Cloughbawn drop out of top flights as Ferns survive
Ferns St. Aidan's 3-20 Cloughbawn 3-18
After more than four decades at Senior level, and having contested the final last year, Cloughbawn made the drop to the second tier of Wexford hurling after a titanic battle with Ferns St. Aidan's in Bellefield on Saturday.
This was two teams putting everything on the line, and not one ounce of energy was held back. Considering the circumstances it was an incredible game of hurling that swung back and forth and was still right in the balance into stoppage time.
There's an interesting contrast between teams at the end of a relegation final. There's a sense of achievement about reaching a county final, as even if you fall short the bitter taste of loss is sweetened somewhat by hope of what still could be.
Yet dropping down a level is a different kind of hurt. Often there's a pain that comes with it being the end of an era, the final throes of something that was special for so long. For a few days words won't be of any real comfort for Cloughbawn.
However, when reality settles in, the Castleboro crew can reflect and be at ease by two simple truths. Having lost all six matches they thoroughly deserved to go down; there is no doubt about that at all, there's no hard luck story.
On the other hand, they have a fine squad of players, some really bright young talent to mix in with a smattering of lads who are only in and around their prime. This was a poor season, no doubt, but they are absolutely equipped to bounce right back.
This feels like a Buffers Alley-type situation. This team is too good to be down in Intermediate for long. They had a poor run of form but, with hard work and application there's no reason why their absence will be a prolonged one.
Both sides threw everything, and everyone, they could possibly get into this game. Colm Kehoe returned for Cloughbawn and he was, unsurprisingly, superb. Yet Ferns had an ace up their sleeves too with Ian Byrne back to save the day.
Byrne would become the stand-out performer in the second-half but a lot of Ferns' most important work was done against the gale before the interval.
Corey Bolger and Connal Flood had spurned a couple of good, early goal chances so when their opponents netted in the tenth minute it really hurt.
It was 0-2 each when Paul Morris somehow whipped a bouncing ball up into the roof of the net in a crowd of bodies to give his side the early boost. Cloughbawn's running from deep was causing plenty of problems but their way back into things was more route one.
Colm Kehoe swept long, hopefully more than anything, but the ball broke off a Ferns hurl into the path of Barry Carton and he raced away to net. There was just a point in it when his side found a second major.
In the 22nd minute Harry Kehoe's long-distance free dropped onto the edge of the square and targetman Barry Kehoe flicked past Mick Walsh. Dead-ball county man Kehoe brought his tally to six before the half ended as his side went in 2-9 to 1-9 ahead.
While it was more than a three-point breeze, the way Cloughbawn were playing suggested that they wouldn't be as disadvantaged as some sides facing into the elements after the change of ends.
They were hit by a sucker punch in the 33rd minute when Walsh's puck-out found Byrne who sent a composed pass to the wide-open Christopher O'Connor, and the diminutive forward made no mistake with his finish to the net.
That, plus a 'Bitzy' minor moments later, put the sides level again (2-11 each) and it stayed like that into the final quarter as they shared the next eight points equally. Then, as the game ticked into the final ten minutes, Ferns made a break for it.
Unmarked Chris Turner had plenty to do when Paul Morris fired a line-drive pass across goal to him but he did it superbly, softening the pace on the sliothar before pulling low to the net.
Two quick points from Byrne and Jeff Tobin had Ferns four up (3-17 to 2-16).
Back came Cloughbawn again. With plenty to do after taking David Doyle-Murphy's pass, Connal Flood only had one thought in mind. He set himself outside the '20 and sent a rocket past Walsh.
Flood had one more great chance to send his side in front with five minutes to go but he just couldn't get the ball under control as he broke in on goal and his eventual pulled shot was smothered by Walsh.
Cloughbawn chipped away into the last few minutes but Ferns refused to let them regain parity, always pointing to go two up when their opponents got within the minimum. When the victors comfortably defended Kehoe's late free the game was up and Cloughbawn were relegated.
Ferns St. Aidan's: Mick Walsh; Declan Byrne, John Breen, James Tonks; Ciarán Roberts, Brendan Jordan (0-2), Conor Scallan; Ian Byrne (0-3), Gavin Bailey (0-1); Jeff Tobin (0-1), Jonathan Dwyer (capt., 0-3, 2 frees, 1 '65), Chris Turner (1-2); Christopher O'Connor (1-6, 0-3 frees), Paul Morris (1-1), Tommy Dwyer (0-1).
Cloughbawn: Noel Carton; M.J. Furlong, Tomás Furlong, Gavin Murphy; Páidí Cullen, Colm Kehoe, Johnny Cullen; Connal Flood (1-0), Barry Carton (1-2); Paul Foley (0-1), Alan Carton (capt., 0-1), Harry Kehoe (0-10 frees); Bob Whitty (0-3), Barry Kehoe (1-0), Corey Bolger (0-1). Sub. - David Doyle-Murphy for Foley (39).
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Blackwater).