IT WOULD have to be categorised as a less than faultless showing from James Stephens, yet they can recount a scorching comeback and a huge turn around of 16 points in fortunes during the closing 20 minutes or so when they charged through to the senior hurling championship final at Nowlan Park.
Six minutes into the second half confident St Martin’s (Ballyfoyle/Coon/Muckalee) worked a nice opening for a goal for Robert Shore that put them firmly in the driving seat when 2-9 to 0-8 in front.
The Village were in a spot of bother, but they never panicked. And in times of crisis like that the best of the best come charging through to inspire all around them.
That was the way it was for ’Stephens when twin hurling giants, Eoin Larkin and Jackie Tyrrell charged to the rescue of their team on Sunday. The former made it all happen up front, the latter from the back as Martin’s were first reeled in and eventually battered into submission.
Larkin probed and prodded and produced score after score – 1-10 in all – that kept stoking the fires in the bellies of colleagues until they eventually wore down the opposition. Tyrrell, a driving centre-back with a penchant for attack, helped erect an impregnable barrier in defence that saw the opposition held scoreless during the closing 19 minutes.
The pair were absolutely magnificent as ’Stephens returned to the final for a repeat of the 2009 showdown against Shamrocks (Ballyhale). They last won the title in 2005.
Mixed bag performance
Overall it was a very mixed bag performance from the Larchfield crew, but only one of two teams can now win the title, and their name is in the hat.
Martin’s were the better team during the opening half when they attacked the country end backed by the wind. The winners opened smartly and scoring contributions from Eoin Larkin (free), David Walton and Matt Ruth, following very good work on the right wing, shot them 0-3 to no score in front after a mere three minutes.
The sweet striking John Maher got Martin’s off the scoring mark in the fourth minute when he pointed a free. John Mulhall popped over a second one after being put in the clear by the same Maher before they eventually caught up at 0-4 each in the 14th minute.
There was a decent look to Martin’s approach and use of the ball during this time. Possession was won and used well, as instanced by Joe Maher’s second point in the 16th minute. The wing-forward jumped to the clouds to field an accurately delivered puck-out from his goalie, Colin Fennelly – the second time he did it – before firing his team 0-5 to 0-4 in front.
John Maher weight-in with a minor before Martin’s enjoyed a lucky break which netted them a goal. John Maher was forced way out to the left wing near the sideline before he was able to release a shot on goal. The ’keeper appeared to have everything under control, but somehow the ball squirmed from his control and it fell into the near corner of the net.
Suddenly the city side found themselves 0-4 to 1-6 down, with John Maher putting his name on 1-3 of the total. ’Stephens hit back for scores from Eoin Larkin (free) and David Walton, who pointed with a man virtually hanging out of him, against a late, late reply from a John Maher free to leave the losers 1-7 to 0-6 in front at the break.
Martin’s employed impressive midfielders Tomás Breen and Damien Maher deep lying, largely around their half-back line, and they were dominant in the area around their own ‘40’. That pair got through a lot of good hurling, and with powerful support from excellent centre-back, James Dowling, Joe, John and Paul Maher they tested the mettle of the opposition.
In a bit of trouble
When Martin’s out-scored the opposition by 1-2 to 0-2 during the six minutes after the change to get 2-9 to 0-8 clear, ’Stephens looked in a bit of trouble. The goal was a lovely creation, John Maher firing a smart pass across goal from the right to a free Robert Shore, who couldn’t miss from the edge of the square.
’Stephens barely had time to feel the hurt. Within seconds Niall Tyrrell lashed the ball into the net at the other end. Indeed, within a minute they might have had the ball in the net again, but this time Martin’s ’keeper, Colin McGrath moved smartly off his line to foil the same Tyrrell after being put through by Eoin Larkin.
Still, ’Stephens were in a better hurling place now. They looked more settled than they had ever been, and Larkin was beginning to take a grip on things. After he exchanged a point with Robert Shore, who stole possession from a defender, the James Stephens storm began to blow at full force (2-10 to 1-9).
Larkin popped over a free from the right wing. Seconds later Jackie Tyrrell plucked a Martin’s puck-out from the sky before being fouled. Larkin converted. Tyrrell, now a torrent in the heart of the defence, charged from his station to shoot a point from midfield.
The minimum separated the teams, 2-10 to 1-12. Larkin and Tyrrell were the power sources, the men running the game. There was a ‘lock-out’ on the winners ‘40’ where Martin’s couldn’t win any ball.
The leveller arrived in the 49th minute, inevitably from Eoin Larkin, who was fouled when tackled early as the ball landed in his area from the sky.
The ‘you do something, and then I will’ continued as Tyrrell produced the next big act. He charged up field in the 55th minute before being fouled on the ‘50’ right in front of the posts. Larkin didn’t miss (1-14 to 2-10).
Larkin booted goal
A minute later the former Hurler of the Year delivered the coup de grace. A melee developed around 22 metres in front of the Martin’s goal. Larkin somehow dug out possession from a forest of legs and sticks. He charged at the target, and booted the ball low and into the net.
You guessed, it, Tyrrell followed up with a point, courtesy of a pass from his hell-raising hurling brother, Larkin.
On the hour mark James Stephens sub, Eoin McCormack buried the opposition when he scored a goal while on his knees on the right edge of the square. The closing score line distorted the story of the game a trifle, yet it reflected a ’Stephens storm that couldn’t but be admired.
James Stephens – Derrick Brennan, Tomás Keogh, Philip Larkin, John Comerford, Eamon Sheehy, Jackie Tyrrell (capt), Donnacha Cody, Niall McQuillan, Niall Tyrrell, David McCormack, Gary Whelan, Matthew Ruth, Jack McGrath, Eoin Larkin, David Walton. Subs – Eoin McCormack for J. McGrath ht; Ray Coady for G. Whelan 35th min; Richie Hayes for D. McCormack 54th min; Conor McQuillan for P. Larkin 60th min.
St Martin’s – Colin McGrath, Shane Cadigan, Paddy Nolan, Niall Moran, Alan Murphy, James Dowling (capt), Ronan Maher, Tomás Breen, Damien Maher, Paul Maher, Eoin McGrath, Joe Maher, John Mulhall, John Maher, Robert Shore. Subs – Podge Haugney for P. Nolan 40th min; Canice Maher for P. Maher 43rd min; Shane Coonan for T. Breen 52nd min.
Referee – Dominic Connolly (Mooncoin).