Mark Walsh in Athenry
THIS was a game played at a relentless pace, one of the standouts of the 2016 championship, and although Craughwell died with their boots firmly intact, it was Gort left standing at the conclusion of a furious final few minutes of hurling.
That it is Gort who are now preparing for a county final is very hard on Craughwell. They had more than a sufficient amount of opportunities to come out the favourable side of the result, but bad wides and shot selection ultimately proved their downfall. Craughwell finished the game with 16 wides, 10 in all in the second half.
The crucial score from a Gort perspective came in the 57th minute. Albert Mullins and Paul Killilea were two players who managed to make inroads into the Craughwell defence in the second half, and it was they who put Gerard O’Donoghue through for the critical goal as his low shot put them back into the lead, 1-15 to 0-17.
There was, of course, time for Craughwell to come back, and although a couple of poor wides followed in the intervening minutes, Niall Healy’s 13th point of the match levelled the teams in the third minute of added time.
Healy was the only Craughwell forward for whom the malaise in front of goal didn’t affect, but the problem was Craughwell couldn’t always get the ball to him. A draw looked likely with his final point, though sport at this level is ruthless, and Gort had some important hands left to play.
Fifteen seconds after Healy’s score, Killilea took the resulting puck out from Gavin Lally and laid on the assist for the onrushing Jason Grealish. Albert Mullins stretched the lead to two a minute later. Referee Shane Hynes, who kept a firm handle on the game, afforded Healy with the chance to steal the victory back Craughwell’s way in the fifth minute of overtime, but there was a nest of Gort players between the spot Healy took his free from and the 20 yards to goal.
Grealish got the block on Healy’s effort, and the Gort players duly raised their hands to the sky in celebration, but they themselves know full well there will need to be an improvement of a number of notches if they are to win a third Tom Callanan Cup since 2011 when they meet St. Thomas’.
Craughwell have been there or thereabouts for the last few years but, in some ways, this defeat may be harder to cope with than the county final replay loss to Sarsfields in 2015. What will eat away at the players was the fact that they will know they were the better side on the whole, especially in the second half.
The Mayo footballers have been waiting since 1951 to bring the Sam Maguire back to the county, but Craughwell’s own quest for their holy grail of a Galway senior hurling title extends back a further 20 years.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.