LIAM MELLOWS 2-21
Two teams with plenty of history at this stage of the competition went toe-to-toe yet again in an absorbing contest on a glorious Sunday afternoon in Athenry, and for the third straight year Liam Mellows proved stronger down the stretch than Cappataggle to book their place in the county final.
With five minutes remaining and the game still in the melting potted at 1-18 apiece after Cappataggle had worked their way out of a four point deficit, Liam Mellows struck dagger blows within a minute from Tadgh Haran (point ) and Conor Kavanagh (goal ).
Haran is the championship’s top scorer to date and was immense throughout, both in open play and from placed balls. He struck his side’s last five points when Cappataggle’s livewire brothers, Donal and Ja Mannion, were finally contained to some degree in the closing stages.
Kavanagh’s 56th minute goal, his second of the day, was a stunner as it appeared as though he would take the easier option of a point after receiving Aonghus Callanan’s pass, only to unleash a venomous shot that rippled the net almost before Cappy keeper James Skehill could react.
From then on Cappataggle were chasing a goal chance that the Mellows' defence, with David Collins in tremendous form at number six, were in no mood to allow. Late frees by Alan Dolan left Cappataggle just short yet again as their quest to reach a first county final continues for another year.
In a week where Liam Mellows manager Louis Mulqueen ruled himself out of the running for the Clare job before becoming a leading candidate for the vacant Galway post, he again enhanced his coaching CV by having a talented squad primed for all that Cappataggle could throw at them.
Their character was properly tested in the first quarter, when defender Stephen Barrett scored a bizarre own-goal that helped propel Cappataggle into an early 1-4 to 0-1 lead. Haran and Conor Elwood helped bring Mellows back into contention before Kavanagh struck his first goal in the 15th minute, with the wily Callanan again the provider.
Cappataggle kept poking their noses in front, with Ja Mannion in electric form, until Mellows reeled off four points in a row to assert their control. Jack Forde was a commanding presence in the middle third, and Barrett reacted well to his early setback, but Alan Dolan landed the last two scores of the half to leave but one point between the sides.
In no time Forde had doubled the lead on the resumption, before Conor Elwood hit two classy scores. Ronan Elwood was also posing problems for the Cappataggle defence, while Haran claimed his side’s fourth point in as many minutes to make it 1-15 to 1-11.
From there Cappataggle enjoyed their own period of dominance with Donal Mannion at the heart of most of their best play, the forward landing points from play in both the 38th and 46th minute. Alan Dolan converted five frees to wrestle back the lead for Cappataggle, but Haran once more was unerring from long distance to peg them back level.
Mellows then powered to the finish line to set up an intriguing repeat of last year’s decider against St Thomas. Mellows will surely have revenge on their mind after coming up well short in 2018, but a 10th title is well with reach of the Ballyloughane club in what could be Mulqueen’s last match in charge.
LIAM MELLOWS: K Walsh; S Morrissey, L O’Donovan, S Barrett (1-0, OG ); B Leen, D Collins, C Reilly; J Forde (0-2 ), A Morrissey (0-1 ); T Haran (0-13, 10fs ), C Elwood (0-4 ), J Hastings; C Kavanagh (2-0 ), A Callanan, R Elwood (0-1 ). Subs: C Hynes for C Elwood (64 ).
CAPPATAGGLE : J Skehill; K Kelly, J Garvey, P Egan; D Dolan, D Joyce, D Cronin; D Nevin (0-1 ), D Reddan; E Garvey, J Egan, A Dolan (0-12, 10fs ); J Mannion (0-3 ), D Mannion (0-3 ), M Garvey (0-1 ). Subs: A Loughnane for Reddan (30 ), N. Collins (0-1 ) for J Egan (38 ), O Finn for E Garvey (58 ), S Creaven for M Garvey (60 ).
REFEREE : L Gordon