TWO goals in three minutes from one man was the simple equation as James Stephens won the senior hurling league’s city derby.
Eoin Larkin was the man of the hour for the Village, enjoying one of those nights where almost everything he touched ended with an umpire waving a flag.
While the Kilkenny senior captain hit a real purple patch at a chilly Nowlan Park on Saturday, opponents Dicksboro were left feeling blue. The men in maroon had the game by the scruff of the neck in the early stages, but the combination of a great save and a bad wide meant a result that was theirs for the taking slipped through their grasp.
The turning point of a chilly evening came not long after the restart. Paul O’Flynn had just edged the ’Boro in front with an impressive point from close to half-way when disaster struck.
Picking off Ray Coady’s sideline cut, Eamonn Sheehy caught the ’Boro cold when he delivered a hand-pass to the unmarked Larkin. Free to roam on the left of the square, Larkin took one step and coolly drilled a low shot under Cillian Breathnach.
Worse was to follow for the Palmerstown outfit (who went close to making an instant comeback but Kevin Kenny was stopped by Jackie Tyrrell before he could pull the trigger) when Rory Glynn dragged Richie Hayes down inside the square on 39 minutes.
Again, Larkin took control of the placed ball. This time he saw a gap on the line and went for it, drilling it home despite the best efforts of netminder Breathnach.
Those two goals was where the game changed for the Village. In a short space of time they had taken control and, more importantly, flattened the resolve of their rivals (3-7 to 0-11).
Dicksboro looked sharp in the opening stages of the game. Flying out of the traps, the sharp-shooting of Martin Gaffney saw them edge ahead within five minutes (0-3 to 0-1).
They still held that two-point advantage on 10 minutes, Gaffney (free) again responding after Diarmuid Cody had pulled a point back for the Village before their first defensive lapse of the evening occurred.
Dicksboro’s good start unravelled when Richie Hayes pounced on a poor clearance out of defence and sent a teasing hand-pass over the head of the last ’Boro back.
Somehow, Matthew Ruth had been allowed to steal in unnoticed. He duly punished Dicksboro for their slackness, firing the sliotar into the O’Loughlin’s End net.
The goal rattled Dicksboro a little, but didn’t check their stride for long. With Gaffney leading the way - he was still their only scorer - they were back on level terms by the 16th minute.
They were back in front two minutes later, but not by as much as they should have been. Played on by Paul O’Flynn, Shane Maher did well to jab a loose ball into the path of Eoin Gough, who let fly with a bullet strike.
The sliotar seemed destined for the back of the City End net, but the ’Boro celebrations were cut short thanks to an incredible save from Derrick Brennan, who dived full stretch to his right to keep the shot out. Maher managed to grab a point from the rebound, but Dicksboro knew they had missed a great chance to claim a strong lead.
Dicksboro managed to keep their noses in front as the game moved into the final stages of the half. Cillian Starr and Gaffney’s sixth point of the evening pushed them two clear again by the 22nd minute (0-8 to 1-3), but that early Ruth goal meant ’Stephens were always within striking distance.
A quick flurry of points - the first was a thing of beauty as Larkin dashed out to the 45m line to take down a Jackie Tyrrell delivery on his hurl before pointing while moving away from the posts - edged the men from Larchfield in front again by the 29th minute, the first time they had enjoyed such an advantage since the second minute of the game.
Dicksboro weren’t finished and duly took the lead again - but not by as much as they would have liked. Paul O’Flynn and Shane Maher struck fine points, but Oisin Walsh smacked his close range injury-time shot into the advertisement hoardings when the net beckoned (0-10 to 1-6).
The evening turned after Larkin’s second half goal salvo, as Dicksboro were left to chase a five-point gap. They tried to raise their game, but found that every time they scored so too did the Village. Larkin kept his run going, taking his tally to 2-7 with two more points as he and Matthew Ruth erased like scores from Martin Gaffney and Paul O’Flynn (3-10 to 0-13).
Dicksboro weren’t about to throw in the towel though. They earned a deserved lifeline when Robbie Fitzpatrick’s searing 48th minute run led to a teasing ball forward. Shane Maher did the rest, excellently turning his marker before haring towards the posts, pausing only to draw Derrick Brennan from his line before tucking home with a cleverly-struck low shot.
All of a sudden the gap was down to three points, but James Stephens were about to let the game slip so late. Three fine points from an on-fire Larkin - the first from play, the second a 65 and the third a free from inside his own 65m line - arrested the ’Boro charge as the final whistle loomed.
To their credit Dicksboro never surrendered, pushing hard for the goal that would have made the closing stages interesting. They came close when Kevin Kenny blocked down a Brennan clearance, but such was their luck the sliotar looped wide of the mark.
Victory had a two-pronged effect - not only did it send ’Stephens charging up the table, but it also reignited hopes of grabbing some league silverware. A win in the last round against Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) and other results going their way could see Niall Rigney’s side leapfrog their other city rivals O’Loughlin Gaels and move into the Shield final berth.
James Stephens - D. Brennan, T. Keogh, N. McQuillan, J. Comerford, P. Butler, J. Tyrrell, G. Flood, R. Coady, E. Sheehy, D. McCormack, M. Ruth, R. Hayes, D. Cody, E. Larkin, D. Walton. Subs: N. Tyrrell for Cody, 41 mins; A. Lalor for Hayes, 50 mins; N. Mullins for McCormack, 51 mins; L. Hickey for Butler, 58 mins.
Dicksboro - C. Breathnach, D. Kenny, K. Cuddihy, R. Fitzpatrick, M. Fagan, D. Glynn, R. Glynn, C. Starr, Ollie Walsh, M. Gaffney, Oisin Walsh, E. Gough, K. Kenny, S. Maher, P. O’Flynn. Subs: E. Fennelly for Gough, 49 mins; M. Clifford for Starr, 54 mins; S. Farrell for Maher (inj), 56 mins.
Referee - E. Mansfield (Cloneen).