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Cloone hang on to secure famous victory.


They may have given their supporters quite a few scares in the final minutes but Cloone showed their mettle by hanging on to claim the Glenfarne Wood Products Intermediate Championship title last Saturday in Pairc Sheain Ui Eislin as they just about held off a determined Aughawillan fight-back.


Leading by six points midway through the second half, Cloone were forced to endure a torturous last quarter as they failed to score and Aughawillan, true to all their greatest traditions, launched a ferocious fight-back that fell agonisingly short in injury time as they sought to rescue at least a draw.

That Aughawillan came so close to doing so is a testament to their spirit because, truth is, the Willies played second fiddle for three quarters of last Saturday's Final to a Cloone team who belied their inexperience in finals by grabbing this game by the scruff of the neck from the very first minute.

And, it must be said that even with their struggles in the final minutes, Cloone were the better team over the hour and fully deserving of their day in the sun!

Nerves may have started to get to them in the final minutes as they sat back and invited waves of Aughawillan attacks to come crashing down on them but Cloone kept their head and their cool, displaying both the tenacity and the luck they needed to claim the Intermediate title.

The tenacity was demonstrated all through the defence – from full-back Aidan Mulvey who did a superb first half marking job on Barry Prior, negating the Aughawillan's man influence, to captain Gavin Reynolds who was a rock-like presence in the middle of the defence.

Mark Beirne's non-stop work and hard running giving Cloone the sort of platform they needed as he helped out in defence time and again, thwarting many an Aughawillan attack.

Just as inspirational was the tireless Seamus Maguire who put himself in the firing line time and time again, claiming possession he had no right to and driving out through Aughawillan tackles over and over, lifting the siege and, more importantly, lifting his team.

Those jittery moments were in contrast to the calm assurance that Cloone demonstrated at the start of the game as they tore into the Final, belying all worries that the big occasion might get to them by firmly planting an ill-at-ease Aughawillan on the back-foot.

If Aughawillan owned the final quarter, Cloone can claim the first and it was the foundation stone of their success – four Damien O'Donnell frees and a Mark Creegan point pinned a nervous Aughawillan in their own half as Gerry Flanagan's team dominated most sectors.

With O'Donnell leading the line so well and Creegan's pace causing Aughawillan's defence no end of problems as the defence held firm and the attack looked capable of scores every time they got the ball.

The only cloud on Cloone's horizon was that those scores just weren't coming, a fact that looked as if it would be punished when Aughawillan started to hit back and cut the lead back to two points in the final ten minutes of the half.

It was then perhaps that we saw the greatest change in this Cloone team and the winning of this Final.

Cloone absorbed and absorbed the pressure as Aughawillan missed three wonderful chances to cut the gap further and then hit the Willies on the break. In many ways, Adrian Nicholls’ goal summed up Cloone’s day.

Aughawillan looked to have at least two openings for Barry Prior and Morgan Quinn to take shots but they dallied and were then hounded into coughing up possession, the ball being hacked forward to Mickey Lohan.

The Cloone veteran, 19 years in a Senior jersey for his club, was probably going for a point but Club Chairman Adrian Nicholls chased and chased and got a vital touch to the ball ahead of keeper Colin Maguire to divert the ball to the net.

It was that goal that transformed the halftime talk of both teams – Aughawillan, instead of feeling quietly confident that they were only three points adrift after not playing well, now had a mountainous six point gap to overcome.

As for Cloone, the goal was a wondrous boost – it gave them the lead that their first half efforts deserved and the sort of cushion they would need to hold off Aughawillan’s expected second half charge.

Cloone repeated the feat in the second half after Aughawillan hit three unanswered points in a six minute spell to seemingly close a seven point gap back to just four points and all momentum with them.

The winners showed the qualities of manager Gerry Flanagan in abundance, absorbing the pressure and then hitting back with a point apiece from Donal Brennan and Man of the Match Damien O’Donnell, scores that would be vital in the final minutes.

O’Donnell was the cutting edge of a superb Cloone effort, leading the line well and keeping Aughawillan’s equally inspirational Michael Quinn pinned back to full-back, a facet of the play only highlighted when Quinn, released from his defensive duties in the final quarter, surged upfield to set up three points.

O’Donnell’s accuracy and ability to bring his team-mates into play was vital and some of his scores from play were inspirational, particularly his seventh and last point from the right wing under ferocious pressure.

His free-taking ability was also crucial in the first half battle of place-kickers and it was in that area where Aughawillan fell down, their over-reliance on placed balls for their scores until the final seven minutes.

Up until Morgan Quinn dodged his way through three defenders to fire over a great point, Aughawillan had only managed one of their eight scores from play, a wonderful effort from Shane Flanagan early in the second half, and it left Aughawillan with a mountain to climb.

Cloone were always able to get bodies behind the ball and left Aughawillan with very few threats on goal as Cloone’s tigerish defence never gave them the opportunity to spread the ball around and create the sort of panic that might have led to far greater reward.

Aughawillan’s defence also struggled to cope with the work-rate of the Cloone forwards – Mark Creegan’s speed punched holes down the centre time and time again while the foraging and unglamorous spade work undertaken by Donal Brennan and Mickey Lohan was just as vital.

Over and over, Aughawillan defenders were harried and hassled, never allowed to pick their passes and it contributed to their unease, a facet of the game made plain by the ease in which they moved the ball down the field when Cloone retreated into their shell in the final ten minutes.

In many ways and despite a seemingly high free count from both teams, this was a very entertaining contest with two teams giving their all in pursuit of victory and they should both be commended for their positive approach to the game.

Aughawillan’s young side and will be back and judging from the pain on their faces after the final whistle, they will have learned a lot. They demonstrated the renowned qualities that Aughawillan is famed for and the experience of the big day is something that will steel them in the years ahead.

For Cloone, it was an incredible day and even if they made it a little tough on themselves in the final minutes, it may have made the joy that burst forth at the final whistle all the sweeter.

Senior will be a major step-up for Cloone but judging from the progress they have made over the last two years, they will be confident that they can go on to make an impact.

Gerry Flanagan has certainly transformed Cloone and made them almost in his own image. Ferociously committed with a swash-buckling streak in attack, Cloone fought for every ball and never gave up – sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It can’t have been easy for Flanagan to plot the downfall of his native club, a man who wears his Aughawillan heart on his sleeve, or his track-suit top as was the case last Saturday, but the Cloone manager did his job to perfection.

Whatever about next year, Cloone have a wait now for their debut in the Connacht Intermediate Championship where they face a trip to take on the Galway champions on Sunday, November 1.

Courtesy of Leitrim Observer