On an afternoon when they under performed, Lisdowney were left to face the haunting question - could we have done more?
Alas, the harsh truth is probably they could have!
The Kilkenny champions came up agonisingly short against Offaly intermediate champions, Ballinamere in a contest that ran hot and cold for them in this Leinster club junior hurling final in Tullamore on Sunday.
Ballinamere were the better team by far during the first half. Lisdowney were more with it and were the better team during the second half.
A point was the difference in the end, but it was enough to earn the midlanders the ticket into the All-Ireland quarter-final away to the London champions on Sunday week. Lisdowney were left to talk about what might have been for years to come!
If only, if only......If only they had played for the hour as they played in the second half the Noresiders could be looking towards the All-Ireland series now.
Their first touch; their ability to find men; to deliver decent ball from defence to attack; to pick up breaking ball; to direct hurley driven passes were all so far off during the opening period it was hard to credit this was the same lively Lisdowney squad that hurled with such assurance during the league and championship in Kilkenny.
If the visitors had trouble stringing plays together, it was the opposite for Ballinamere, who exploded into action like a shot from a gun. They had the ball in the net twice during the opening five minutes.
Those concessions were what cost the losers in the end, for while they landed more scores than their opponents - 13 against 10 - their combination of gains were of the wrong mix to make the difference.
And yet Lisdowney were there to the final whistle. With 61 minutes and seconds showing on the clock they were awarded a free on midfield facing the road end goal. Rory Hickey aimed at the target. The ball fell short and was fielded in a crowd by colleagues Pat Carroll inside the 20 metre line in front of goal.
Carroll couldn’t get room to swing his stick. The frantic Offaly lads ran down the clock by crowding him out. The clock ran beyond 62 minutes when time was called.
Martin Phelan, Sean Phelan, Peter Bergin, Kevin Sweeney and Pat Carroll were heroic when Lisdowney launched a determined drive to save the game after a horrid opening half left them 0-6 to 2-5 down at the break. It took Ballinamere 21 minutes of the second half to find a score, which they did through the excellent Paddy Murphy.
That 51st minute effort from Murphy edged the winners in front again just after they had been caught (2-6 to 0-11). Fair play to the losers, they dragged themselves back up again. A high tackle on the ever involved Sweeney gifted free taker, Rory Hickey the equaliser.
Six minutes from the finish the winners most dangerous attacker, Stephen Weir, who has worn the Offay senior shirt a few times, wandered out the field to escape the suffocating clutches of Martin Phelan and he landed a good lead point. Within a minute he gave an encore.
Whereas moments earlier Ballinamere were on the ropes, they were now 2-8 to 0-12 ahead and full of fight with five minutes remaining. The rest of the action was frantic. It produced one score, a point from a free by Rory Hickey from midfield following a foul on Vinny Fitzpatrick.
There wasn’t much besides for Lisdowney. The early concessions killed them!
The game was in the opening minute when Paddy Murphy, who was to inflict a lot of damage during the first half, had the ball in the Lisdonwey net. Nichoals Minnock flighted the ball in from the ‘40’, and after a half-block, Murphy finished to the net from close range.
James McKeogh added a point before the winners had their second goal. This time Stephen Weir rose high into the air to grab a delivery from Murphy. He wriggled to the right of goal, and somehow got a shot away to score a spectacular goal.
With no more than five minutes gone Ballinamere were a hard to credit 2-1 to no score in front. Lisdowney, to their credit, battled to find their way back. Centre-back Sean Phelan was powerful in his endeavours to inspire all around him, to drag together a fragmented team effort.
For a while they couldn’t find a man, or a score. Typical of their plight was when Paddy Bowden, scorer of two good goals in the semi-final, cracked a shot against an upright when placed in a good position by Eddie Hickey.
They opened their account in the 10th minute with a free by Rory Hickey, helped by the ball being brought forward into a more advantageous position by the referee. The scoring divides from there to the break broke down 4-5 in favour of the losers, but their efforts were laboured.
The losers didn’t threatened all the much up front. There was a goal chance in the 17th minute when a run by Kevin Sweeney punctured the home defence, but Bowden’s effort from the right and close to the square was wide. Lisdowney were a new team after the break; eager all over the park; more together as a unit. For 20 minutes they pinned Ballinamere in their own half, eventually drawing level through the hugely involved Peter Bergin in the 48th minute (2-5 to 0-11).
Sadly for Lisdowney, the tide turned again, full-forward Stephen Weir the man who made the difference in the end.
Scorers: Ballinamere - Stephen Weir (1-4); Paddy Murphy (1-3, two points frees); Jamie McKeogh (0-1). Lisdowney - Rory Hickey (0-6, four frees); Lar Carroll, Edward Kenny (0-2 each); Aaron Fogarty (0-1, free); Peter Bergin, Kevin Sweeney (0-1 each).
Lisdowney - Niall Grogan, Niall O’Hara, Martin Phelan, Niall Mackey, Ray Fitzpatrick, Sean Phelan, Peter Bergin, Pat Carroll, Kevin Sweeney, Lar Carroll, Eddie Hickey, Aaron Fogarty, Rory Hickey, Paddy Bowden, Edward Kenny. Subs - Michael Kenny for Bowden; Vinny Fitzpatrick for E. Hickey; Conor O’Carroll for E. Kenny; Eoin Delahunty for A. Fogarty.
Ballinamere - K. McLoughlin, K. Molloy, E. Buggy, D. Spollen, D. Magnere, G. Spollen, P. McDermott, K. Mealiffe, J. McKeogh, P. Murphy, M. Murphy, M. Og Buggy, D. Wyer, S. Weir, N. Minnock. Subs - J. McEvoy for M. Murphy; A. Scully for N. Minnock; J. Leonard for M. Og Buggy.
Ref - D. Hughes (Carlow).