Clane win U16 Hurling Final in dramatic fashion
by Michael Cahalane
(heavily edited by James Henry)
Kildare U16 Div 2 Hurling Final – 11th October 2021
Venue: Kildare GAA Centre of Excellence, Hawfield. Pitch no. 2
Result: Clane 4 – 12 to 4 – 06 Kilcock
Whilst ‘Friday Night Lights’ was undoubtedly a superb TV show from 2008 which centred around a High School American Football team in a fictional town in Texas, it pales into comparison to the drama provided by the real-life young hurlers from Clane who captured the Division 2 Under 16 title in dramatic fashion under the Hawkfield lights on Monday evening last, beating a well drilled Kilcock team with 2 late goals. Down by one point with 58 minutes on the clock, Clane showed remarkable fortitude and skill to rally once more for one final push, which saw them equalise by the end of normal time, and then displayed the composure to grab the 2 goals deep into injury time to claim victory in heart stopping fashion. The victory was made all the sweeter by the fact that Kilcock had beaten Clane by 19 points only a few weeks earlier in their group game, but this incredible reversal is testament to the enormous character shown by this bunch of magnificent young men. They have consistently sought improvement in their game over the past 3 years – this was their third final in just over 12 months, winning 2 of them. The loss was an U15 Division 1 Final to a very strong Naas team earlier this year, they weren’t too far away in that match either.
With a throw-in pencilled in for 7.45pm, the Hawkfield lights were already in full beam when the team arrived at approx. 6.45. The lads made their way down to the warmup area, where Adam Donovan, Sam Donovan & Caolan Smith from the senior team brought them through a thorough warm up which involved quality stretching and short sharp drills. All the panel knuckled down to the warmup straight away, relishing the input from their future teammates. The management team of James Henry, Anthony O’Dea and Michael Cahalane then called the team in, delivering rousing pep talks, imploring the lads to believe in their own undoubted abilities. The jerseys were then donned, the team photo taken, and the referee called the teams to arms. Deliverance Day had arrived – it was time to step up.
The first 7 minutes started in a whirlwind of horrors for Clane. Kilcock, buoyed by their facile win previously, confidently went at Clane and had 3 quick points on the board, before 2 rapid fire majors had the lads from just off the M4 9 points clear before Clane knew what hit them. Hesitancy and basic handling errors were the downfall of Clane in those early stages, and Kilcock to their credit took full advantage. The large Clane following was stunned into silence, with the veterans amongst them who had seen this all before were heard to make comments along the lines of “same old story”.
“Not on our watch” came the defiant reply from the young heroes out on the pitch, and when Hugh Muldoon raced through to bury the ball to the net for the first of his many scores, it was game on again. 2 points from Hugh & Tadhg O’Donoghue (our 2 man full forward line) quickly followed, but another major for Kilcock left them 7 points to the good at the first water break. No panic was the message from management, “you’re well in this game now”. Within 5 more minutes Kilcock had scored another goal and a point, to leave the score after 20 minutes a scarcely believable 4 – 4 to 1 – 2. Clane were 11 points down at that stage and all was lost…... or so it seemed. This was without factoring in the character of the team though, and they rallied superbly before the break. Danny Malone & James O’Donoghue started running at Kilcock from deep, and while Liam Dagg had already run himself to a standstill by this stage, his replacement Daragh Mullahy scored a fabulous point to get Clane scoring again. This was followed by a superbly disguised 20 yard free from Hugh which outwitted those on the Kilcock line to end up in the net, whilst 3 further points from Hugh (x2) and Shane Henry were matched by only one more minor from Kilcock. The short whistle sounded to end a breathless first half, with the score line reading 4 – 5 to 2 – 6 to Kilcock.
The half-time break was all about resetting and refocusing. Management spelt out to the players how hard they had worked until this point, both in the season and in the game itself – the second half was about reaping their deserved rewards. The players were again reminded about just how good they were, and it was also pointed out that since the 7th minute they had outscored Kilcock by 4 points. If they believed in themselves victory would undoubtedly come. A further sharp blast of the whistle brought the two teams together for what would turn out to be a second half that will go down in Clane GAA history and will be talked about for decades by those who were privileged to witness it.
From the throw-in the dynamic midfield duo of Adam (Fitzy) Fitzpatrick and Ethan Smith tore into their opponents, winning the first ball and thus laying down a marker. They both went on to totally boss the midfield sector for the whole of the second half, with Ethan’s fast delivery complimenting Adam’s trojan work rate in winning dirty ball and driving at the Kilcock defence. The full back line of Diarmuid Finn, Cully Healy and Thomas Kilbride thundered into the game, with sweeper Riann O’Neill expertly cutting off any ball that dropped short as he continuously drifted across the pitch to steadfastly guard his buddies behind him. Super keeper Eddie O’Loughlin with his deadly accurate puck outs displayed a calm assurance between the sticks, and it quickly became evident that the troubles from early on had been solved by the lads themselves and that Kilcock wouldn’t be getting many more scores. Outside Riann the half back line of James O’Donoghue, Danny Malone & Paddy Connolly (Jnr) completely took over, and constantly delivered quality raking clearances into the forwards, as well as running the Kilcock half forward line ragged. Shane Henry continued his ferocious work rate around the centre on the 40, which was matched either side of him by Daragh Mullaghy and Ben O’Dea, as they made life unbearable for their direct opponents. The message was clear – get the ball into our inside forwards of Hugh & Tadhg, and the result would look after itself. At this stage with excitement building to fever pitch, the referee was forced to stop the match to get the young Clane Ultras to step outside the barriers – it looked as if some of them took their desire to be the 16th man too literally. Hugh Muldoon took up the mantle to reel off the next 4 scores, whilst a monster point from Daragh Mullahy from somewhere just north of Kilcullen tied the match up (2 – 11 to 4 -5) as the whistle sounded for the second water break.
A quick water intake was followed by some further wise words from the management team, whilst the final rallying call to the lads was to go out and make themselves legends of Clane. The atmosphere was now electric, with normally reserved older Clane folk seen to be whooping and hollering their support for the lads as they resumed their places, whilst there were some rumours of rosary beads appearing amongst the now almost hyperventilating parents. The young Ultras had found their voices again from behind the barricades, and the air positively crackled with anticipation and high energy as the match resumed. Roared on by the majority of the crowd present, Clane drove at Kilcock in white waves, with Danny Malone now displaying Cú Chulainn type characteristics as he covered every blade of grass (suggestions that the Cú Chulainn statue in Dublin’s GPO is to be replaced by a Danny Malone one have not yet been confirmed as true). Over anxiousness, bad luck and good Kilcock defending prevented Clane from taking the lead, despite numerous chances that went abegging. The clock ticked down as the yellow sliothar fizzled up and down and back and forth across the pitch through the crisp night air, but no further score was registered until Kilcock got a fine point from out on their left with just 2 minutes left to put them one point clear. This was their only score of the second half – testament to the quality of defending from all the backs. The Clane support was momentarily deflated, possibly thinking that that was surely that. They quickly found their voices again though to drive the team on – by now the team and support was as one. A herculean free by Hugh tied the game up again just as the clock ticked towards the end of the 60th minute. Initially it was thought it was from across the border in Carlow, but a review showed that whilst the lift was the far side of the line, in true natural free taking style Hugh’s forward momentum carried him across the border with the actual strike taking place in the Short Grass county. A draw game as the match ticked into injury time, thoughts amongst the faithful started drifting towards 2 x 10 minutes of Extra Time. The players themselves however came up with another option - Win It Now. A long ball out of defence by Daragh found Tadhg in space on the left wing who hand passed off to Shane and his delivery into Hugh was inch perfect. A clean catch above the full backs outstretched arm and a beautiful flick to the net followed to put Clane into a 3 point lead – the first time they had led in the whole game. Cue delirium on the terraces. This was Hugh’s final score of the match, thus finishing on 3 – 8. Surely a “Hugh 3 – 8” sign will appear at matches up and down the country sometime in the future. Whilst it might have been Hugh’s last score the team was not finished yet, and after a long ball was collected by the Kilcock keeper, Tadhg O'Donoghue pounced, applying the coup de grace by blocking down his attempted clearance and flicking the sliothar to the net to complete a sensational turnaround.
The final whistle sounded straight away and sparked off wonderful scenes of wild celebrations, with the players' families, friends and supporters streaming out onto the pitch to join in. A very gracious Kilcock team and management came over to offer their congratulations straight away, they had very complimentary words to say to all the lads which was hugely appreciated.
Special praise must be given to the players themselves – they are wonderful young men who excel at a number of different sports, but their commitment to the art of hurling has been first class over the past 3 years. They are reaping the rewards now for all their hard work, and this latest success is surely only the next step in what has the potential to be vast. They already are Clane hurling legends after their performance in this match, but the challenge now is to cement their legendary status long into the future. They certainly have all the characteristics to do so. Quite a number of them are already part of various Kildare development squads, again this speaks volumes about their efforts and commitment to hurling. It is worth noting that while our other subs TJ Dillon, James O’Rourke and Matthew McTiernan didn’t get any game time last night they never once complained, instead focusing on cheering their teammates on. They have played a significant part in this journey to date and will undoubtedly do so again in the future. 2 other players who deserve mention are Daire O’Beirne who missed out on playing last night due to a broken collar bone, whilst our mighty on-pitch leader Daniel Colbert also missed out due to a long-term injury. It was brutal luck to be injured for such a show-piece occasion, but they both played massive parts to get the team there in the first place, and will undoubtedly do so again in future.
It would be remiss not to mention the wonderful role that the parents have played so far in this journey. Whilst the marvellous support witnessed last night & at other games is clearly the norm for these players from their parents, the way the parents support them by driving them to training and matches, as well as answering innumerable requests via Clubzap, and providing the lads with all the gear required like ziptops, hurls, helmets, boots, etc. is really appreciated. It makes our jobs as mentors so much easier. As well as the previously mentioned James Henry, Anthony O'Dea & Michael Cahalane, numerous other coaches have helped with these lads’ development over the years, including Joe Muldoon, Damien Vizzard and Michael Hyland. Special thanks also goes to Adam & Sam Donovan and Caolan Smith, who gave up their free time last night to both help out with the warm-up and give magnificent encouragement to the lads right throughout the match, but especially during the difficult first part. It was hugely appreciated by everyone, especially the players. The links between the senior team and the juvenile section has never been stronger – other senior players like Mark Doyle, Cian Shanahan, Eamonn Little, Ger Darcy and Cillian Ryan and have also given their time to help these lads out over the past year or so. Thanks also to official club and U16 Hurling team supporter SportsDirect and Paddy White of The White Window Company, Clane (jersey sponsor) – hopefully you will see the return on your investment over the next few days as these lads’ pictures are plastered all over social media. A word too for the non-parent support, it was fantastic to see so many of our members and Clane supporters present, and was hugely valued by all the panel and the management team.
A never to be forgotten night for Clane GAA, and for these superb lads. They are wonderful ambassadors for the club and a credit to themselves and their families – it is an absolute privilege to play a small part on this journey with them.
Long may it continue……….
Squad: Eddie O'Loughlin, Diarmuid Finn, Culann Healy, Thomas Kilbride, Paddy Connolly, James O'Donoghue, Daniel Malone, Ethan Smith, Adam Fitzpatrick, Ben O'Dea, Shane Henry, Liam Dagg, Riann O'Neill, Hugh Muldoon, Tadhg O'Donoghue, Daragh Mullaghy, TJ Dillon, Matthew McTiernan, James O'Rourke
Management: James Henry, Anthony O'Dea and Michael Cahalane