Ace predator Paddy Cullen pounced for the decisive 59th minute goal as gritty Wolfe Tones deservedly gained sweet revenge over Clara of Offaly in this keenly fought quarter-final of the AIB Leinster Special Club JHC at Clara on Sunday afternoon.
Amazingly, when the same sides clashed in the final of this competition eleven months ago, depleted Wolfe Tones were on the receiving end of a horrible 19 points hammering, 0-5 to 2-18. Five players (3 Wolfe Tones & 2 Clara) were also dismissed in that tempestuous encounter and thankfully there was no niggle or repeat of those incidents.
So the manner in which Mattie McLoughlin’s charges, who won their 16th county title five weeks ago by defeating Longford Slashers by 4-11 to 0-10, turned things around and conjured up this twenty-points transformation in their fortunes is very commendable.
Wolfe Tones progress to meet Ballypickas of Laois in the semi-final on Sunday week, November 15 and with the benefit of home advantage and this morale boosting victory under their belts, they’ll be very difficult to defeat.
In 2014, Wolfe Tones hadn’t the services of the suspended Thomas Stakem and Jack Lynn against Clara, and both players featured prominently this time.
Full back Stakem, with his tenacious tackling, kept a tight rein on Clara dangerman Joey Deehan, while Lynn, although he did a spurn a 2nd half free that he’d convert 99 times out a 100, got through an awful lot of decent work at centre half forward.
In fact, last year, Joey and Thomas Deehan racked up 2-16 between them, including 2-8 from play, but this time, Joey managed just two converted frees and Thomas didn’t score at all. Although Thomas did spend 75% of the game at midfield after Clara lost Barry Cushen through injury.
Stakem, along with his brother Benny, and young defenders like John Gaffney, Daire Duggan and Daniel Connell can take the plaudits for frustrating and negating the Clara attack.
Wolfe Tones ‘keeper Andrew Kelly also had a busy time, particularly in the first half, when he dealt with a lot of undercooked shots for points by the Clara men and his handling was very secure.
The Longford standard bearers started without four of their county final winning side - Ciaran Fahy and Luke Kelly (both unavailable owing to the red cards they picked up in the 2014 final), along with Micheal Hussey and John Mulhern - and they were replaced by Daniel Connell, Keelan Cox, Cian McLoughlin and Alan Wade, respectively.
Clara, despite enjoying the higher percentage of possession, led by 0-6 to 0-5 at half time and you could sense their dissatisfaction as they struggled to break down Wolfe Tones disciplined rearguard.
The sides were deadlocked for the 4th time in the 46th minute, 0-8 apiece, before Joey Deehan edged Clara ahead with a 54th minute pointed free.
Wolfe Tones Cian McLoughlin and Sean Noonan were unable to find the twine two minutes later but still believing they could steal the verdict, they came raiding again with intent in the 59th minute.
Sean Browne set-up Noonan whose shot was saved and clever Cullen followed up to slam the sliotar beyond William Fleming, 0-9 to 1-8. Martin Fleming did land a point in added time but it was merely a consolation score as Wolfe Tones took the spoils.
Sean Noonan’s 8th minute point, Wolfe Tones first from play after Jack Lynn raised white flags from a free and ‘65, gave his side a 0-3 to 0-2 lead. Deehan (free) levelled it before Wolfe Tones moved 0-5 to 0-3 up with 18 minutes elapsed thanks to Lynn and the excellent Martin Coyle - he and Keelan Cox formed a formidable midfield partnership.
Clara ended the half in the ascendancy and points from Darren Scanlon (2 frees) and sub Steven Buckley left them 0-6 to 0-5 ahead at the break.
Of the five points in the third quarter, just one was from play by Buckley. Scanlon (free) was also on the mark for Clara, while Wolfe Tones three points in this spell came via Daire Duggan and Sean Browne (2) from frees.
Level at 0-8 all after 46 minutes, it was now down to whoever wanted it the most, and it was Wolfe Tones who dug deepest and showed the greater desire and they were duly rewarded.
CLARA: William Fleming; Colm Doyle, David Ledwith, James Fleming; Dermot Doolan, Lorcan Hiney, Pa Smith; Barry Cushen, Darren Scanlon (0-4, 0-3 frees); Martin Fleming (0-2), Alan Cronin, Sean Nolan; Josh Fleming, Joey Deehan (0-2 frees), Thomas Deehan.
Sub.: Steven Buckley (0-2) for B Cushen inj (21 mins), Seamus O’Brien for A Cronin inj (42 mins).
WOLFE TONES: Andrew Kelly; Aidan Sheridan, Thomas Stakem, John Gaffney (capt); Daniel Connell, Brendan Stakem, Daire Duggan (0-1 free); Keelan Cox, Martin Coyle (0-1); Sean Noonan (0-1), Jack Lynn (0-3, 0-1 free & 0-1 ‘65), Cian McLoughlin; Alan Wade, Sean Browne (0-2 frees), Paddy Cullen (1-0).
Subs.: Sean McNally for A Wade (53 mins).