It was a case of so near and yet so far for Cloone on Sunday last in Salthill as despite a flying start and a brave late rally they were defeated by Leitir Mor by a solitary point in the AIB Intermediate Connacht Club Championship semi-final.
AIB CONNACHT CLUB INTERMEDIATE CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL
LEITIR MOR 1-8
Having raced into a four point lead inside nine minutes, the Cloone players were showing the kind of belief which never really looked evident from the Aughavas players earlier in the day. Although Leitir Mor came back into the game as the half progressed Cloone still led by a point at half-time and the omens were looking positive.
What will annoy Cloone is the fact that even though they were playing in to a strong wind in the second half, they missed several chances in the second half which would have helped them at least take the game to extra-time. Although they werent playing as well as they were in the opening period, Cloone will have every right to look back on this game as one that got away.
With the words of encouragement and advice from Gerry Flanagan, Padraig Quinn and Gerry Conway still ringing in their ears and urged on by a large travelling support from Cloone and Aughavas, Cloone made a very positive start to the game.
Senior county man Damien ODonnell was a real handful for the Leitrim Mor defence while Donal Brennan also looked a constant threat when in possession in the opening stages, while captainÓgavin Reynolds and the hugely impressive Seamus Maguire helped break up attacks get Cloone back into offensive mode.
Brennan opened the Scóring with a second minute point and that lead was doubled as Cloone continued to take the game to their opponents.
Adrian Nicholls found the run of Mark Creegan and with the other Cloone defenders making clever runs, taking the Leitir Mor defenders away from the advancing corner forward, Creegan was given the opportunity to advance, which he duly did before finishing well.
Cloones bright start to the game was rewarded with two further points, both from Damien ODonnell frees. With only nine minutes of the game gone, Cloone were being caused few problems in defence, were dominant in midfield and were running riot up front.
Leitir Mor struck for their first score of the half after 15 minutes when Daithi Mac Donnchadha converted from a free. However, Leitir Mor were still struggling to fully establish themselves in the game as Cloone continue to take the game to the Galway champions.
Leitir Mor needed a moment of inspiration and they got just that 18 minutes into the half when Daithi Mac Donnchadha executed a defence splitting diagonal ball into the path of Cormac O Conghailes run.
With only Cloone goalkeeper Kieran Casey to beat, O Conghaile made no mistake with a strong finish to level the scores.
Having been outplayed for much of the half, Leitir Mor took the lead for the first time when Mac Donnchadha converted a free.
The final nine minutes of the half were absorbing as Cloone looked to finish the half with an advantage having played with the wind, while Leitir Mor looked like they were just beginning to find their rhythm.
Donal Brennan scored his second point of the game to level matters, but Cloone had Kieran Casey to thank for not falling behind again when he produced a fine save to deny Fiachra Breathnach.
That save proved to be particularly important as within a minute, Cloone had retaken the lead with Adrian Nicholls on hand to apply the finish touch to a fine move.
Michael Lohan, Seamus Maguire and Damien ODonnell were all involved in carving the Leitir Mor defence open and when ODonnell struck it seemed as though he was going to score the games second goal.
ODonnell was denied by a fine Eoghan O Conghaile save but the unmarked Nicholls was on hand to palm the rebound to the Leitir Mor defence to reestablish a three point lead for the Leitrim Intermediate champions.
Leitir Mor were by now, however fully up to speed and they finished the half the stronger with two frees from Daithi Mac Donnchadha meaning there was just a point between the sides at the break, with Cloone leading 1-5 to 1-4.Cloone would have been hoping to start the second half as strongly as the first but instead it was Leitir Mor who seized the initiative straight from the restart.
Having scored two points in the final minutes of the first half, Leitir Mor scored two further unanswered points through Ferdia Breathnach within a minute and 15 seconds of the restart.
With the wind at their backs, Leitir Mor continued to press forward asking plenty of questions of the Cloone defence. Those questions were answered with some fine defending which helped keep the Leitir Mor attacks from registering further scores.
However, such was the pressure being exerted it was of little surprise when Leitir Mor extended their lead to two points through a Daithi Mac Donnchadha free 12 minutes into the half.
That lead was extended to three points a minute later when substitute Patrick Mark O Fatharta converted a 45 with his first touch of the ball.
Although they were trailing by only three points, Cloone were beginning to look in real danger with the game being dictated by the Leitir Mor players.
The game could have been all but over as a contest were it not for Kieran Casey who made a another fine save to deny Ferdia Breathnach with just 13 minutes of the game remaining.
With time running out, Cloone showed great resilience to lift their game in the final quarter of the game but were still struggling to make an impression on the scoreboard.
Damien ODonnells free was claimed under his crossbar by Eoghan O Conghaile while a Donal Brennan free sailed wide.
With three minutes to go, the game seemed to be up for Cloone, however the players certainly didnt share that opinion and came agonisingly close to Scóring a dramatic late goal.
Brian Mulveys searching high ball broke to Alan Canning after Adrian Nicholls had put goalkeeper O Conghaile under pressure. However O Conghaile managed to regain his composure and made a top class, one-handed save to deny Canning.
Damien ODonnell pointed in the last minute of normal time to reduce Leitir Mors lead to two points and although time was rapidly running out, Cloone were now pouring forward in numbers and were in complete control of the football.
Cloone poured forward again with Donal Brennan, Mark Beirne, Michael Lohan and Damien ODonnell all combining well as they unhinged the Leitir Mor defence. When the ball came back to Beirne he quickly surveyed his options before striking for goal from 13 meters out. Although his effort was well struck it was always veering to the left of the Leitir Mor goal and Cloone were forced to regroup and attempt to launch another attack.
If proof was needed that it wasnt going to be Cloones day it arrived in the first minute of injury time when Damien ODonnells free sailed wide. There was still time for Michael Lohan to score a late point but ultimately there was no time for Cloone to get that elusive equalising score.
Having started so well it was frustrating for Cloone to be overhauled so early in the second half and it was a bitter pill to swallow having had enough chances late in the game to force extra-time that they came up just short.
When the disappointment of last Sunday subsides, Cloone will be able to reflect on what has a great year for their club with a lot of pride and look forward to senior championship football next year.
Kieran Casey, Seamus McCaffrey, Aidan Mulvey, Daragh Tiernan, Seamus Maguire, Gavin Reynolds, Declan Brennan, Alan Canning, Mark Beirne, Donal Brennan (0-1), Michael Lohan (0-1), Adrian Nicholls (1-0), Mark Creegan (0-1), Damien ODonnell (0-3), Padraig Harte. Subs: Brian Mulvey for Harte (27 mins), Niall Brennan for Tiernan (48 mins), Declan Tiernan for Mulvey (54 mins).
Eoghan O Conghaile, Coilin O Hogain, Seosamh Seoighe, Padraic Mac an Riogh, Michael Pol O Ceallaigh, Ciaran Bairead, Tomas O Griofa, Antaine O Griofa, Cristoir Flatharta, Cormac O Conghaile (1-0), Fiachra Breathnach (0-2), Daithi Mac Donnchadha (0-5), Eamonn O Loinsigh, Ferdia Breathnach, Peatsai Seoighe. Subs: Patrick Mark O Fatharta (0-1) for O Loinsigh (42 mins), Eanna O Cathain for Mac an Riogh (54 mins), Padraic Bairead for O Conghaile (60 mins).
Referee: R Gurren (Mayo)
05-Nov-09 by Philip Rooney – LeitrimObserver.ie