It is a while since Young Irelands (Gowran) have played with such fire and assurance, but still they were nearly tripped up on the line.
Turning into the last quarter of this intermediate hurling championship first round replay in Canon Kearns Park, Castlecomer on Sunday the Emeralds (Urlingford), last year’s losing finalists, looked dead and buried when trailing by 10 points.
Don’t asked me how it happened, but the losers got right back into the match and were it not for alert wing-back, Chris Nolan, who scooped a ball off the goal line in the 61st minute, the game would have gone to extra-time.
Instead, Young Irelands claimed an uplifting win, deserved it must be said, and a place in the quarter-finals against favourites and League champions, Mullinavat next weekend.
“I am happy to be in the quarter-finals,” was the verdict from ’Irelands manager, Maurice Aylward. “Playing Mullinavat won’t be easy, but there are no easy options at this stage of any championship.
“You would have to relish a rattle against the favourites. We will be going in as underdogs, but anything can happen at this time of the year. The weather could change a game. Emeralds were in the county final last year and they are an experienced team. It was a fair achievement to beat them.
“We were the better team. They kept in the game by scoring goals. We had them on the ropes nearing the finish, but then we conceded two goals and they got back into the game. We wouldn’t be happy about that.”
The winners were without Kilkenny senior panellist, Michael Walsh through injury, and it looks likely he will miss the upcoming match too, but Paul Kehoe returned for a short run after injury.
“We are looking forward to playing my neighbours, Mullinavt,” Maurice added.
The wind whipped towards the town end goal, and heavy rain fell during most of the match, but two totally committed teams didn’t let a greasy pitch or ball stop them producing a good match. Early on the teams traded points before wind assisted ’Irelands hit the front with a point from a free by deadly striker, Paul Holden.
Moments later veteran goalie, Martin Carey brought off an amazing save from Ian Grant, who was given a clear sight of the target thanks to a lovely weighted pass from Joey Doheny. Seconds later Grant had the ball in the net after Aidan Fogarty punched a hole in the winners defence.
Quick replies from Thomas Carroll and Holden levelled the scores again. Twice subsequently the scores were tied, the last time at 0-7 to 1-4 in the 20th minute, before ’Irelands put the foot to the floor and opened out a decent lead by the break.
Holden was their main scorer as he landed frees from varying distance, the longest from over 80 metres. He reached half time with 0-8 in the bag (three frees, two 65s). With J.J. Lennon and the lively and ever dangerous, Dick Carroll also featuring strongly, the winners led by 0-12 to 1-4 at the rest.
Emeralds were slow out of the blocks after the turn and they nearly conceded a goal early on. Dick Carroll got into a 1-on-1 situation with goalie, Shane Moriarty, but the latter brought off a brave body block that diverted the ball over the bar. Additions from Thomas Carroll, a very good effort from the left, and Paul Delahunty, after losing a would be tackler with a lovely side-step, took ’Irelands 0-15 to 1-4 clear after 33 minutes.
The Emeralds shaded the exchanges during the next eight minutes when Shane Norton (2) and Aidan Fogarty scored against one reply. Paul Holden then drilled over two super points from frees on the ‘50’ and virtually on the right sideline to steady the winners ship and keep them 0-10 to 1-8 clear.
Their next score, in the 46th minute, was a goal. As you would expect from a man on the top of his game, Holden, was involved. He lofted a free from his own ‘50’ towards the Emeralds goal. Sean Kehoe fielded the ball before lashing it into the net from the left edge of the square.
With the difference a massive 10 points (1-18 to 1-8), the game looked up for Emeralds. In fairness, they didn’t panic. Quick points from Fogarty and Jamie Ryan helped them regain a bit of fire, and with Patrick and Joey Doheny, Brian Troy, Shane Norton, a busy Alan Guilfoyle, Conor Martin and Fogarty all push the cause hard, they hung on and hung on.
Martin Carey brought off a second good save in the 48th minute, this time depriving Guilfoyle of a big score. After Conor Martin clipped over a point the losers had a goal disallowed, and rightly so, because it was a clear ‘square ball’.
Emeralds kept inching forward. A point from Fogarty left the difference at 1-19 to 1-13. Then it appeared as if disaster struck the losers.
A defender was robbed of possession by sub Jodie Foley, who transferred the sliotar quickly to captain, Sean Kehoe. The full-forward made no mistake from close range. It was the 57th minute. The score was 2-19 to 1-13.
A little bit of craziness followed. The Emeralds threw everyone and everything forward. They plundered a goal through Alan Guilfoyle. ’Irelands became a little edgy.
Emeralds then plundered a third goal, Aidan Fogarty shooting to the net from 10 metre on the right through a forest of legs. On the action roared. Someone, I don’t know who, got in a late, late shot on goal. Chris Nolan saved the Gowran crew.
It was a gripping finish to an interesting match. ’Irelands had every reason to feel good afterwards. Their hurling was decent, their attitude even better as Holden, Kehoe, Carroll, Emmett Byrne, Carey, Nolan and company produced excellent form.
SCORERS: Young Irelands - Paul Holden (0-11, five frees, two 65s’); Sean Kehoe (2-1); Dick Carroll (0-3); Thomas Carroll (0-2); J.J. Lennon, Paul Delahunty (0-1 each). Emeralds - Aidan Fogarty (1-7, two points frees); Ian Grant (1-1); Alan Guilfoyle (1-0); Conor Martin, Shane Norton (0-2 each); Jamie Ryan (0-1).
Young Irelands - Martin Carey, Niall Walsh, Jack Glendon, Ciaran Carroll, Johnny Dunphy, Emmett Byrne, Chris Nolan, Thomas Carroll, J.P. Treacy, Eoin Walsh, Paul Holden, J.J. Lennon, Dick Carroll, Sean Kehoe, Paul Delahunty. Subs - Paul Kehoe, Jodie Foley, Michael Lennon, John Morris.
Emeralds - Shane Moriarty, Thomas Moriarty, Damien Fitzgerald, Eoin Moriarty, Brian Troy, Patrick Doheny, Joey Doheny, Padraig Phelan, Shane Norton, Francis Clohessy, Conor Martin, Aidan Fogarty, Jamie Ryan, Ian Grant, Alan Guilfoyle. Subs - Joe Clohessy, Niall O’Gorman.
Referee - Pat Dunphy (Carrigeen).
Frees - Young Irelands 10 (5 and 5); Emeralds 8 (4 and 4).
Wides - Young Irelands 3 (2 and 1); Emeralds 7 (5 and 2).