DREAMS of All-Ireland club glory bit the dust as a gallant Tullogher-Rosbercon came up agonisingly short on Sunday.
The Kilkenny and Leinster junior hurling champions gave their all, but found out that the glory savoured by Danesfort in 2007 and Conahy Shamrocks in 2008 was just beyond their grasp.
The south Kilkennymen can have no complaints; they drove on at every opportunity, but Dripsey had an ace up their sleeve in centre-forward Diarmuid O'Riordan.
The Cork team's captain was the main reason Tullogher left Croke Park empty-handed. O'Riordan helped himself to 1-9, of which 1-5 was scored in an impressive first half display. Of O'Riordan's nine points five came from frees. Some were awarded after Tullogher were found guilty of committing needless fouls – others were then brought forward by referee Alan Kelly after Tullogher were guilty of backchat to the match official.
It wasn't just the concession of frees that undid Tullogher. There were times when, although they chased and harried, Dripsey constantly found themselves with plenty of room in which to dominate. The Cork men gave an early sign of their intentions when wing-forward Mark O'Sullivan latched on the opening throw-in and landed a fine point from long distance.
A Liam Barron 65 had Tullogher quickly on level terms before the Kilkenny side showed they could fashion scores from good team moves, Richie Dollard latching on to John Cotterell's line ball and driving in to the centre before splitting the posts.
Tullogher looked sharp early on, but allowed Dripsey get back into the game when fouls gave Diarmuid O'Riordan two frees well within scoring range. Back came Tullogher, courtesy of Barron (free) and Richie Dollard – the latter after a great team move involving a series of passes weaved together by John Cotterell, John Barron, Eddie Conway and Shane Ryan – but again an O'Riordan double saw Dripsey edge their way in front by the end of the first quarter (0-5 to 0-4).
As far as a scoring pattern went, it was tit-for-tat for most of the first half. However, Dripsey were beginning to find more and more open space in which to play, creating gaps which led to trouble at the back for Tullogher.
One such attack ended with a score from wing-back John Carey, who dashed up to the half-way line and lashed over a fine point. Carey then turned provider, his clearance finding O'Riordan in an acre of space.
The Dripsey captain drove on towards the posts and seemed certain to land a big score, but somehow blazed over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Tullogher wouldn't be so lucky next time, as O'Riordan made amends three minutes before the break. Unmarked on the left side of the square, O'Riordan gathered a Mark O'Sullivan hand-pass, rushed at goal and booted the sliotar past Martin Roche.
That goal left three points between the sides, but Tullogher refused to buckle. Liam Barron converted a free within a matter of seconds, a vital score, before John Barron picked off an attempted Dripsey clearance and turned it back over the Hill 16 End crossbar. There was just a point in it at half-time – Tullogher were still in with a fight (1-7 to 0-9).
Another Liam Barron free gave Tullogher the perfect start to the second half, getting them back on level terms, but in truth the third quarter was where the game got away from the Kilkenny side.
In the space of 180 seconds, Tullogher's hand was all but wrenched from the silverware. Diarmuid O'Sullivan regained the advantage for his side with a brace of points before the Corkmen struck a real hammer blow in the 36th minute.
Once more Dripsey profited when they found space to exploit. David Foley squeezed a low ball through the smallest gap and into the possession of John Hogan, whose pass inside to O'Riordan unlocked the Tullogher defence once more.
Again, with room to move, it looked like O'Riordan would rattle the net. His shot was low and powerful, but goalkeeper Martin Roche made an incredible save. There was a sting in the tail though – Tullogher had failed to pick up Gary Murphy, who had drifted in to the far post. With no-one around him, the wing-forward had ample time to sweep the loose sliotar to the net.
Two more Dripsey scores, picked off by corner-forwards David Buckley and David O'Sullivan either side of a Liam Barron free – left Tullogher chasing a six-point deficit. The Cork side looked good for their healthy advantage, but hadn't reckoned on their opponents' never-say-die attitude.
Rolled up sleeves
Rather than concede defeat, Tullogher rolled up their sleeves and fought hard to get back into the game. Barron's sixth point of the afternoon kept them going, while he turned provider to set up Shane Ryan for their next score on 43 minutes.
Although O'Riordan replied with another free, a Liam Barron 65 and sweetly-struck point from play by John Barron had the gap down to just a goal with 12 minutes left to play.
At that stage of the game Tullogher found a sudden reserve of energy, and began to pile on the pressure as they surged forward.
Dripsey were on the back-foot, but vitally managed to make sufficient breakaways to keep their grip on the game. One such instance in the 49th minute saw a Walter Walsh charge towards goal stopped and cleared. When the dust settled, play ended with David O'Sullivan swinging over another point for the winners, stretching their lead back to four points (2-13 to 0-15).
With Liam Barron still contributing points, and captain Pat Hartley also lending support to the attack, Tullogher continued to slug it out. They pressed hard for a way back into the game, but it wasn't to be. Despite a gallant effort, one last O'Riordan's point in the final minute left the Kilkennymen with too much of a gap to claw back.
Dripsey – Diarmuid O'Riordan (1-9, 0-5 frees); Gary Murphy (1-0); Mark O'Sullivan, David O'Sullivan (0-2 each); John Carey, David Buckley (0-1 each). Tullogher-Rosbercon – Liam Barron (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-2 65); John Barron (0-4); Richie Dollard, Shane Ryan (0-2 each); Pat Hartley, Eddie Conway (0-1 each).
Tullogher-Rosbercon – M. Roche, J. Hartley, J. Grennan, K. Barron, M. Cotterell, P. Hartley, M. Grennan, J. Cotterell, L. Barron, W. Walsh, M. Bookle, R. Dollard, E. Conway, J. Barron, S. Ryan. Subs: D. Grennan for J. Grennan, 37 mins; E. Mullally for Bookle, 43 mins.
Dripsey – A. Buckley, B. Kelleher, J. O'Mahony, L. Buckley, J. Carey, J. O'Riordan, P. O'Riordan, D. Foley, C. Hayes, G. Murphy, D. O'Riordan, M. O'Sullivan, D. O'Sullivan, J. Hogan, D. Buckley. Subs: J. Murphy for Hogan, 50 mins; G. Manley for Buckley, 56 mins.
Referee – A. Kelly (Galway).