This final has reached half-time, that is all, insist utterly defiant ’Stephens

JAMES Stephens weren’t beating themselves up after being deprived of a great chance to win what would have been their ninth senior hurling championship title, instead they were happy to celebrate a great performance and to look forward to the replay against Ballyhale Shamrocks, writes John Knox.

JAMES Stephens weren’t beating themselves up after being deprived of a great chance to win what would have been their ninth senior hurling championship title, instead they were happy to celebrate a great performance and to look forward to the replay against Ballyhale Shamrocks, writes John Knox.

“You have to celebrate a performance like that,” was the overall summary from James Stephens selector, Adrian Finan after Sunday’s epic county final draw. “We asked the playes for a special effort, and to a man they delivered it. Our performance was worth celebrating.”

The title was there for you, it was suggested to Mr Finan.

“We knew it was,” he replied. “Before the ball was thrown-in we knew we had a chance of winning. Going into the replay next week we still have a chance. People will try and tell us we missed our chance and things like that, but we won’t be listening to that. We can’t wait for it.”

On a wretched day when both teams had to dig and dig to make even modest progress, ’Stephens showed an appetite for battle way beyond anything even hinted at before.

Big stage

“These are great men,” he said as The Village troops marched out of the dressing-room. “They are used to playing on the big stage and they have no fear of it at all. Every one of them will feel privileged to be back here again for the replay.

“This was a game for men. Winning anything in Kilkenny at adult level is for men only. We have plenty of them in the club. We have plenty of them in the parish. They will all be back.

“It won’t be difficult to pick ourselves up again. These days, county final days, are few and far between. It is a great honour to be taking the field, for the likes of Niall Rigney (manager), myself and Fran Whelan (the selectors) to be standing on the sideline working with such talented players. We can’t wait to get back.”

The finish, what about the finish of the match?

“It was disappointing,” he said, and he wasn’t referring to Shamrocks sneaking a draw. “You hate to see a third party influencing how a game is going. Unfortunately that is what happened. The crowd saw it. This is a repeat of 2009 when we felt we were unlucky not to go home with the trophy.”

Not gone

The prevailing mood in The Village dressing-room was frustration more than anything else, he insisted.

“It is very hard for people to understand what these players put into the preparations,” Mr Finan continued. “It is not gone. It is there. It is half-time in this final.

“We believed coming into this match that it was 50-50. It is still 50-50. We are not going to let frustration get in our way now.”

He said he was sure the James Stephens players would go through the pain barrier again in pursuit of victory.

“They have been doing it for years,” he continued. “We have been unlucky in a few county finals. We have no inferiority complex. We have trust in our own ability.

“We are as good as anyone not only in Kilkenny, but in Ireland. But we have to continue to show it. We have to work harder.”