Over half a lifetime passed and in the end a single point was enough to end the agony and unleash unbridled celebrations.
A long, hard season came down to a split second decision at Nowlan Park on Sunday when a point scored nearing the 62nd minute by star attacker, Rory Hickey, consigned brave Bennettsbridge to defeat in the junior decider for the second successive season.
“I couldn’t tell you what happened it all happened so quickly,” admitted the scorer of Lisdowney’s winning point, Rory Hickey afterwards when asked to reflect on the decisive moment. “I just got the ball, hit it and hoped for the best.”
The waving of the white flag at the city end goal to mark the winning score didn’t double as a signal of surrender from the ’Bridge. No! They stormed up the field and in a frenzied attack the ball ran loose near the edge of the winners square. ’Bridge attacker Hugh O’Neill was in the vicinity, but the ball squirmed away from him.
Lisdowney escaped to their first junior championship success since 1960, and second in all. Their next engagement is away to Shanahoe (Laois) in the Leinster club championship on November 3.
The game was a slow boil in some ways. The opening half exchanges were so-so, with Bennettsbridge down seven points at the break (2-9 to 1-5). When the losers simply went for it after the break the exchanges began to warm up, and at the finish fans were sitting on edge of their seats acclaiming one of the best deciders in decades.
Rory Hickey, scorer of 1-6, was the man with an in-built compass who always found and gave direct to Lisdowney. Aaron Fogarty was a fast shooting deputy up front, as was Lar Carroll, who sneaked three lovely points. Behind them Sean and Martin Phelan, Kevin Sweeney and Peter Bergin were mighty too.
The wind assisted winners, who lost the All County league final to the same opposition earlier in the season, served notice of danger early on when minors from Hickey (2) and Fogarty took them into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead. They were setting the pace until the 12th minute when a hand-pass across goal from Liam Blanchfield led to Brian Lannon finding the net at the second attempt (1-2 to 0-5).
A foul on an attacker in the 14th minute saw Lisdowney awarded a penalty. Aaron Fogarty buried the ball in the net. The ’Bridge were a little unnerved from there to the rest.
They were jittery at the back, and seemed unsure about how to cope with the movement of the opposition. Up front they lacked a cutting edge, and too often they were reactive instead of being pro-active in battles for possession.
The winners pilfered a second goal in the 18th minute. Rory Hickey sent a bullet of a ground shot to the net from the left edge of the square after the initial shot from Edward Kenny was blocked out.
That big strike helped Lisdowney into a double scores lead at one stage (2-8 to 1-4). That was exactly the advantage they took into the break, the score at that stage being 2-9 to 1-5.
Lisdowney missed two possible chances of scores immediately after the turn before a foul on Hugh O’Neill earned the opposition a point through Nicky Cleere (free). Slowly the ’Bridge sorted their game, with Cleere, Liam Blanchfield, Enda Morrissey, Robert Lennon, Kevin Blanchfield and Sean Morrissey hitting great heights during this half.
During the next quarter they cut the deficit to a goal, with Sean Morrissey, Kevin Blanchfield, Hugh O’Neill and Liam Blanchfield all joining in the scorirng (2-11 to 1-11). Aaron Fogarty stopped the advance with a mighty, mighty point from a free in his own half in the 46th minute.
Kevin Blanchfield and Edward Kenny exchanged minors before sharp-shooter Nicky Cleere landed five in-a-row to not only draw the game, but put the ’Bridge ahead, 1-17 to 2-13, for the one and only time. The equaliser in the 53rd minute from a free after Aidan Cleere was fouled near the left sideline in his own half was a magnificent effort.
By now, the 55th minute, the game was a torrent of effort; all action, engrossing, nail biting stuff. The losers didn’t get time to build on their new found status. Within seconds sub Michael Kenny rifled over a very good point to level it again, 1-17 to 2-14.
Rory Hickey from a free in the shadows of the old stand and virtually on the sideline on the ‘60’ regained the lead for Lisdowney in the 58th minute. Right on the call of normal time Sean Morrissey landed a terrific equaliser form 55 metre on the right after a half blocked clearance from Cormac Wafter fell kindly for him.
The call for two additional minutes of play had by now swept around the grounds. With about 90 seconds of that time gone Rory Hickey tok a short pass from Vinny Fitzpatrick about 55 metres out virtually in front of goal. He twisted his body to get in a stroke and to avoid a block down. The sliotar sailed between the posts. There was no time for Bennettsbridge to respond. Lisdowney celebrated.
“It was all down to character, pure character,” insisted former Kilkenny great and Lisdowney selector, Eddie Brennan, when asked for his summary.
Scorers: Lisdowney - Rory Hickey (1-6, three points frees, one 65); Aaron Fogarty (1-2, goal penalty, points frees); Lar Carroll (0-3); Pat Carroll, Eddie Hickey, Michael Kenny, Ciaran Mackey, Edward Kenny (0-1 each). Bennettsbridge - Nicky Cleere (0-10, seven frees); Kevin Blanchfield (0-3); Brian Lannon (1-0); Hugh O’Neill, Sean Morrissey (0-2 each); Liam Blanchfield (0-1).
Lisdowney - Niall Grogan, Niall O’Hara, Martin Phelan (capt), Niall Mackey, Ray Fitzpatrick, Sean Phelan, Peter Bergin, Pat Carroll, Kevin Sweeney, Lar Carroll, Eddie Hickey, Aaron Fogarty, Edward Kenny, Rory Hickey, Ciaran Mackey. Subs - Michael Kenny for E. Kenny 48th min; Owen Delahunty for K. Sweeney 48th min; Vinny Fitzpatrick for E. Hickey 55th min; Conor Carroll for C. Mackey 58th min.
Bennettsbridge - Enda Cleere, Paul O’Neill, Robert Lennon, Cormac Wafer, Jason Cleere, Enda Morrissey, Aidan Cleere, Darragh Wafer, Kevin Blanchfield, Liam Blanchfield, Hugh O’Neill, Nicky Cleere, Brian Lennon, James Moran (capt), Sean Morrissey. Sub - Sean Wemyss for P. O’Neill 23rd min; William Murphy for B. Lannon 48th min.
Referee - Gavin Quilty (Slieverue).