The mood in Clarinbridge all week has been one of deep satisfaction and delight at having collected the club’s second county hurling title in Kenny Park with a narrow victory over Loughrea after extra time.
Some people felt they had left their chance behind them in the drawn encounter, but there was a well of genuine belief in the Bridge squad and they were not for turning in Sunday’s replay.
Even when they were three points behind going into the closing minutes, there was no panic. They hit three scores, all from Paul Coen, without reply to force the game into extra time.
The body language of both teams at that stage pointed to a triumph for Micheál Donoghue’s men. They looked buoyed by those late scores and full of conviction and self-belief. They had not been in a county final since 2001 when they defeated Athenry and they fully intended winning the 2010.
Their superior fitness and freshness was a key factor in those extra 20 minutes of tough hurling, and the work done by Tom Helebert, Donal Walsh and Noel Burke in the last year bore fruition.
Eanna Murphy put Clarinbridge ahead for the first time two minutes after the restart and, with Alan Kerins doing terrific work around the middle of the field and Barry Daly also dominating, the Loughrea men began to lose their way.
Young Niall Keary, who ended the contest with nine points from placed balls, kept the Town in touch with a few white flags, and there was only a point between the sides, 0-16 to 0-15 as they changed ends.
Mark Kerins hit the point of the day
The score of the match and a defining moment in the contest came immediately after the restart of the second period of extra time when Mark Kerins scored a stunning point from way out the field.
The former Galway star lifted, turned, and drove the sliothar over Nigel Murray’s crossbar from a serious distance for a majestic score.
That score really knocked the stuffing out of the 2006 champions and put doubts into their minds. When Eoin Forde pointed another to put three between them, there was no way back for Joe Sweeney’s men.
It was in the first half when Loughrea were dominating that they will feel they left this final behind them.
They should have built up a greater lead when Johnny Maher and Kenneth Colleran were doing damage, but they only led by one, 0-7 to 0-6 at half time.
They just could not pull away from the Clarinbridge boys and they were overly dependent on Neil Keary from frees and Johnny Maher, who hit 0-3 from play.
Two key reasons they found it impossible to make serious inroads was the inspirational play of Jamie Cannon and David Forde.
Cannon was the official man-of-the-match, but there was little between him and his centre-back who took up where he had left off the first day with another colossal display.
It was a sweet win for the Clarinbridge club and they can look forward to an All-Ireland semi-final next February. However for this week, they can enjoy the sweet scent of success and the knowledge of a fantastic season and a job well done.
Clarinbridge: L Donoghue; C Forde, B Burke, P Callanan; J Cannon, D Forde, M Donoghue; B Daly, E Murphy; S Burke, M Kerins, S Forde; E Forde, A Kerins, P Coen. Subs: E Collins for M Donoghue (62 ), A Armstrong for Murphy (68 ).
Loughrea: N Murray; B Mahony, D McClearn, T Regan; P Hoban, N Shaughnessy, V Maher; E Mahony, G Keary; J Coen, J Maher, K Colleran; N Keary, J O'Loughlin, T Hoban. Subs: J Regan for T Hoban (56 ), G Kennedy for Colleran (59 ), Colleran for Maher (60 ), S Mahony for E Mahony (75 ).
Referee: E Shaughnessy.