A season scarred by a hugely disappointing county final defeat ended on a high for famed Bennettsbridge when they got to sample a sweet victory.
Weeks after suffering in the junior decider against Lisdowney, many of the same Bennettbridge players returned to enjoy better times at Nowlan Park when they swept to a hugely impressive first win in the Roinn B under-21 hurling championship final on Sunday.
The winners didn’t only win, they put on a hurling show during the second half when they out-classed Dunnamaggin, who were restricted to a single point, and that from a late free.
“That was a very good win,” offered Bennettsbridge team manager, Brian Lannon afterwards. “It was very satisfying. It was a title we needed badly in the club. We had a very disappointing outing here against Lisdowney in a final in which we left ourselves a lot to do in the second half.
“We came back strongly, but unfortunatley things didn’t work out in the end and we were beaten. That was very, hard to take. To come back and win an under-21 title, considering all the lads were on the junior panel, will make the Christmas a lot easier and it will help us drive on and hopefully have another go at that junior title next season.”
Mr Lannon said there was great unity of purpose in the parish after the junior defeat, but it still took a lot for the players to bounce back.
“We were out against Young Irelands (Gowran) six days after that, and meeting that challenge took a bit of doing,” he continued. “The players were mentally and physically wrecked after the week. We got through by a point. That was all we wanted to do; to get through.
“This is massive for the parish and club to get a title under the belt. It will make things a bit easier next season when we try and come back to have a go for that junior title. These lads won a minor title a few years ago, and winning a second county title won’t do them any harm. Trying to develop a winning habit is what it is all about.
“These players deserve what they got. They have put a lot into the game, given a lot to the club over the last few years. This group is going to provide the main body of our players for years to come, so hopefully they can drive on to even more success.”
The ’Bridge set out their stall from early. Such was the force of their play - even against the wind - that the opposition were in danger of being buried. Willie Murphy (3), a flying Hugh O’Neill (2) and Liam Blanchfield lashed over points at the city end as the ’Bridge unleashed a huge, unified effort.
Dunnamaggin, who mustered one reply from a free by centre-back, Willie Phelan, were 0-1 to 0-6 down after a mere 13 minutes. When they added two minors during the next few minutes through Phelan and Anthony Kearney, with an assist by Andy Fitzpatrick (0-6 to 0-3), they were a lot better off than the measure of possession they had enjoyed.
Hugh O’Neill added to the winners account in the 16th minute when he fielded a good ball before hitting the target. They looked to be regaining their strong early momentum when Cormac Wafer threatened the opposing goal after a penetrating run up the right wing by Dylan Walsh, but the effort was saved. The all action O’Neill received from Micheal Shiel in the 17th minute before landing his fourth score, 0-8 to 0-3.
Somewhat against the run of play Dunnamaggin pulled back a goal in the 22nd minute. John Fitzpatrick launched a quick attack from midfield and sent the ball in to the left of the goal. The sliotar barely touched the ground when Ray Cody let fly first time from 12 metres. The net danced. So too did Dunnamaggin.
After all the good and impressive hurling by Bennettsbridge, the Southerners were on their shoulder when 1-3 to 0-8 behind. Things got better for the losers before the break. They out-scored the oppostion 3-1, with Willie Phelan (2) and Michael Cody scoring.
At half-time the score was 0-9 (B) to 1-6. Cody’s goal had changed things, and stagged the oppostion.
Bennettsbridge were in no mood to be trifled with after the turn. They simply turned on the power and took total control of the matach. The power came from the brilliance of such as Aidan Cleere, Enda Morrissey, Robert Lennon, Aidan Cleere, Liam Blanchfield, Willie Murphy and so on.
Aidan Cleere started the surge by converting a difficult free from midfield. His next effort was even better from a great distance after the move started from full-back, Robert Lennon. When Jason Cleere plucked a Dunnamaggin puck-out from the sky before senind the ball back between the posts the ’Bridge were in full flow (0-12 to 1-9).
In terms of scores, the divide was slim. In terms of hurling it was huge. Phelan was doing his best to keep Dunnamaggin together, with great support from Paul Kirtwan, Andy Fitzpatrick and Conor Long. The ’Bridge powered on, When Blanchfield scored a mighty point at the end of a strong run in the 48th minute (0-16 to 1-6) all knew there was only going to be one winner.
Scorers: Bennettsbridge - Willie Murphy (0-7, four frees, one 65); Hugh O’Neill (0-4); Liam Blanchfield (0-3); Aidan Cleere (0-3, one free); Jason Cleere, Cormac Wafer (0-1 each). Dunnamaggin - William Phelan (0-5 two frees, one 65); Ray Cody (1-0); Anthony Kearney, Michael Cody (0-1 each).
Bennettsbridge - Shane Nolan, Paul O’Neill, Robert Lennon, Sean Wemyss, Jason Cleere, Enda Morrissey, Aidan Cleere, Sean Morrissey, Kevin Blanchfield, Liam Blanchfield, Hugh O’Neill, Micheal Shiel, Dylan Walsh, Cormac Wafer, Willie Murphy. Subs - Michael Power for M. Shiel; Kevin Brennan for Walsh; Luke Dowling for W. Murphy. Unused subs - Ben Tynan, Bill O’Neill, Aidan Byrne, Shane Byrne.
Dunnamaggin - Andy O’Dwyer, Conor Long, Eoghan Kearney, William Moylan, Paul Kirwan, William Phelan, Aaron Doherty, Andy Fitzpatraick, Michael Cody, John Fitzpatrick, Peter Kenneally, Ronan Coffey, Ray Cody, Anthony Kearney, Paddy Delaney. Subs - William Bergin for R. Coffey; Paddy Power for R. Cody. Unused subs - Adam Kenneally, Michael Costello, Jack Brett, Jason Doherty.
Referee - Desmond Byrne (Glenmore).