Loughgiel kings of Ireland

CHAMPIONS! Loughgiel Shamrocks celebrate their win over Offaly and Leinster champions Coolderry in the AIB All Ireland Senior Club Hurling final at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day.
CHAMPIONS! Loughgiel Shamrocks celebrate their win over Offaly and Leinster champions Coolderry in the AIB All Ireland Senior Club Hurling final at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day.

AIB All Ireland Club Championship

Loughgiel Shamrocks (Ulster Champions) 4-13 Coolderry (Leinster champions) 0-17

Antrim champions Loughgiel Shamrocks bridged a 29-year gap at Croke Park on Saturday when they beat Leinster champions Coolderry in the final of the AIB All Ireland Senior Club Championship to regain the Tommy Moore Cup for the first time since 1983, writes John McIlwaine.

After their highly impressive extra-time semi-final win over Munster champions Na Pairsaigh there were many pundits who questioned if they could produce the goods again on the big occasion, but the Antrim champions answered their critics in emphatic fashion to record a historic victory that will live long in the memory.

Brilliantly led by man-of-the-match Liam Watson, the Shamrocks played hurling of the highest order to upset the odds and convincingly beat the highly fancied Leinster champions by eight points.

Watson was the star man on show as he wrote his name in the record books with a personally tally of 3 goals and 7 points, but the team had heroes all over the field, from veteran corner-back Paul Gillen to corner-forward Shay Casey, and all played their part in the win.

After surviving a shaky opening when Coolderry’s Brian Carroll had a great chance of an early goal Loughgiel quickly settled and a Watson point from a free gave them an early lead. Coolderry levelled through their top marksman Damian Murray and went ahead in the sixth minute when corner-forward Eoin Ryan sent over a point, but Loughgiel were starting to find their rhythm and a goal from corner-forward Shay Casey in the seventh minute really got them going.

Casey came out to meet a well delivered ball by Joey Scullion and after gaining possession ran straight at the heart of the Coolderry defence before kicking the ball past goalkeeper Stephen Corcoran to net. Excellent points from Eddie McCloskey and Benny McCarry followed as Loughgiel pulled 1-3 to 0-3 clear, but the Offaly men showed great resolve and two points from the excellent Brian Carroll and one from Cathal Parlon brought them level.

Apart from his early pointed free Watson (wearing 10 but playing at full-forward) hadn’t seen the ball, but all was to change during the second quarter as the star of the show put his stamp firmly on the game. It started on eighteen minutes when Shay Casey broke clear again and fired in a shot which goalkeeper Corcoran could only parry and Watson pounced to bundle the ball over the line. Eight minutes later he drifted in behind the Coolderry full-back line and was found by a superb Eddie Closkey delivery, but as he reached for the sliothar he was fouled by full-back Trevor Corcoran, an offence which earned the Coolderry man a yellow card. When Watson recovered he lined up to take the resultant free and while everyone expected him to tap the ball over the bar he fired an unstoppable shot high to the corner of the Coolderry net.

Two minutes later he struck again to complete an amazing hat-trick. McCloksey again the provider with a sublime delivery which Watson controlled on his hurley before flicking the ball past Corcoran to put his team in control at the break.

Ahead by double scores as the second-half resumed (4-6 to 0-9) Loughgiel had to survive a storming fightback from Coolderry as they hit three quick points through Damian Murray, substitute Kevin Connolly and Cathal Parlon to cut their arrears to six inside the first four minutes. When Murray pointed again to reduce the gap to just five there were signs for the first time that Loughgiel were beginning to struggle. If Coolderry could have got another couple of scores then the pressure would have been well and truly on, but the Shamrocks defence closed ranks and stemmed the flow.

The siege was lifted when Watson won possession ten minutes in and was fouled by team captain Brendan O’Meara, who had been assigned to mark the Loughgiel dangerman after full-back Corcoran had been called ashore early. Watson made no mistake from the placed ball to put his team six clear again and the pressure was lifted. Although Coolderry still kept plugging away and added some fine scores, the Loughgiel lead was never again threatened. Barney McAuley got in on the scoring act when he dropped one over the Coolderry crossbar from fifty metres and Watson added another from a long range free soon afterwards when Joey Scullion was fouled going through.

The final quarter was more or less just playing out time. Watson struck a beauty over his shoulder and while Murray’s accuracy from frees always kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Leinster champions two fine efforts from Benny McCarry late in the day left eight between the sides at the end.

Goalkeepr DD Quinn was never seriously tested, but he was his usual solid and secure self under the dropping ball.

The full-back line of Paul Gillan, Neilly McGarry and Ronan McCloskey were excellent and while Gillan’s direct opponent Damien Murray finished top scorer with eight points, all of them came from placed balls.

Martin Scullion excelled at centre-back in the second-half making some timely interceptions, while the Campbell brothers on each side were solid throughout, team captain Johnny having his best game for some time.

The midfield were never really on top at any stage though Barney McAuley had a much better second-half, while in the half-forward line Joey Scullion and Declan Laverty had some great spells. Left-half forward Eddie McCloskey was sensational, especially during the first-half blitz.

Going into the game many observers would have seen corner-forward Shay Casey as a bit of a weak link, but he had his finest game in the red jersey on the day that mattered most, scoring the opening goal, setting up the second and coming close with a fine effort in the second-half.

In the other corner Benny McCarry’s three points from play were out of the top drawer while at full-forward Watson was undoubtedly man of the match as he wrote his name in the record books with 3 goals and 7 points during a performance that will long be remembered.

Loughgiel: DD Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, R McCloskey; J Campbell, M Scullion, J Campbell; B McAuley (0-1), M McFaden; J Scullion (0-1), D Laverty, E McCloskey (0-1); B McCarry (0-3), L Watson (3-7), S Casey (1-0). Subs - S Dobbin for McFadden, T McCloskey for Dobbin, D McCloskey for Casey.

Coolderry: S Corcoran; B Kelly, T Corcoran, A Corcoran; K Brady (0-1), J Brady, B O’Meara; K Teehan, D King; B Carroll (0-3), B Teehan, C Parlon (0-2); E Ryan (0-2), M Corcoran, D Murray (0-8). Subs - K Connolly (0-1) for T Corcoran, B Larkin for Kelly.

Ref: A Kelly (Galway).