A GOOD closing 10 minutes, during which they scored 1-6, lifted flat and out of sort champions O’Loughlin Gaels and fired them through to the senior hurling championship semi-finals.
Turning into the last segment of the match a point from midfield by the excellent Martin Gaffney shot Dicksboro 0-9 to 1-5 in front and the champions looked in real danger of kissing the title goodbye.
However, subsequently O’Loughlin’s found their best rhythm, and with Kilkenny captain, Brian Hogan a powerhouse at centre-back and former county star, Martin Comerford a clever director of operations up front, they pulled together a winning effort after a far from convincing performance.
“We needed that game,” admitted O’Loughlin’s manager, Michael Nolan afterwards. ”We were hanging around for three weeks watching others playing in the championship. That didn’t do us any good.
“It took us over 40 minutes to get to the pace of the game. We will have to improve, but I think this game will bring us on a lot.”
The champions face Ballyhale Shamrocks in the semi-finals at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
The ’Boro will have regrets. They caught O’Loughlin’s on an off day. They took the game to them. They had them under pressure, but the concession of two soft enough goals during the closing half allowed the champions slip the hook, so to speak. Thus the shock of the season was avoided.
While the winners opened promisingly and registered early points through Maurice Nolan from midfield and then Conor Bergin, their shooting afterwards was poor. They hit half-time having registered seven wides, but even worse, their attitude, in that they weren’t ruthless or direct enough in this play, was way off.
The ’Boro cancelled the two early scores from the opposition with nice efforts from Derek O’Gorman and Eddie O’Donoghue (free). With the nice moving Martin Gaffney slowing gaining the edge at midfield, they looked the more determined, enterprising side for a good bit of the way.
Twice subsequently the scores were level, and after decent hurling in wet and slippery conditions, a 30th minute point from a free by Eddie O’Donoghue divided the sides at half-time. The ’Boro led by 0-5 to 0-4.
The challengers drove on after the rest, and with the addition of minors from O’Donoghue (free) and Ollie Walsh they stretched their advantage to 0-7 to 0-4 by the 42nd minute.
O’Loughlin’s day up to this was typified by an incident just before the last score. Maurice Nolan saw a shot from the left at the city end come back into play off the far upright, and when the ball was put back across the square quickly Brian Dowling touched it wide from no more than a few metres.
Their luck was out. Their hurling at this time was poor.
Then things began to change after their first score of the half in the 44th minute. A foul on Alan O’Brien allowed Maurice Nolan a free chance to drive in a ball from the right of midfield. From a crowd of players on the edge of the ’Boro square Mark Bergin turned the in-coming ball into the net.
The scores were level: 1-4 to 0-7.
To their credit, the ’Boro picked up things again and a fine point from Adrian Stapleton, created by a measured pass from Enda Malone, won them back the lead. Mark Bergin posted a reply from a free following a foul on the Comerford, who was now finding more space up front.
Again the ’Boro bounced back, this time taking the lead through the earlier mentioned point from Gaffney.
The sharp response this time came in the shape of an O’Loughlin’s goal. Comerford fired in a cross from 25-metres on the right touchline. The ball came to ground at the far edge of the square, and from a tight angle and against two defenders Conor Bergin squeezed the ball in the net (2-5 to 0-9).
The switch was flicked. O’Loughlin’s were in the ‘on’ mode at last. Three points in as many minutes from Alan Geoghegan, Mark Bergin and the enterprising Conor Bergin took them into a game winning position with five minutes remaining.
The ’Boro didn’t cave in. They finished well, but a late point from Gaffney, followed by a goal from a 20-metre free by Eddie O’Donoghue, made things look closer than they actually were in the end.
It was a brave effort from the losers, with Martin Gaffney, Enda Malone, David Glynn, Ollie Walsh, Kieran Cuddihy for a good bit of the way and Michael Fagan their best performers.
Once they got motoring O’Loughlin’s looked good. Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford were their two biggest contributors to the winning effort, while Maurice Nolan, an excellent Conor Bergin and Mark Bergin near the finish also made significant contributions.
O’Loughlin Gaels – Stephen Murphy, Brian Kelly, Andy Kearns, Eddie Kearns, Alan O’Brien, Brian Hogan, Niall Bergin, Peter Dowling, Maurice Nolan, Alan Geoghegan, Martin Comerford, Niall McEvoy, Danny Loughnane, Mark Bergin, Conor Bergin. Subs - Brian Dowling, Mark Kelly, Sheamie Cummins.
Dicksboro – Cillian Breathnach, Danny Kenny, Kieran Cuddihy, Michael Fagan, Kevin Nolan, David Glynn, Enda Malone, Eddie O’Donoghue, Martin Gaffney, Derek O’Gorman, Oisin Walsh, Ollie Walsh, Paul O’Flynn, Adrian Stapleton, David Ryan. Subs – Eoin Goff, Philip Hogan, Shane Maher, Conor O’Loughlin.
Referee – Eamon Mansfield (Cloneen).