The Rower-Inistioge appear to like playing the waiting game! And they were up to their old tricks on arguably their greatest day ever.
Up to last October, the famous Rower-Inistioge name was absent from the Roll of Honour in the Kilkenny intermediate hurling championship. They have been absent from the senior grade for the past 25 years.
Understandable then - well, almost - that on Saturday in magnificent Croke Park, and in their first All-Ireland club final, that the talented wearers of the famous Rower-Inistioge colours made their loyal and passionate supporters wait, and wait and wait.
It shouldn’t have been the case. The Rower were the better team. Yet it wasn’t until the closing segment of extra-time, between the 70th and 80th minutes, that the Kilkenny champions let rip and gave free expression to their multiple talents.
Brave, defiant Kilnadeema Leitrim (Galway) were chopped down when the Noresiders cut loose. Six points on the bounce in the closing segment decided the final and left the Rower as All-Ireland club intermediate hurling champions in succession to Clara, who took the title and so much more last season.
The wait, in a peculiar sort of way, added to the excitement. The volume of noise that greeted each passing Inistioge score in that match winning blast grew louder and louder as relief eased into contentment in the realisation that victory was to be attained. Heart-stopping and heart-warming stuff rolled into one!
Yet, it shouldn’t have come to that; extra-time and so on. As the rain lashed down from the start, and the wind was in their favour, the Rower out-played Kilnadeema and hammered them everywhere except on the scoreboard. Eleven first half wides was awful.
Scoring returns per Michael Grace, Ruairi Galavan, a mighty one from Tom Murphy and Grace from a second free in the 29th minute were poor returns as the champions reached half-time 0-4 to 0-3 ahead.
Ciaran Ryan might have bagged a goal in the 16th minute, but he blazed wide after a lovely build up by the mighty Kieran Joyce and Murphy. Team skipper Grace then missed a handy free in the 19th minute from virtually in front of the Hill 16 end goal. A goal chance also fell Murphy’s way.
Kilnadeema didn’t threaten all that much at the other end - they had two wides - although Shane Lawless nearly sneaked a big score from the left edge of the square in the 20th minute.
The Rower got a huge boost into the second minute of the new half when they scored a soft goal. Ciaran Ryan raced up the left wing. His shot was of less than full force. There appeared little danger as the ’keeper came to gather the ball, but it somehow ended up in the net (1-4 to 0-3).
The signal was for Kilnadeema to up their game. With former county star, David Tierney, now resident at centre-back and directing operations, he helped draw the best from those around him, especially Eamon Hyland, Mark Kelly, Dara Herlihy, sub Liam Geraghty and the ever dangerous Brian Molloy.
In the 41st minute sub Geraghty finished to the net at the second attempt after Shane Lawless created the opening (1-5 to 1-4). Five minutes on Molloy got a clear run at goal up the left. From a bad angle near the goal, his shot was high and over the bar. Lucky Rower! After being on top, they were now fighting for their supper. It was 1-5 each.
The winners hit the front in spectacular fashion in the 51st minute when Conor Joyce, slow and deliberate, lofted a magnificently struck line ball over the bar. Dara Herlihy levelled. Twice subsequently, first through hugely influential sub Paul Sheehan and then Joe Lyng, after receiving a great pass from Conor Joyce, the Rower got ahead.
Twice they were called back, so that at the end of the hour it was 1-8 each.
At the end of the next segment the Rower showed 1-10 to 1-9 ahead. Then it was show time! Rower-Inistioge show time! The defences were hammered shut. History will record that a rush of points - in order - from Paul Sheehan, Joe Lyng, Sheehan again, David Lyng, James Cassin and David Lyng again won the title for the Kilkenny champions.
In that final flourish, one would like to think, we saw the real Rower. During the run to glory they have shown they can soak up pressure and remain focussed in the tightest of tight battles. It was the Leinster final revisited!
Kieran Joyce is their talisman; the cement, if you like, that binds the team effort. He is strong in the air and on the ground, and he delivers great ball to the attack. Sean Cummins - tremendous. Joe Lyng was wonderful too; full of running, full of drive. He has an unquenchable spirit. Eoin and James Doyle, Ruairi Galavan and Sean Lyster will be warmed for a long time by the memories of their heroics.
Veteran Paul Sheehan was sprung from the bench. He caught the pace of the game immediately, and showed nerves of steel on pressure frees. He enjoyed 35 minutes of bliss, announced by a celebratory wave after one late conversion.
Tom Murphy hit a pitch in performance rarely seen. This guy is a good target man; great team player. Handy hurler! Cathal Bolger and Ciaran Ryan are others who won’t ever forget this visit to Croker.
Scorers: Rower-Inistioge - Paul Sheehan (0-4, two frees, one 65); Joe Lyng (0-3); Ciaran Ryan (1-0); David Lyng, James Cassin (0-2 each); Michael Grace (0-2, frees); Ruairi Galavan, Tom Murphy, Conor Joyce (0-1 each). Kilnadeema Leitrim - Brian Molloy (0-5, three frees); Liam Geraghty (1-1); Dara Herlihy (0-2); Tom Tierney (0-1).
Rower-Inistioge - Liam Tierney; Eoin Doyle, Sean Cummins, James Doyle; Ruairi Galavan, Kieran Joyce, Sean Lyster; Sean Grace, Joe Lyng; Michael Grace, David Lyng, Padraig Tierney; Cathal Bolger, Tom Murphy, Ciaran Ryan. Subs - Conor Joyce for C. Bolger 34th min; Paul Sheehan for M. Grace (inj) 45th min; James Cassin for S. Grace 55th min; Tadgh Leahy for J. Doyle 71st min.
Kilnadeema Leitrim - Kevin Boyle; Patrick Deely, Darragh O’Donoghue, Mark Kelly; Garry Winters, Eamon Hyland, Aidan Spaight; David Tierney, Michael Donohue; Damien Donohue, Dara Herlihy, Alvin Mitchell; Tom Tierney, Brian Molloy, Shane Lawless. Sub - Liam Geraghty for D. Donohue 34th min.
Ref - F. Horgan (Tipperary).