AIB Leinster Club SHC: Clough-Ballacolla march on
AIB Leinster Club SHC Quarter-Final
CLOUGH BALLACOLLA (LAOIS) 1-17 RAPPAREES (WEXFORD) 0-12
By Paul Keane at MW Hire O'Moore Park, Portlaoise
Clough Ballacolla made a little bit of history this evening at MW Hire O'Moore Park, powering past Rapparees to record their first ever win in the AIB Leinster club SHC.
Beaten twice in the last decade by the Wexford champions, the Laois side eventually came good with a fully merited win that was driven by the excellent Stephen 'Picky' Maher.
The experienced free-taker was his club's key man in both county finals this year - winning the delayed 2020 final in August and retaining the title earlier this month - and he delivered again with 1-9 in Portlaoise to seal a memorable win.
The hosts finished both halves strongly, striking four points without reply at the end of the first-half after a slow start and then turning the screw late on with the last seven points of the game.
Maher's 31st minute goal, early in the second-half, was the game's decisive score as it put Clough Ballacolla into the lead for the first time and they remained there.
Rapparees had to endure a long period of activity since their county final was played back in mid-September and the lay-off may have affected them.
The visitors surely feared a slow start after such a long break - 10 weeks, or 69 days - though they just about edged the opening quarter by a point.
A couple of misjudged passes, some fumbled balls and a number of wides undermined the Clough Ballacolla effort initially.
Mark Hennessy, for instance, back in the team after illness, pulled one great catch out of the sky at midfield only to see the ball turned over moments later.
On another occasion, a Clough Ballacolla defender was well out with an attempted pass that flew into the crowd, drawing groans from the home supporters.
Rapparees set up with seven defenders again, Tommy Foley wearing number 14 but dropping deep to shore up the defence, leaving Lee Cleere as the extra man in the Clough Ballacolla defence.
Foley made one early intervention that led to a fine Jack Kelly point from the left wing though it was humdrum enough fare generally with Rapparees leading 0-4 to 0-3 at the water break.
They would open up a double scores - 0-8 to 0-4 - advantage by the 27th minute with three points in a row at one stage from Oisin Pepper and free-taker Ryan Mahon.
Having struck 6-18 in the Wexford final, Rapparees looked like they might now lift off but Clough-Ballacolla suddenly burst into life approaching half-time, upping the ante with crisper, more clinical, efficient hurling that yielded four points in a row.
Maher, who struck the winning point in the Laois county final earlier this month to secure back to back titles, was among the scorers along with Robbie Phelan.
Now it was Rapparees' turn to make the unforced errors and Dillion Redmond, after taking a short puck-out, was punished for a misjudged pass when Willie Dunphy swept in for a Clough-Ballacolla score, levelling it at half-time 0-8 to 0-8.
Maher's goal a minute into the second-half was the game's crucial score as it put Clough Ballacolla ahead for the first time and appeared to suck the life out of the Rapparees challenge.
A line ball caused confusion in the Rapparees defence and Maher expertly sneaked in to control a loose ball and cheekily chip it beyond the goalkeeper.
Rapparees, won won their first county title since 1978 this year, did briefly get the margin down to a single point after Kevin Foley's 51st minute point, a score that was initially ruled a wide by an umpire before being given on the advice of a linesman.
But they didn't score again and were powerless to prevent Clough Ballacolla from reeling off seven points in a row, Maher, Willie Dunphy and substitute Cillian Dunne all finding their range to the delight of their supporters.
Scorers for Clough Ballacolla: Stephen Maher 1-9 (0-7f, 0-1 65), Stephen Bergin 0-2, Willie Hyland 0-2, Willie Dunphy 0-2, Cillian Dunne 0-1, Robbie Phelan 0-
Scorers for Rapparees: Ryan Mahon 0-7 (0-5f), Oisin Pepper 0-2, Jack Kelly 0-1, James Peare 0-1, Kevin Foley 0-1.
Clough Ballacolla: Cathal Dunne; Diarmaid Conway, Darren Maher, Eoin Doyle; Brian Corby, Michael McEvoy, Lee Cleere; Willie Hyland, Aidan Corby; Robbie Phelan, Jordan Walshe, Stephen Maher; Stephen Bergin, Willie Dunphy, Mark Hennessy.
Subs: Cillian Dunne for Hennessy 42, John Dwyer for Walshe 55, Sean Corby for Hyland 65.
Rapparees: Anthony Larkin; Dillion Redmond, Liam Ryan, Anthony Roche; Tommy Foley; James Peare, Ben Edwards, Jack Kelly; Kevin Foley, Alan Tobin; Kevin Ryan, Ryan Mahon, Ricky Fox; Lenny Connolly, Oisin Pepper.
Subs: Tomas Mahon for Fox 35, Peter O'Sullivan for Roche 39 (inj), Jack Kirwin for K Ryan 54.
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).