The wait stretched to 100 years for the club, and to 62 minutes and some for the team here, but in the end Mullinavat celebrated wildly.
Hurling in December is definitely out of season, but no one told gifted Mullinavat and O’Loughlin Gaels who produced a ding-dong Roinn A under-21 championship decider at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
The ’Vat, who are celebrating the centenary in the hurling section of the club this season, thrilled and delighted during the main body of the contest, but in the end it was a sheer dogged nature that won them their first title in the grade.
O’Loughlin’s looked a bit stretched at times during the first half, but somehow they hung in. After the turn they dominated, and turning into the closing nine minutes their wave of good hurling swept them in front with a point from the powerful Jack Nolan (0-14 to 0-13).
Momentum was with the St John’s Park outfit. Mullinavat needed a lift. Mark Mansfield provided it in the shape of a top class point, under pressure, after being placed in space by Liam Fennelly.
The winners still needed someone to do something big. Elegant corner-forward John Walsh answered the call. It was the 55th minute. He picked up a loose ball on his own half back line.
Walsh darted 20 metres towards the city goal, and when his path was blocked by a wall of defenders, he spun around on the ‘50’ like an ice-skater and let fly. His fourth score from play won the ’Vat the lead.
On the action roared. Twice O’Loughlin’s failed to find an equaliser with long range efforts on goal. And then beyond the 62 minute mark Mullinavat sealed the deal.
A hopeful hand-pass forward by strong centre-forward, Pat Mulhearn, was knocked on and eventually the ball arrived in the vicinity of Darren Watters near the right edge of the square. A smart one-handed swipe flashed the ball into the net.
The winning margin was swelled beyond decency when the wonderful Mark Mansfield pointed a 65 won by Adam Mansfield with the clock showing 63 minutes and more. An enthralling conclusion to a game the quality of which we had no right to expect so late in the year.
“It was a fantastic win,” insisted Mullinavat club chairman and selector, Billy Walsh. “We showed some character during the closing 10 minutes. Pure character won it. The team has been playing like this all season. It was the same against Glenmore in the drawn South final. We just hung in and hung in.
“We were on the rack with 10 minutes to go, but the players dug out the win. It is a great birthday present for the club. Winning the Roinn A under-21 title is a huge achievement for a club like Mullinavat. The two great battles we had with Glenmore helped us a lot. Every game brought us on. We had a testing battle with Thomastown in the semi-final too.
“The players never give up on anything, and it was that hang tough attitude that served us well in the end. This is unbelievable. ”
From the off the hurling was fast, the level of skill sky high. The opening six scores were shared equally as the ’Vat, backed by the wind, slowly made their superior physical strength, speed and touch pay.
With Mark Mansfield (5), Ger Malone (4) and John Walsh (3) shooting some outstanding points - a pair back to back by Walsh in the 28th and 29th minutes were terrific - they got to half-way 0-11 to 0-7 in front.
Their scorers, plus Simon Aylward, Pat Mulhearn, Thomas Aylward and Robbie Malone were their outstanding performers as they played a high tempo, all pressure, strong running game that had the Gaels on the back foot.
The losers, who play a neat running game themselves, opened the new half with a point from Jack Nolan; an inspiring score from 70 metres on the right sideline.
The winners hit back with a free from Mansfield, but for the following 20 minutes they were held scoreless and were pounced and pounded by a determined team that at last found its best form.
Paddy Butler, Paddy Deegan, Huw Lawlor, Shane Parsons, Jack Nolan, Jack Doyle but especially marathon man, David Bourke, who played mighty hurling in all parts of the park, inspired the revival.
A string of six scores was started by Bourke at the end of a daring run through the heart of the ’Vat defence (0-13 to 0-9).
John Doyle weighted in with two beauties, the first after running into space in anticipation of the delivery, and by the time Jack Nolan finished off the golden run in the 51st minute O’Loughlin’s were 0-14 to 0-13 in front.
The tide was flowing with O’Loughlin’s, but Mullinavat continued to contest, to chasing every half chance of winning a ball. Mark Mansfield eased the pressure hugely when he clipped over the equaliser in the 53rd minute (0-14 each).
There was still a huge amount of hurling to be played. On the action roared. Mullinavat’s big performers continued to show the way. History was their destiny.
“It has been a great year for us,” insisted chairman Billy Walsh, reminding that Mullinavat won the Leinster senior camogie title weeks ago.
Scorers: Mullinavat - Mark Mansfield (0-8, five frees); John Walsh, Ger Malone (0-4 each); Darren Watters (1-0). O’Loughlin Gaels - John Doyle (0-4); David Bourke (0-3); Paddy Deegan (0-2); Jack Nolan (0-2, frees); Paddy Butler (0-1, free); Danny Lenehan, Seamus McGrath (0-1 each).
Mullinavat - Conor Frisby, Mickey Jonces, Thomas Aylward, Conor Duggan, Brian Phelan, Simon Aylward, Robbie Malone, Darren Kenneally, Mark Mansfield, Ger Malone, Pat Mulhearn, Darren Watters, Mossy Jones, Liam Fennelly, John Walsh. Sub - Adam Mansfield for M. Jones. Unused subs - Nathan Malone, Ryan Bland, Damien Aylward, Killian Dunphy.
O’Loughlin Gaels - Sammy Johnston, Dan O’Driscoll, Paddy Butler, Shane Parsons, Paddy Deegan, Huw Lawlor, Padraig Meany, David Bourke, Vincent Wallace, Danny Lenehan, Jack Nolan, Jason Quan, Billy Leydon, John Doyle, Fergal Brennan. Subs - Seamus McGrath for F. Brennan; Ben Leydon for V. Wallace. Unused subs - Brian Cantwell, Richard Moylan, Mark Croghan, Stephen Hawe, Corey O’Neill, Kevin McGarry, Eoin Croghan, Anthony Forristal, James Lenehan.
Ref eree- Eugene Ryan.