Cheered off the field by well-wishers, it was no surprise that Rower-Inistioge captain Michael Grace floated back to the dressing-room!
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said, trophy in hand as he spoke to the ’People after a whirlwind finale to Sunday’s intermediate county hurling final.
After posing for photos and shaking every hand, it was a tired Grace who leaned against the wall opposite the dressing-room. However, he still had enough energy to praise his team-mates.
“When Taggy (Aidan Fogarty) got that second goal from a free it looked like their tails were up,” he said of opponents Emeralds (Urlingford).
“It was a challenge for us but that’s where the quality of the panel came through- James Cassin, Padraig Tierney, Conor Joyce - they were the difference in the end and helped us to get over the line. We rattled off three points in the last few minutes and I think all three lads had a hand in the scores.
“That proves the strength of the panel and that it’s not just a 15-man game,” he added, as victory began to sink in. “Jesus, we’re delighted with that win!”
The roars coming from the changing room reinforced just how much Sunday’s win meant to the entire club.
“We are a club with a proud history,” said Grace. “We’ve been down in the intermediate grade for 25 years.
“25 years,” he repeated, as if to emphasise the length of time the Rower have endured life in Kilkenny hurling’s middle ground. “We’re the longest serving team at intermediate level.
“If we hadn’t won the final I don’t know what would have happened,” he wondered aloud. “We had to get over the line; we knew if we hurled to our capacity that we could win the match but we couldn’t take Emeralds for granted.”
Having lost the 2011 final the Rower went into Sunday’s game wanting to make amends. Their faith never wavered, even after Aidan Fogarty got that second goal to level the match.
“These days don’t come around too often, and whatever final you play in Kilkenny it’s tough to win,” Grace noted. “I never thought the game was gone from us, even when they got their tails up.”
That belief went right through the team.
“If it had been a few years ago heads would have dropped but this year it’s been different,” he said.
“When we played Thomastown in the quarter-finals they got three goals against us, but we came back harder. Ballyragget (St Patrick’s) got a late goal against us in the semi-final and we did the same by coming back harder again.
Heads never dropped
“We haven’t dropped our heads all year,” he said. “Thankfully it was the same in the final.
“There was pressure in the 2011 final, which maybe affected us, but we never thought about it this time or about how we had to get those 25 years out of our system. We forgot about it and focused on the job in hand.
“The team is different,” he added. “There is a steel in the team this year. Every man knew he had a job to do. We knew that if we stuck to our task that we’d win.”
The champions were helped by a fabulous start, as they rattled off 1-3 within four minutes
“We have a tendency of starting late in matches,” he said. “We said to ourselves that two years ago Danesfort got the start and we found it hard to get back into the game.
“We felt that if we could get a goal it would be great - two would have been better! - as they are always hard to claw back. It’s always the goals that win matches. We came out of the traps with all guns blazing and got the scores we needed.”