Playing with the wind when they had it, and protecting the ball when they didn’t, helped Lisdowney make a winning start to the intermediate hurling league.
The Ravens faced a testing battle in their opening day meeting with Graigue-Ballycallan, but they played a tactically clever game to pick up the points in windy Urlingford on Sunday evening.
Meeting on middle ground (Lisdowney won the junior championship in 2013, while Graigue slipped down from the senior grade), Sunday’s meeting was an interesting battle of momentum as much as anything else.
For Lisdowney, the game was chance to kick on from last year’s adventure, which took them to a Leinster club final. As far as Ballycallan were concerned, it was all about taking the first step on the road to recovering their top-flight status.
However, the big move was made at the start, when Lisdowney opted to start with the assistance of a stiff breeze. That, coupled with some clever tactics, saw them take a grip on the game that Graigue would never shake.
Using Eddie Hickey and Pat Carroll in midfield, Lisdowney had two fluid players who moved forward when they were needed, then drop back when defensive matters were greater.
With the wind adding considerable distance to Niall Grogan’s puck-outs - several dropped inside the Graigue 21 - it was no surprise that Lisdowney had the lion’s share of play in front of the posts.
Scores, however, proved harder to come by. Lisdowney were 0-3 to 0-1 in front after the first quarter, thanks to Rory Hickey (free), Pat Carroll and Michael Kenny, but they had also spurned more chances by hitting a spate of wides.
They were also thankful to Grogan for keeping them in front, the netminder stretching every sinew to get down to his right and turn Eddie Brennan’s ninth minute shot out for a 65.
Lisdowney did raise their game after that, Aaron Fogarty assuming free-taking duties and notching a brace, but the goal they needed to profit from the breeze never came.
It wasn’t that they didn’t have chances, but Graigue showed great steel when it mattered. Shane Butler made a super intervention to deny Rory Hickey a shot from point-blank range with 20 minutes on the clock, while netminder P.J. Trant stopped Kevin Sweeney’s close range strike just before the break.
Graigue found it tough to break down that central quartet of Michael Kenny, Vinny Fitzpatrick, Pat Carroll and Eddie Hickey, who crowded everything in sky blue. A Conor Murphy free lifted the gloom, but Rory Hickey’s late point meant Lisdowney were ahead by double scores at the interval (0-6 to 0-3).
With the wind at their backs Graigue opened up in the second half, but they couldn’t force their way past the leaders. Conor Murphy (free) and Eddie Brennan picked off points, James Ryall following with a mammoth effort from his own half, but Lisdowney managed to keep them at arm’s length.
With Eddie Hickey patrolling his own 65, Lisdowney managed to stay in front with Aaron Fogarty to the fore (0-4, three frees) as they pushed five clear with 15 minutes to play (0-11 to 0-6).
Graigue did have half a chance to draw back into the game when, after catching a booming Trant puck-out, Gearoid Cleere was hauled down on the fringe of the square. With Eddie Brennan standing over the free it seemed Ballycallan were shaping for a three-pointer, but Brennan’s 46th minute strike flashed over the bar.
Last throw of dice
Graigue had one last throw of the dice when they tried to level matters with a minute of normal time left. After Murphy (free) and Paddy Kennedy made it a three-point game Murphy went for broke with a close-range free, but a sea of blue and white hooped shirts were posted on the line to deflect the sliotar to safety.
The line beckoned for Lisdowney. Aaron Fogarty got them there in style, adding one more point from a loose ball to seal a solid win.
SCORERS: Lisdowney - Aaron Fogarty (0-8, 0-6 frees), Rory Hickey (0-2, 0-1 free), Michael Kenny (0-2), Pat Carroll (0-1). Graigue-Ballycallan - Conor Murphy (0-4, frees); Eddie Brennan (0-2, 0-1 free); James Ryall, Gearoid Cleere, Paddy Kennedy (0-1 each).
Lisdowney - Niall Grogan, Niall O’Hara, Martin Phelan, Niall Mackey, Ray Fitzpatrick, Sean Phelan, Peter Bergin, Eddie Hickey, Pat Carroll, Vinny Fitzpatrick, Michael Kenny, Aaron Fogarty, Kevin Sweeney, Rory Hickey, Edward Kenny. Sub: Conor O’Carroll for E. Kenny, 43 mins.
Graigue-Ballycallan - P.J. Trant, Darragh Egan, Jimmy Murphy, Dara Walton, Adrian Burke, James Ryall, Shane Butler, Ger Teehan, Bob Murphy, Eddie Brennan, Niall Millea, James Smith, Conor Murphy, Gearoid Cleere, John Purcell. Subs: Paddy Kennedy for B. Murphy, 31 mins; Willie O’Connor for Smith, 38 mins; Thomas Ryan for Purcell, 45 mins; Billy Ryan for Teehan, 53 mins.
Referee - E. Ryan (Fenians).