St Flannan's College 2-15
St Kieran's College 2-12
The dream of another All-Ireland treble came to an abrupt end for St Kieran's College in Thurles on Monday.
The reigning champions were no match for a sharper St Flannan's (Ennis), who bossed this game for much of the 60 minutes.
The Clare side were physically stronger and showed more awareness than their Kilkenny opponents. Crucially, they had the ability to come back from a goal conceded on the stroke of half-time, when others may have wilted.
Looking for their first title since 1999, Flannan's were quick off the mark. Before Kieran's knew what hit them, they were three points in arrears thanks to Bernard Gaffney and Colin Ryan (2).
A Patrick Hogan point from the centre of the field was the start of the Kilkenny assault, but that came to an alarming halt. A Colin Ryan sideline cut slipped through the Kieran's square and came back off the crossbar. Before the defence could react, Gaffney burst in to bundle the sliotar over the line.
The Kieran's response was equally emphatic. Goalkeeper Patrick Kelly made a mess of a long Patrick Hogan free and paid a heavy price. Richie Hogan was there in a flash, nipping in to flick the loose ball past the unfortunate netminder.
Patrick Hogan and Colin Ryan then traded scores, but a brace of Maurice Nolan frees had the Kilkenny side level by the 17th minute. The game didn't stay that way for long, as two Ger Arthur points eased Flannan's back in front.
Nolan came back with another free, but when Colin Ryan mined a like score it seemed as if Kieran's would be left chasing the game at the start of the second half.
How that changed in the blink of an eye. Continuing to work until the final whistle, Kieran's got their big chance in injury-time.
The Flannan's defence switched off as a crossfield ball from Richie Hogan seemed destined to go wide.
His brother Patrick refused to give it up, and worked well to keep the sliotar in. He made room for himself to shoot, then stunned Flannan's with a sweet low shot which fizzed into the far corner of the net.
That priceless strike came on virtually the last puck of the half. With it came a precious lead for St Kieran's (2-5 to 1-7).
Keen to extend their advantage, the Kilkenny school came out scoring in the second half. Maurice Nolan doubled their new lead with a neat point picked off while moving away from the posts.
However, it wasn't long before Flannan's had resumed their charge. Midfielder Damien O'Halloran ended a fine solo run with a good point, before the Clare side struck a killer blow. Niall Killeen was allowed to charge towards the Kieran's posts unopposed, punishing his opponents with a shot which scorched to the far side of Nicky Cleere's net.
Another Maurice Nolan point (free) revived the Kieran's challenge, but a booming James McInerney free – scored from inside his own 65m line – restored the Flannan's two point advantage.
It didn't stay that way for long though. The Kieran's comeback began with a point for Jonjo Farrell, who latched on to a long Nolan free and turned it over. The game was level again when Richie Hogan converted a 45th minute free.
Hogan then shot his team back into the lead again before a great score from T.J. Reid, a sweetly-struck point from 65 metres, doubled the Kieran's advantage as the game ticked into the final ten minutes.
With everything delicately balanced, Flannan's slugged their way back onto level terms. After another Ryan free, McInerney shrugged off the challenge of Shane Campion to point the equaliser.
With time running out Kieran's made another burst for the lead, only to come off second best. A series of quick passes saw the Saints tee up sub Donncha Fitzpatrick for a goal chance, but his shot was charged down by 'keeper Patrick Kelly.
That save, which was met by a deafening cheer from the growing Clare contingent in Semple Stadium, seemed to steel the Flannan's nerve and give them the belief to drive on.
Three subsequent wides from the Kieran's attackers also played a part, while another Gaffney point helped them to creep in front.
They didn't enjoy this lead for long – another Richie Hogan free saw to that – but as time began to drain away, it was Flannan's who looked to have the energy reserves needed to find a match-winning score.
In the end, they helped themselves to three. A brace of late fouls were punished with two Colin Ryan frees, putting them within touching distance of the silverware.
Bernard Gaffney had the final say, tearing down the New Stand touchline for the point which snatched the Croke Cup from St Kieran's grasp.
St Flannan's – C. Ryan (0-7, 0-5 frees, 0-2 65); B. Gaffney (1-3); N. Killeen (1-0); G. Arthur, J. McInerney (0-2 each); D. O'Halloran (0-1). St Kieran's College – R. Hogan (1-3, 0-2 frees); P. Hogan (1-2, 0-1 free); M. Nolan (0-5, 0-4 frees); J.J. Farrell, T.J. Reid (0-1 each).
St Kieran's College – N. Cleere, E. O'Shea, S. Campion, J. Dowling, J. Dermody, N. Prendergast, J. Lawlor, P. Hogan, M. Nolan, T.J. Reid, J.J. Farrell, Mark Walsh, Martin Walsh, R. Hogan, S. Brennan. Subs: N. Tennyson for Dermody, 38 mins; D. Fitzpatrick for Martin Walsh, 50 mins.
St Flannan's – P. Kelly, C. O'Doherty, J. Moloney, M. O'Dwyer, C. Neylon, S. Hickey, G. Hannigan, D. O'Halloran, J. McInerney, C. Ryan, J. Neylon, C. Madden, B. Gaffney, N. Killeen, G. Arthur. Subs: I. Colleran for Neylon, half-time; G. Lyons for O'Halloran, C. Tierney for Killeen, 63 mins.
Referee – N. Cosgrove (Tipperary).