THEY may have left it late – very late – but the Fenians (Johnstown) finally made the charge that secured their senior hurling status.
The North Kilkenny side knew that a win over Dunnamaggin was needed in the last round of league games on Saturday, on top of other results going their way. They did their part, putting in a sterling performance that owed much to a teak-tough defence which propelled them out of the bottom two in their group and away from danger of relegation.
While Willie Brennan’s injury-time goal was the icing on the cake, victory was built on an impressive second half display in Tullaroan. Although they led by two at the break (0-8 to 0-6), a quick double from a wind-assisted Dunnamaggin looked like being the roadblock that would halt the Fenians.
However, just when they looked their shakiest, the Fenians were helped by their defence. Led by sterling performances from J.J. Delaney and John Henderson they kept Dunna’ at bay, repelling a number of attacks before their forwards hit top gear again.
The Johnstown men edged ahead again with Eoin Sheil’s 43rd minute point – their first in 18 minutes. Seconds later, they were two clear thanks to Kevin Reid’s free. Sheil then grabbed another point, beating Aidan Donovan in a race for Conor Tobin’s clearance before picking off a fine score.
Those points, rattled off in three minutes, gave the Fenians some breathing space and a lead they would never relinquish.
It was much the same fare in the opening half. Displaying a greater sense of urgency the Fenians were a determined side, carving out an early lead (0-3 to 0-1) thanks to Ciaran Behan and Kevin Reid (free) by the seventh minute.
Despite having little to play for Dunnamaggin didn’t let them have it all their own way, however. J.J. Dunphy and Kenny Moore (free) did well to pick off scores when they found enough space to move through an impressive half-back line of Delaney, Henderson and Conor Tobin.
With the backs in control of the game – Noel and Canice Hickey were just as busy for Dunnamaggin – it was no surprise to see most of scores come from the middle third of the field. Kenny Moore landed a peach of a point, beating Kevin Power under a dropping ball before splitting the posts from the left wing on 17 minutes but two in a matter of minutes by Behan and Reid, the latter after a driving run from Conor Tobin, left Fenians with a three-point cushion by the 20th minute (0-7 to 0-4).
Bringing Darren Fitzpatrick into attack did help Dunnamaggin a little as they set about closing the gap. Moore tacked on another point when he latched on to Noel Lahart’s kicked pass, but Kevin Power’s free allowed Fenians to stay that bit further in front. Dunna’ kept pressing, grabbing another score through Lahart following Andrew Hickey’s excellent 28th minute delivery, but they couldn’t get any closer as the Fenians shut up shop (0-8 to 0-6).
Although points from Kenny Moore and J.J. Dunphy saw Dunna’s battle back to level terms by the 40th minute, once the Fenians hit that quick treble they were back in command.
Dunna’ continued to chip away at the deficit, moving to within a point with eight minutes to play. Wing-back Aidan Donovan landed a great score from distance, to which Kenny Moore added another, but influential duo Kevin Reid (free) and Kevin Power ensured the Fenians stayed that extra step ahead.
Having worked hard to maintain their lead, the Johnstown men got their reward in injury-time. Kevin Reid picked off a long P.J. Ryan free and worked the sliotar inside to the unmarked Willie Brennan, who steered his shot past David Herity to cement his side’s survival in the top flight.
Scorers: Fenians – Kevin Reid (0-5, 0-4 frees); Willie Brennan (1-0); Eoin Sheil (0-3); Kevin Power (0-3, 0-1 free); Ciaran Behan (0-2); John Broderick (0-1). Dunnamaggin – Kenneth Moore (0-6, 0-2 frees); Noel Lahart, J.J. Dunphy (0-2 each); Darren Fitzpatrick, Aidan Donovan (0-1 each).
Fenians – P.J. Ryan, D. Brennan, J.P. Grehan, C. Ryan, C. Tobin, J.J. Delaney, J. Henderson, K. Power, C. Behan, J. Broderick, K. Reid, E. Sheil, W. Brennan, D. Tobin, P. Quinlan.
Dunnamaggin – D. Herity, M. Dowling, N. Hickey, M. Heffernan, A. Donovan, C. Hickey, A. Hickey, K. Moore, D. Fitzpatrick, W. Phelan, J.J. Dunphy, S. Connery, T. Maher, N. Lahart, S. O’Neill. Subs: P. Keneally for Maher, 31 mins; B. McCormack for Connery, 51 mins.
Referee – E. Crowley (Mooncoin).