Kilkenny champions, the Rower-Inistioge will have a chance to put their famous name in lights in Croke Park on Saturday week.
The Kilkenny intermediate club hurling kings did the business in the semi-final against Clooney Gaels in Navan on Sunday to book a place in the decider against either Youghal (Cork) or Kilnadeema/Leitrim (Galway).
The big showdown will be played under lights.
“Semi-finals are all about winning,” was the down to earth assessment from Rower selector, Pat Dunphy. “It was all about winning the match and getting to Croke Park. It is a great feeling to be looking forward to going there with the club.”
Really, the Rower’s big day out was booked in the opening minute of the second half when alert corner-forward, Ciaran Ryan, lashed a rebounding ball into the Clooney net. That spectacular score shot the winners ahead, and with the strong wind in their backs, there was no holding them from there on.
Indeed, the Kilkenny champions could afford the luxury of shooting 19 wides without paying a penalty. The losers were totally over run during this half, and never got a shot at goal, nor did they register a wide.
The only touch of the ball the Rower goalie, Liam Tierney, got during this half was when he came off his line to collect and clear a shot that dropped short.
The Rower backroom team of Ger Morrissey (manager), Pat Dunphy, Robbie Hennessy and Sports Facilitator, Michael Muldowney, will get a chance to run the rule over the opposition this weekend because the other semi-final fell victim to the weather.
The Noresiders did see the Leesiders play in a challenge match against Leinster club senior champions, Mount Leinster Rangers, but this time it will be the real thing.
“We are not particularly concerned about who we have to play, although it is always nice to know something about the opposition,” Mr Dunphy continued. “A final is all about how you perform on the day. We will concentrate on that - getting our own performance right and we will see where that takes us.”
“I suppose you could view this whole adventure as a three stage thing. First there was Kilkenny; then Leinster and then the All-Ireland. We have reached part three of a three part journey, and we will do all in our power to complete the job successfully.”
The Antrim side opened backed by the strong wind, but with all six Rower backs on top of their game, they were not allowed make much headway.
The opening six points were equally divided, and parity was shared three times. Clooney edged in front with points from P.J. O’Connell and Donal Graham in the 14th and 15th minutes (0-5 to 0-3).
There was an exchange of points after that before the Rower finished the half with back to back scores from Sean Grace and Michael Grace (65) to cut the deficit at the interval to 0-6 to 0-7.
Team captain Michael Grace nabbed six of the winners scores, a healthy take in what were trying conditions after torrential rain on Sunday morning led to a heavy pitch.
The second half was barely a minute old when Clooney goalie, Patrick Graham had to take the ball from the back of his net. He batted out a long free by Michael Grace. Ciaran Ryan met the loose ball perfectly. Whoosh! No one saw ball in flight. It simply fell dead in the back of the net.
Croker in sight
The Rower were 1-6 to 0-7 ahead. Croker was within sight.
The next score was also taken by Ciaran Ryan, from play. Michael Grace and David Lyng added minors to up the divide to 1-9 to 0-7 as the losers began to go backwards at a rate of knots.
Padraig Tierney also found the target before the end of the third quarter, by which stage the Kilkenny champions had the ticket into the final wrapped up.
Their strong half-back line of Ruari Galavan, Kieran Joyce and Sean Lyster didn’t give the opposition a look in. The verdict was that all in the Rower ranks did well!
“We started out last year hoping to win the Kilkenny title, and now we could end up as All-Ireland champions,” Pat Dunphy said. “It is hard to believe, but then again, the players have worked very, very hard to what they have achieved to date.
“They won’t relax now. There is something huge ahead for the entire community to enjoy, but for the players it is still about hard work. There are no easy options at this level of any competition.”
The trophy for the All-Ireland club intermediate champions is currently in residence in Kilkenny. Clara won the title 12 months ago, and look where they ended up this season.
SCORERS: Rower-Inistioge - Michael Grace (0-6, two frees, one 65); Ciaran Ryan (1-1); David Lyng (0-2); Sean Grace, Kieran Joyce (free), James Cashin, Padraig Tierney, Conor Joyce (0-1 each). Clooney Gaels - Gerard Graham (0-2, frees); P.J. O’Connell (0-2, one free); Donal Graham (0-1 each).
Rower Inistioge - Liam Tierney; Eoin Doyle, Sean Cummins, James Doyle; Ruari Galavan, Kieran Joyce, Tadhg Leahy; Sean Grace, Joe Lyng; Michael Grace, David Lyng, Padraig Tierney; Cathal Bolger, Tom Murphy, Ciaran Ryan. Subs - James Cashin for Murphy (47th min); Paul Sheehan for Bolger (53rd min); Conor Joyce for Tierney (55th min).
Clooney Gaels - Patrick Graham; Eamon Brady, Francis Neeson, Christopher McGlone; Fionnbar O’Neill, Diarmuid Graham, Neil O’Connell; Dominic Neeson, Martin Graham; Gerard Graham, Thomas McGlone, Sean O’Connell; Eoin Graham, P.J. O’Connell, Ddonal Graham. Subs - Joseph Downey for M. Graham (39th min); Eoin Neeson for Brady (44th min); James O’Connell for G. Graham (50th min).
Referee - Shane Hourigan (Limerick).
PS - Mr Hourigan was killed in a tragic road accident on Monday. He was also the referee in last year’s All-Ireland minor hurling semi-final between Kilkenny and Waterford.