It was mission accomplished for the Rower-Inistioge on Sunday when they booked a place in the Leinster club intermediate hurling final.
The Kilkenny champions got a serious, searching test from a good hurling Celbridge (Kildare) crew before they booked a place in the final against Buffers Alley (Wexford), a game which will be played on Sunday week, probably in Wexford Park.
“There will be nothing easy about that game,” smiled Rower selector and former County Board secretary, Pat Dunphy about the test ahead. “By all accounts Buffers Alley were unlucky to be relegation from the senior grade last year, and like Clara here, they bounced back at the first attempt.
“They won’t be bad, that’s for sure. They have several inter-county senior players and lots of experience. Going to Wexford won’t be easy, but are up for the challenge.”
The challenge against Celbridge - a senior team, remember - was far from the ‘easy thing’ many casual observers might imagine. They were big and physically strong, and fine hurlers to boot, who were charging at the opposition chasing something big right up to the final whistle.
“It was a good win, hard earned,” Mr Dunphy said of Sunday’s success. “Celbridge were good. They was a period in the second half when they got on top and we under deadly serious pressure. The goal was always there, I suppose, but until we got two scores ahead at the finish we had to be very, very careful.”
The losers had nine players who scored from play, which was some going. They were hit for 1-4 without replay during a hot Rower five minute spell early in the second half, and those big losses cost them in the end. The big Rower following who travelled to support the team didn’t get to relax until Michael Grace shot the last point in the 65th minute, which stretched the divide to four points.
There was little or nothing between the teams for most of the opening half. The Rower opened the scoring in the first minute with a point from play by Cathal Bolger. Celbridge had a reply from Danny Butler before the other corner-forward, Tony Murphy earned them the lead for the first time in the sixth minute.
The tit-for-tat nature of things continued when Michael Grace levelled from a free. Again the home side edged in front, this time through midfielder and free taker, Billy White (0-3 to 0-2).
Back came the Rower. Joe Lyng equalised. The winners then put two scores together through Fergal Conway and White (free) as the exchanges continued to be dominated by backs because midfield play was more or less out of it on a tight pitch.
The Rower roused themselves again, and scores from Padraig Tierney and Michael Grace, from a free, levelled it for the fourth time.
The Noresiders had the advantage at the break, when they led by 0-6 to 0-5. The point that separated the teams was recorded by Michael Grace just before the rest.
Celbridge drew first blood in the new half when Billy White swept over a point to equalise yet again. However, Inistioge hit their purple patch almost immediately, and they came out at the other side of that blast of scores with an apparently comfortable lead of 1-10 to 0-6.
The scoring damage was inflicted by Kieran Joyce, a huge point from the half-back line; Conor Joyce, from a beautifully struck lineball from 35 metres; Michael Grace (65) and Conor Joyce before the goal arrived.
The all important big strike was landed in the 41st minute. Sean Grace won a puck-out and set the golden move in motion when passing to Joe Lyng. The latter worked the ball forward to James Cashin, who won a 50/50 tussle against his marker.
Cashin turned his man and got a run at goal, and his sizzling strike left the ’keeper with no chance. The Rower were 1-10 to 0-6 in front. The outcome seemed a formality. Or so some thought! The reality of the situation was a lot different.
The losers driving centre-back, Niall O Muineachain, who drove the team on throughout, lashed over a nice point to half the winners charge. Another quick point from Gerry Keegan helped them regain some of their composure.
Michael Grace and David Lyng stole points for the winners against one replay from Mark Moloney as the game edged into the closing eight minutes with the Kilkenny champions still looking good when 1-12 to 0-9 in front.
Celbridge refused to be broken, however. They kept chasing the game. A point from Sean Cotter boosted spirits. Another from Billy White had them bubbling. A third from sub Niall Kenny left but one score in it, 1-12 to 0-12.
The Rower were on the back foot, but they kept plugging away, kept their nerve, kept doing the small things right. A point from a free by Michael Grace four minutes from the end didn’t half the Celbridge charge. Billy White posted a reply.
As injury-time dragged on and on, Michael Grace had the final scoring say in the 65th minute to sent the Noresiders into the provincial final.
This was a good showing from the winners. The defence, in its entirety, did well in a tie in which ball always travelled beyond midfield. Eoin Doyle, Sean Cummins and Sean Lyster did well in the back, while Kieran Joyce looked particularly good during the closing period.
Michael Grace worked hard all over the field, something up front and other times at the back. He worked himself to a standstill. Padraig Tierney will have fond memories of the adventure too.
SCORERS: Rower-Inistioge - Michael Grace (0-7, four frees, one 65); James Cashin (1-0); Conor Joyce (0-2); Kieran Joyce, Joe Lyng, David Lyng, Padraig Tierney, Cathal Bolger (0-1 each). Celbridge - Billy White (0-5, three frees); Neil O Muineachain, Mark Moloney, Sean Cotter, Fergal Conway, Danny Butler, Gerry Keegan, Tony Murphy, Niall Kenny (0-1 each).
Rower-Inistioge - Liam Tierney, Eoin Doyle, Sean Cummins, James Doyle, Rory Galavan, Kieran Joyce, Sean Lyster, Sean Grace, Joe Lyng, Michael Grace, David Lyng, Padraig Tierney, Cathal Bolger, Conor Joyce, James Cashin. Sub - Tom Murphy.
Celbridge - N. Lanigan, T. Feely, F. O Muineachain, P. Curtin, K. Murphy, N. Muineachain, K. Bracken, D. Moloney, B. White, M. Moloney, S. Cotter, F. Conway, D. Butler, G. Keegan, T. Murphy. Sub - N. Kenny.
Ref - G. McGrath (Dublin)