Croker heartache for oh so brave ’Boro

Ballymartle 3-15 (24 pts) Dicksboro 1-20 (23 pts)

Ballymartle 3-15 (24 pts) Dicksboro 1-20 (23 pts)

Scorers: Ballymartle – Barry Dwyer (1-7, 1-3 frees, 0-2 65s’); Darren McCarthy (1-2, goal free); Jamie Dwyer (1-2); Daniel Edmonds (0-2); John Kelly, Dan Dwyer (0-1 each). Dicksboro – Martin Gaffney (0-12, eight frees); Adrian Stapleton (1-2); Paul O’Flynn (0-4); Conor O’Loughlin, Shane Maher (0-1 each).

DICKSBORO will rarely if ever know a crueler day in sport! Beyond the 60 minute mark they were ahead. Beyond the 61st minute mark they remained in front.

Still the Kilkenny side ended up losing this remarkable, topsy-turvy All-Ireland club intermediate hurling final to iron willed Ballymartle (Cork), beaten by a late, late goal from a 45 metre free from which the ball went all the way into the net with time almost up.

There was barely enough time for the puck-out before referee, Alan Kelly, called time on what had been the highest scoring final since the introduction of the competition in 2005.

“I think we might have stolen it on you in the end,” gracious Ballymartle captain, Patrick Dwyer suggested to the opposition during a fine victory speech. “We thank you for a fantastic, sporting game.”

Dicksboro manager, Liam Maher was gutted: “We must congratulate Ballymartle. I don’t often say such things, but I think the better team lost. We learned a lot. We started slowly. We looked in big trouble, but the players showed terrific commitment to get into a match winning position. We were very unfortunate.”

Indeed they were. At one stage during the second half the battling ’Boro forced a serious nine point turn around in fortunes to get into a match winning position and lead of 1-17 to 1-13.

Never for a moment afterwards did they relax. On 54 minutes they were 1-19 to 2-13 to the good. Darren McCarthy snatched a point to keep strength in the Ballymartle chase. Then on 57 minutes free taker Barry Dwyer popped over a free from 50 metres.

Remained brave

The divide was down to the minimum, but the ’Boro remained brave. Nippy corner-forward Adrian Stapleton forced a top class save from fine ’keeper, Declan McCarthy, who was superb all afternoon. Moment later wonderful attacker leader, Martin Gaffney, registered his 12th point to leave Dicksboro within touching distance of what would have been an historic second title.

Ballymartle were like any team in such a position, in frantic mode but chasing without any real direction, yet with absolute intent. With 61.35 showing on the stopwatch Darren McCarthy stood up to a free on the right, 45 metres or so out from the Hill 16 goal.

His shot carried all the way into the top right corner of the Dicksboro net, the second time they had conceded from a long range free during the game.

This time the concession was fatal. Croker Park erupted. Ballymartle made it a super Sunday for Cork teams as they took the title and completed an All-Ireland club double for the county.

Dicksboro reckoned all along that they had a young team that had a lot to learn. There is no doubting their talent, but severe setbacks like this can either break you or make you stronger.

The Kilkenny senior league/championship is going to be some testing ground for the club this season.

How the ’Boro got into a winning position at all was a success story in itself. Ballymartle, well drilled in how to use possession and movement up front to stretch opponents, lashed over six unanswered points during a stunning opening six minutes to make the opposition look like a bunch of novices.

Martin Gaffney, the attack leader and man who made it all happen up front for the losers, tipped over a free after Paul O’Flynn, another huge performer, had been fouled in the seventh minute. By the end of the quarter a stop had been put to the Leesiders gallop as they were reeled in (0-8 to 0-4) with Gaffney (3) and the hard going Conor O’Loughlin doing the scoring.

Left behind unsure start

The ’Boro continued to grow in confidence, leaving behind them a most unsure and unsteady start. With Ollie Walsh joining the big performers, he was the provider of possession when O’Flynn was fouled for the winning of a penalty in the 23rd minute. A well struck penalty by Shane Maher was equally well saved by the goalie.

Minutes later Adrian Stapleton picked up a ball broken by Maher, but again ’keeper McCarthy kept out a stinging shot. Late points from Stapleton, O’Flynn and Gaffney (2), one from play that had been waved wide by the umpires before being awarded by the referee, sliced Ballymartle’s half-time lead to 0-10 to 0-9.

That Dicksboro were even in that position was remarkable in itself. Ballymartle’s shooting had been deadly, with a mere two wides registered.

The winners regained their best scoring touch immediately after the turn. Within two minutes they had added a goal and a point through James Dwyer and Dan Dwyer (1-11 to 0-9) respectively.

Few in the big house would have given tuppence for the losers’ chances at this stage. Yet, by the 37th minute they were back level (1-11 to 0-14); yet again by the 46th minute they were a stunning 1-17 to 1-13 in front and steaming towards victory.

As the light began to fade in Croker, so too did Dicksboro’s chances. Within 90 seconds of they opening out the lead above the Leesiders plucked a goal from virtually nothing.

Trouble ahead

Barry Dwyer arrowed in a free from 60 metres on the Cusack Stand side. With two men attempting a block near the right upright, the ball somehow managed to evade both of them and sneak into the net (1-17 to 2-13). Game on again!

The losers took up the running again with Gaffney and O’Flynn leading the charge and producing the scores that upped the divide to 1-19 to 2-13. It was six minutes from the finish. There was trouble ahead for Dicksboro. They were tripped up just as they looked set to celebrate.

The ’Boro players will have regrets. The challenge now is to turn this setback into a positive. Martin Gaffney and Paul O’Flynn couldn’t have contributed much more to the cause. They were great, plain and simple. Conor O’Loughlin, Michael Fagan, Ollie Walsh, Derek O’Gorman, Adrian Stapleton and Enda Malone all had bright moments here and there, but consistency was a problem.

Ballymartle’s heroes were many, including Patrick Dwyer, Barry Dwyer, Darren McCarthy, who produced a massive finish, Michael Tobin, excellent goalie Declan McCarthy and John Kelly.

Dicksboro – Sam Morrissey, David Glynn, Kieran Cuddihy, Philly Hogan, Michael Fagan, Danny Kenny, Enda Malone, Derek O’Gorman, Conor O’Loughlin, Paul O’Flynn, Martin Gaffney, Ollie Walsh, Cillian Starr, Shane Maher, Adrian Stapleton. Subs – Kevin Nolan for O’Gorman 53rd min; Tom Manning for Starr 57th min.

Ballymartle – D. McCarthy, D. Coleman, M. Tobin, D. Dwyer, J. Kelly, P. Dwyer, N.Sheehan, S. Corry, G. Webb, B. Dwyer, R. Dwyer, D. Edmonds, D. McCarthy, D. Dwyer, J. Dwyer. Subs – C. Coleman for D. Dwyer (inj) 28th min; M. O’Mahony for G. Webb 36th min; B. Coleman for N. Sheehan 47th min; S. O’Mahony for D. Edmonds 56th min; P. Coughlan for J. Dwyer 57th min.

Referee – A. Kelly (Galway).

The Roll of Honours

2005 – Kildangan (Tipperary) 2-18, Carrickshock (Kilkenny) 0-9.

2006 – Dicksboro (Kilkenny) 2-16, Ballinhassig (Cork) 2-10.

2007 – Robert Emmets (London) 2-16, Killimordaly (Galway) 2-8.

2008 – Clonkill (Westmeath) 0-19, Tommy Larkins (Galway) 1-9.

2009 – Blarney (Cork) 2-15, Cappataggle (Galway) 0-18.

2010 – St Lachtain’s (Kilkenny) 1-18, St Gall’s (Antrim) 0-9.

2011 – Ballymartle (Cork) 3-15, Dicksboro (Kilkenny) 1-20.