Portroe’s AJ Willis tries to escape the clutches of Clonoulty/Rossmore’s Robert Doyle. Photo: Odhran Ducie

Clonoulty crowned champions as Portroe suffer final heartbreak

Clonoulty/Rossmore 1-13

Portroe 2-9

Report: James Hayden in Templederry


Player of the Match: Conor O’Brien (Portroe)

SCORERS – Clonoulty/Rossmore: Stephen Ferncombe 1-9 frees; Sean Ryan 0-2; Aaron Kennedy, Oisin Fryday 0-1 each.

Portroe: AJ Willis 0-6 (3 frees); Diarmuid Boyle 2-0; Kieran McKeogh 0-2; Conor O’Brien 0-1 free.

Portroe suffered county final heartbreak at the hands of an impressive Clonoulty-Rossmore side following an enthralling Under 21 ‘B’ Hurling final on Sunday.

Losing a county final is always a tough pill to swallow but losing by a solitary point after AJ Willis saw his goal-bound effort cannon off the crossbar was particularly heart-breaking for this exceptional Portroe side.

While Jason O’Dwyer in the Clonoulty goal may have got the merest of touches to deflect the sliotar onto the crossbar, an inch or two lower and it would have been Portroe who would have been celebrating county final glory.

Clonoulty/Rossmore were full value for their victory, however, and the guts and fighting qualities they displayed to dig out a hugely hard-earned victory proved hugely influential in securing victory for Michael Ferncombe’s charges. Having tasted Under 21 ‘A’ success in 2018, Clonoulty secured the Under 21 ‘B’ title for the first time in their history with a hard-fought victory and one that will live long in the memory of all from the West club.

They notched just four points from play, but it was the accuracy of their free-taker Stephen Ferncombe which assisted their cause to no end. In comparison, Portroe fired 2-5 from play but missed opportunities from a number of scorable frees proved crucial and these missed chances really came back to haunt them in the end.

Clonoulty really had their homework done on the North champions, and paid particular attention to Port’ centre-forward AJ Willis. Willis was double covered on most occasions and wasn’t allowed to dominate as he did in the North final against Ballinahinch-Templederry and county semi-final against Boherlahan. Centre-back, Robert Doyle kept serious tabs on Willis as did captain Tommy Ryan.

Portroe won the toss and elected to play against the breeze. The North champions took the game to Clonoulty right from the throw-in with Diarmuid Boyle setting up AJ Willis for the first score of the game after two minutes. Clonoulty responded though with three points on the bounce with Sean Ryan, Stephen Ferncombe (free) and Aaron Kennedy all on target.

Portroe kept in touch with a tenth minute AJ Willis free before the hugely impressive Conor O’Brien saw his booming clearance plucked from the sky by the influential Diarmuid Boyle. Boyle pirouetted with ease and cracked the sliotar past the advancing Jason O’Dwyer to fire Port’ back in front, 1-2 to 0-4.

Clonoulty responded with a Stephen Ferncombe free from close-range before the flight of a high looping free out of defence deceived Luke Creamer in the Portroe goal and somehow ended up sneaking behind the goal line. Although it was shovelled clear the advancing Jamie Davern made doubly sure the green flag would be raised and it was the West men who led at the break, 1-5 to 1-2.

Clonoulty upped the tempo noticeably in the second quarter but Port’ battled tigerishly to keep pace with them. Brian Keating, Adrian O’Halloran, Conor O’Brien, Eoin Maher, Ben O’Connor, and Shane Keating did their utmost to shut down attack after Clonoulty attack while John Moroney and James Ferris in midfield battled hard with their Clonoulty counterparts, Aaron Kennedy, and Tommy Ryan.

By the 24th minute the gap was down to two thanks to a sublime Kieran McKeogh effort after Diarmuid Boyle’s hefty shoulder on the advancing Danny Slattery dislodged the sliotar into the path of McKeogh. Stephen Ferncombe restored Clonoulty’s three-point advantage with a softly-awarded 28th minute free before AJ Willis arrowed over a well-struck free on the cusp of half-time to see the North champions trail by just two at the interval, 1-5 to 1-7.

Port’ could have led at the break though after James Ferris set up AJ Willis for a run through on goal but Jason O’Dwyer pulled off a fantastic save to deny an almost certain goal.

Portroe were arguably the better side in the second half, but Clonoulty just wouldn’t go away and ultimately, they received their just rewards. Within minutes of the re-start Port’ were back upsides thanks to points from AJ Willis and Kieran McKeogh.

Having re-jigged their attack at the break Clonoulty surged back into the lead with a brace of frees from Stephen Ferncombe before a 45th minute Seán Ryan point saw Clonoulty leady by 1-10 to 1-7 at the second water break.

Portroe revved up and came at Clonoulty again after the break with linesman, Shane Hodgins confirming Conor O’Brien’s pointed free after it was waved wide by the umpire. Unfortunately for Port’ three missed opportunities from scorable frees thwarted their efforts to get back on terms, and it was this string of misses which ultimately cost them dearly in the finish.

Clonoulty restored their three-point advantage with a 58th minute Stephen Ferncombe free before Oisín Fryday extended the west side’s lead seconds later.

Back came Portroe though and once again they managed to find the back of the Clonoulty net after AJ Willis set up Diarmuid Boyle for Port’s second goal to leave the North champions trailing by a solitary point as the game edged towards time added on.

Port’ desperately went in search of a leveller but Clonoulty’s impressive rear-guard held firm before a 62nd minute Stephen Ferncombe free handed his side a timely two-point advantage.

With time almost up Portroe were afforded one last opportunity, but AJ Willis’ shot was saved by Jason O’Dwyer onto the crossbar and over for a point when a goal would have surely have won it for his side.

Such fine margins are how games are won and lost, though on this occasion, it was a battling Clonoulty/Rossmore side who benefitted from a stroke of luck to be crowned county under-21 ‘B’ champions.

Clonoulty/Rossmore were tenacious throughout and impressive for the West side were Jason O’Dwyer, Jack Ryan, Danny Slattery, Robert Doyle, Tommy Ryan, Sean Ryan, and Stephen Ferncombe.

Portroe also had fine performances from Adrian O’Halloran, Brian Keating, John Moroney and Diarmuid Boyle and while their scorer-in-chief throughout this campaign, AJ Willis was well-shackled throughout he did impress in flashes. Outstanding for Portroe throughout was Conor O’Brien with a number of soaring catches and impressive clearances.

TEAMS - Clonoulty/Rossmore: Jason O’Dwyer (8), Paddy Ryan (7), Jack Ryan (7), Keelan Ryan (7); Danny Slattery (8), Robert Boyle (8), Jack Kennedy (7); Aaron Kennedy (7), Tommy Ryan (6); Stephen Ferncombe (8), Oisin Fryday (7), Sean Ryan (7); Cathal Ryan (7), Paddy Kennedy (6), Jamie Davern (7).

Subs: Cormac Quirke (6) for Kennedy (HT); Aidan Slattery (NR) for Davern (60).

Portroe: Luke Creamer (7), Eoin Maher (7), Brian Keating (8), Adrian O’Halloran (8); Ben O’Connor (7), Conor O’Brien (8), Shane Keating (7); John Moroney (8), James Ferris (7); Barry Connaughton (7), AJ Willis (7), Andrew Ferris (7); Kieran McKeogh (7), Diarmuid Boyle (8), Oisin O’Connor (7).

Sub: Mark Madden (7) for Connaughton (47).

Referee: Paddy Ivors (Ballingarry).