The Rower-Inistioge are the Kilkenny minor hurling Roinn A champions after beating O’Loughlin Gaels in the final in Nowlan Park on Sunday.
An outstanding second half display saw the Southern side topple the city giants to complete a terrific intermediate/minor hurling double within a week.
The charge to victory was led by the spectacular Darragh Joyce and Ciaran Ryan, who were stars of the show.
The wind blowing from the city end favoured O’Loughlin Gaels in the first half, but they didn’t really milk it for its full value. They didn’t have a big advantage at the break having played a conservative game by taking a man from attack and fielding him as an extra defender.
O’Loughlin’s shot the first score of the game after just two minutes when full-forward, Cian Loy struck over from close range. O’Loughlins were employing the tactic of dropping a third man back from the middle of the field, and with plenty of ball going into attack, it wasn’t always used to full effect.
Potent finisher Robbie Buckley dropped out from corner forward and was sweeping up around the half back line. While this tactic worked defensively, it left the losers a little short of force up front.
During the first half the approach worked for the boys in white. A low delivery was intercepted by Gary Bryan. He caught the ball and took a quick glance before sending it straight back between the Rower posts.
Harsh conditions - wind and rain - were disrupting the play and the action didn’t flow at all. Eight wides inside 10 minutes highlighted the difficulties the players were facing.
Gary Bryan got his team off to a flyer, dominating the midfield from right half back. Thomas Gleeson pointed a long range effort, the left half back for O’Loughlin’s, when his strike dropped over the bar.
Gary Bryan read another pass before making an interception and making space to blast over the bar midway through the half. A foul on Richie Leahy allowed David Kelly the opportunity to point a free after 17 minutes, which was the Rower’s first score.
The elegant Darragh Joyce set up wing back Shane Ryan for their first score from play after a drawn out 23 minutes of play. The Rower had difficulty winning 50/50 balls in their full forward line, but they ploughed on courageously.
A foul on Gary Bryan resulted in a free in midfield and Shane Maher duly converting for the winners.
The first sign of real threat from the Rower forward line wasn’t seen until the stroke of half time. Cathal Bolger won possession in the far right corner. He took on two men as he raced towards goal. With 20 yards left he was tripped up, leaving David Kelly to convert the resulting handy free.
At half time O Loughlins were two points to the good, leading by 0-5 to 0-3. The losers first half dominance didn’t produce the scores they hoped, leaving the advantage with the Rower.
The winners charged into the opposition from the start of the second half.
Just two minutes into the second half and the Rower got the score they wanted. They dealt a crushing blow to the city side. Ciaran Ryan came out of defence and struck a long hopeful ball up towards target man Sean Grace.
The lively full-forward used his body to good effect, holding off defender Paddy Deegan before convert his first goal chance of the game.
Five minutes later and the Rower looked to have sealed the deal already. This time the goal was the result of another long ball, a tactic which was causing serious problems for the O’Loughlin’s defence.
The ball bouncied awkwardly on the edge of the square. ’Keeper Shane Foskin appeared to lose sight of the ball and Sean Grace, with a deft flick of the wrist, finished to the net on 38 minutes.
A David Kelly free upped the difference to five points. Kelly added his fourth score two minutes later, this time finishing after a lovely flowing move, leaving the No.12 in space to shoot.
Shane Maher pointed a free in reply but the game was slipping from O’Loughlin’s grasp. The losers were already paying the price for their first half tactics, where they had tried unsuccessfully to contain the Rower’s main man, Darragh Joyce.
They seemed to run out of ideas during the second half.
David Kelly shot over his fourth placed ball and six was the dividing margin. Shane Maher tried to respond, but he shot wide ball. O’Loughlin’s looked rattled.
Rower captain Cathal Bolger pointed his first score with 14 minutes remaining and they were on a serious roll. Adding another a minute later, the captain was starting to show his skill.
Shane Maher added a free but at this stage only Gary Bryan and Danny Bolger seemed to be making any headway for the city side.
A shot by Gaels sub, Seamus McGrath was stopped well by goalie Shane Foskin. O’Loughlin’s were chasing shadows, looking everywhere and anywhere for inspiration.
With just two minutes left the Rower got their last chance at goal. Shane Ryan heaped more misery on the opposition when he landed his second score from wing back, the 17-year-old showing great composure when doing so.
A 20 metre free from Daniel O’Connor offered his side a chance of a big finish, nothing more when he stepped up to plant the ball in the Rower net with time already up. This proved to be the last strike of significance, with the Rower holding out until the final whistle.
Rower Inistioge - Shane Foskin, Kieran Meaney, John Murphy, Dylan Kehoe, Pat Lyng, William Allen, Shane Ryan (0-2), Ciaran Ryan, Tony Whelan, David Kelly (0-5, 0-4 free), Darragh Joyce, Richie Leahy, Cathal Bolger (0-2), Sean Grace (2-0), Kevin Murphy. Subs - Diarmuid O Brien, Patrick Lyng.
O’Loughlin Gaels - Sean Bolger, Vinny Wallace, Paddy Deegan, Dan O Driscoll, Gary Bryan (0-2), Huw Lawlor, Thomas Gleeson (0-1), Luke Rafter, James Lenihan, Ross Butler, Ben Leydon, Daniel O’Connor, Shane Maher (0-2 free), Cian Loy (0-1), Robbie Buckley. Subs - Danny Bolger, Seamus McGrath, Brian Buckley, Jamie Kavanagh, Shane Mahony.
Referee - Peter Burke (Emeralds).