A hard-working performance from all sectors helped the Rower-Inistioge mark their return to Kilkenny hurling’s top flight in winning fashion.
“That win was 25 years in the making,” manager Ger Morrissey said after Saturday’s 1-13 to 1-11 win over Dicksboro at an immaculate Thomastown grounds.
“It was a great win,” he added, “but Dicksboro really tested us at times, but we stood up to them. It was a good start to the league.”
On an evening when the intermediate club All-Ireland champions had plenty of star performers, Michael Grace showed a little more sparkle where it mattered.
Last year’s captain played a leading role, helping himself to 1-8, but it was his last point which meant the most.
It looked like a fast start would fade into nothing as the city side ate into the Rower’s eight-point lead, leaving the bare minimum between the sides as injury-time loomed.
It was at that stage that the next score would prove vital; it was the Rower who got it, Grace converting a 59th minute free to steady his side’s nerves and push them towards the points.
It helped the Rower earn a win which, given their performance over the hour, was fully merited. Right from the off they went on the attack, using a strong wind to force Dicksboro on to the back-foot.
Although they leaked the opening point to the ’Boro’s Shane Maher, once Grace got going the Rower cut a nice dash. He helped himself to three points in that opening quarter (two frees), with impressive midfielder Sean Lyster chipping in with two more.
Inistioge were good for that lead, but could have been further in front. Ciaran Ryan must have thought he’d found the net when he latched on to Joe Lyng’s booming 18th minute ball and swept the sliotar past the advancing netminder Cillian Breathnach, but David Glynn rushed back to hook the ball off the line.
That missed chance did little to halt the Rower’s gallop, however. With Lyster and Joe Lyng working hard in midfield and Tom Murphy proving to be a handful at full-forward they pushed further in front through Grace (65) and Murphy.
A Shane Maher free - their first score for 11 minutes - helped the ’Boro end the one-way traffic by the 22nd minute, but more trouble was only 60 seconds away. Awarded a penalty after he was hauled back in the square, Grace made no mistake, drilling his shot into the bottom left corner of the scoreboard end goal.
Another Maher free kept Dicksboro on the coat-tails of their rivals, but a late Grace 65 left the Rower seven up at the break (1-8 to 0-4).
The leaders showed a different side to their game on the restart, as their defence took charge. Corner-back Eoin Doyle was most effective, getting in several last ditch blocks to deny the Dicksboro attackers, with Ruairi Galavan and Kieran Joyce also to the fore.
The Rower retained their big lead as the game ticked into the final quarter (1-12 to 0-7), but they were left looking over their shoulders as Dicksboro finally woke up.
Hitting a purple patch, the city side clicked into gear. Paul O’Flynn found enough room to gallop through and pick off two points. Ollie Walsh added another, before sub Derek O’Gorman reached in to flick a loose ball home after Liam Tierney had stopped Cillian Buckley’s point-blank 56th minute shot.
When Shane Maher struck another free (his fifth) Dicksboro looked to be on the brink of a comeback - but Grace’s final act slammed that door shut.
SCORERS: Rower-Inistioge - Michael Grace (1-8, 1-0 pen, 0-3 frees, 0-2 65); Sean Lyster (0-2); Joe Lyng, Sean Grace, Tom Murphy (0-1 each). Dicksboro - Shane Maher (0-5, frees), Paul O’Flynn (0-4), Derek O’Gorman (1-0), Ollie Walsh (0-1), Cillian Buckley (0-1, free).
Rower-Inistioge - Liam Tierney, Eoin Doyle, Sean Cummins, James Doyle, Ruairi Galavan, Kieran Joyce, Tommy Grace, Sean Lyster, Joe Lyng, Michael Grace, David Lyng, Sean Grace, Ciaran Ryan, Tom Murphy, Cathal Bolger. Subs: James Cassin for Doyle, 35 mins; Conor Joyce for Bolger, 57 mins; Padraig Lyng for T. Grace, 57 mins.
Dicksboro - Cillian Breathnach, Kieran Cuddihy, David Glynn, Robbie Fitzpatrick, Eoin Gough, Danny Kenny, Cillian Buckley, Ollie Walsh, Martin Gaffney, Oisin Walsh, David Ryan, Paul O’Flynn, Kevin Kenny, Shane Maher, Cillian Starr. Subs: Michael Fagan for Starr, 38 mins; Stephen Farrell for Kenny, 46 mins; Derek O’Gorman for Ryan, 46 mins; Michael Hayes for Fitzpatrick, 50 mins.
Referee - R. Byrne (Glenmore).