for Crokes though they would have to improve their shooting following half a dozen first-half wides.
Crokes duly adjusted their radar and recorded just one wide in the third quarter. Crucially, they outscored their opponents in this period with Oisin O'Rorke's 44th minute goal coming as a lifeline for them.
Like Maher earlier, he had no interest in taking a point and burst through the centre of the Clough-Ballacolla defence, controlling the sliotar on his hurl before volleying it beyond Cathal Dunne.
That brought the gap down to a point though a couple of Maher frees left Clough-Ballacolla 1-13 to 1-11 up at the second water break.
Crokes didn't get any closer again with Laffan's side picking off timely points in the closing minutes to remain well in control at all stages.
Clough-Ballacolla: Cathal Dunne; Diarmaid Conway, Darren Maher, Lee Cleere; Brian Corby (0-01), Michael McEvoy, Eoin Doyle; Willie Hyland, Aidan Corby (0-01); Robbie Phelan, Jordan Walshe (0-02), Mark Hennessy; Stephen Bergin (0-03), Willie Dunphy (0-01), Stephen Maher (1-08, 0-06f).
Subs: Cillian Dunne for Aidan Corby 51, Ronan Broderick for McEvoy 57, Tom Delaney for Hyland 60, Sean Corby for Doyle 62.
Kilmacud Crokes: Eddie Gibbons; Davy Crowe, Brian Sheehy, Jamie Clinton; Cian O Cathasaigh (0-01), Bill O'Carroll, Mark Grogan; Dillon Mulligan, Lorcan McMullan; Caolan Conway (0-02), Oisin O'Rorke (1-01), Fergal Whitely (0-03); Alex Considine, Ronan Hayes (0-05, 0-04f), Dara Purcell.
Subs: Marc Howard (0-01) for McMullan 40, Padhraic Linehan for Mulligan 48, James Dillon for O'Carroll 59.
Referee: David Hughes (Kilkenny).