FIVE years after they were relegated from Senior football, Claregalway are back in the top grade after they were crowned Intermediate champions at Pearse Stadium on Saturday.
In an amazing final, they blitzed Williamstown in the opening half as they led by ten points at the break, but the second half was a total turnabout as Sean Keaveney’s charges took over in making a real contest of it right to the final whistle.
It certainly was a game of two proverbial halves as Claregalway were outstanding in the opening half, but for all their dominance, it took them a long time to pull away and open a gap. A Conor Kelly goal on 19 minutes gave them some breathing space as they opened up a four point margin, but the real turning point of the game came in the closing four minutes of the half as they knocked over five points in quick succession.
When Claregalway also got the first point of the second half, it was difficult to foresee what was in store for the remainder of the game. Thereafter, Williamstown took control as they slotted over ten points in a dominant spell, as opposed to just one for the winners.
The final whistle came very much as a relief to Paul Kilgannon’s side as they were hanging on during three and a half minutes of additional time, but they survived and victory set them up for a successful crack at the Connacht semi final the following day in Sligo.
Enjoying the wind advantage, Claregalway were quickest out of the blocks in the opening half as Darren Hennessy broke the ball to Danny Cummins and he opened their account. However, they were to suffer a few malfunctions over the next few minutes as they strugged to press home their dominance.
On four minutes, Sean Moran crashed a low effort off the far post, while the rebound by Conor Kelly was saved by Gary Silke. Further opportunities fell to Barry Callanan and Moran, but they fell wide of the target from scoreable positions.
A left footed effort by the impressive John Smyth got Williamstown off the mark on five minutes, before Mark Rowan and Gary Kelly from a free exchanged further points.
As Claregalway grew into the game, they got more of a cutting edge about them. With Hennessy and Commins on top in midfield, the forwards were getting a constant supply of ball as the likes of Barry Goldrick and Mark Rowan, in particular, offered a huge threat in attack.
As Eoghan Commins point on 18 minutes eventually gave the a lead they were never to lose and in their next attack they struck for what turned out to be the match-winning goal.
Rohan, Commins and Hennessy were all involved in the build up from halfway, before a Moran pass picked out Conor Kelly on the edge of the dquare and while his first effort was blocked on the line, he was still well positioned to hammer home the rebound to make it 1-3 to 0-2 after 19 minutes.
A Moran free from about 35 metres added to their tally, before a spirited Williamstown recovery earned them no reward as some poor shooting and errant passing was to cost them.
As this stage, they were dropping back very defensively, with the entire half forward line and midfield trying to prop up the defence. It was also to cost them in attacking terms, for when they did get possession at the back, they had no outlet for their clearnaces, while inevitibly hand passing movements broke down when trying to play their way out.
Claregalway really punished them in the closing minutes of the half as they knocked over five points without reply – Barry Goldrick (free), Conor Campbell, Conor Kelly, Mark Rohan and Danny Cummins stretching their half time advantage to 1.0 to 0-2.
The chit chat at the break never anticipated what was to come in the second half as no one could see anything but a comfortable Claregalway win.
They started well as a long passing movement resulted in the excellent Campbell setting up Barry Goldrick for their opening score. However, it was to be one of only three they got in the second half as Williamstown took over and dictated matters.
With Thomas Comer now relocated to midfield and controlling matters alongside the outstanding Kieran Flatley, bit by bit they cut into Claregalway’s advantage, With Gary Kelly, Sean and John Smyth also massive figures in the second half, their comeback was progressive as they kept the scoreboard ticking over and their large support in full voice.
Two frees by Kelly was followed by another from play by the corner forward as he angled an effort from wide on the left over the crossbar. A smashing free from almost on the touchline by Man of the Match Sean Moran gave Claregalway a little respite as they led by 1-11 to 0-5 after 39 minutes. That was to be their last score for over 20 minutes as Williamstown went on to rattle over seven points without reply to bring it to just a two point game.
Comer kicked off the recovery with an inspirational score from 40 metres, before Shane Conneally set up John Smyth for another. Garry Kelly converted a neat effort at a tight angle, with captain Kieran Flattley slotting over a ’45 to maintain their impressive scoring tally.
Flatley then pointed brilliantly with the outside of the boot from way out the park for his second in succession, before their run was blunted by a few bad wides, while Eoghan Commins plucked a potential point out of the sky following another Flatley free.
Two more points by Kelly left matters at 1-11 to 0-12 as Claregalway were floundering and, indeed, nervous as they fluffed a few breakaway opportunities themselves.
However, once Brian Callanan picked up a stray pass and teed up Conor Kelly for the closing scoring action of the day in injury time, it sealed Williamstown’s fate and confirmed Claregalway as Intermediate champions.
Claregalway: B. Donoghue, C. Glynn, B. Callanan, M. Goldrick, K. McDermott, S. Cunniffe, C. Campbell (0-1) D. Hennessy, E. Commins (0-1), B. Goldrick (0-2, 0- free), S. Moran (0-2, frees), P. Kearney, M. Rohan (0-2), C. Kelly (1-2), D. Cummins (0-2), Subs: P. Divilly for P. Kearney (43 mins), J. Kearney for K. McDermott (46 mins, B. Callanan for E. Commins (52 mins), M Kelly for C. Glynn (56 mins), P. Fahy for C. Kelly (62 mins).
Williamstown: G. Silke, D. Lyons, T. Comer (0-1), R. Nee, J. Kirrane, G. Waldron, P. Hevican, K.l Flatley (0-2), M. Smyth, D. Keegan, J. Smyth (0-2), S. Smyth, M. Kenny, D. Lennon, G. Kelly (0-7, 0-4 frees). Subs: S. Conneally for D. Lennon (24 mins), S. Kenny for M. Smyth (36 mins)
Referee: Noel Dempsey