Having already annexed the county football championship and the South junior hurling ‘B’ league titles, the Rower-Inistioge went nap on Saturday when they defeated Ballinkillen (Carlow) in the South junior hurling league Roinn A in Graignamanagh.
These are glory, glory days for the Rower, and with the intermediate hurling team enjoying top billing in their group of the league, everything in the garden looks rosy, at the moment.
However, there is still a huge amount of hurling to be done before the ‘against the odds’ stages of the many championship start, and the various protagonists pull out into the open choppy waters of the serious business of knock-out competition.
But I’m sure that the Rower will enjoy what is happening to their club presently. It is about winning, and any man who tells me that a winning habit will make no difference in the long run is a loser. A winning habit has the same effect as a rising tide, it lifts all boats.
Before getting into the hurling action, a word in commendation for the effort by the Graignamanagh club in having their premises in pristine condition for visitors, players and spectators. The pitch is billiard-table level, with a sod to rival the best around.
The white lines were absolutely straight as a rush and glistening. Their two serviceable stands act as a spectator convenience and as a dug-out for the competing teams. They provided linesmen for this final, and their hospitality for the visiting South Board, match officials and press was thoughtful.
And so to the match.
Lest we forget, can we say that this final was a thoroughly entertaining, fine piece of hurling endeavour, played at a fast pace, with plenty of honest endeavour, good nuggets of skill and very well refereed by John Bennett, the Tullogher official.
Ballinkillen could have won but they were denied the ultimate accolade by a combination of poor shooting, over-use of the hand pass and their inability to punch home a goal or two. They also shot an inordinate number of wides, many of which were of a rather easy variety.
The Rower won having ridden their luck a little. A Neil Lyng effort in the 8th minute, for instance, from nearly 70 metres from the Ballinkillen goal could not in the wildest dreams of the most supreme optimist have been expected to force an umpire to raise a green flag. That is what happened!
The winners were lucky too to have David Dunphy in such inspirational form guarding the net. He made a string of good to unbelievable saves, and for one in particular in the 28th minute, with his side under pressure from the marauding Ballinkillen, he put his body on the line to deflect a point-blank shot from Sean Murphy out for a 65. It was only one of many, and he certainly merited the man-of-the-match accolade being meted out by the Rower support at the end of an enthralling encounter.
Not too far behind Dunphy was the Ballinkillen centre-back, David English, who was majestic. Time and again he stood between his side and many Inistioge attacks coming down the middle of the park. His free-taking was perfection, hitting six from six.
Even in the latter stages, when his side threw caution to the wind in search of victory, he strode like a Roman gladiator, ball stuck to his hurley towards the Rower goal area with a steaming defiance in his every step. John James Kenny could have been many people’s choice as their man-of-the-match, and few could argue, particularly when judged in context of his second half display.
The Carlow men were first out of traps when Marty Dalton shot a point. Within six minutes Cathal Bolger levelled matters with a free, and then we had that Neil Lyng goal from 70 metres. That really was an exocet missile into the gut for the Ballinkillen men.
The Rower opened up a four-point lead by the 19th minute, but the Ballinkillen outfit came back with a necklace of four unanswered points to tie up the game at the 24-minute mark. Sean Murphy bagged three of the points, while English helped out with a long-distance free.
It would not be his last effort.
At half-time the winners were ahead by 1-7 to 0-6.
On the resumption, Daryl Roberts narrowed the divide by a point after three minutes, but J.J. Kenny wiped out the advantage. English brought the game to a goal differential, and then Tom Murphy slammed home a game-changing goal in the 39th minute.
It left many Rower supporters puzzled that the mentors saw fit to replace Conor Lyng after that goal, considering that it would never have been registered but for the Herculean effort made by Lyng. It is doubtful too if some of the first half scores might have seen a scoreboard but for the assists by the courageous full-forward.
The rest of the second half was thrill-a-minute stuff, enjoyed by all. The passion on the pitch was well matched by a similar mood among the fans.
Ballinkillen were well served by John Hughes, Colm Hughes, Craig Wall, Sean Murphy, Marty Dalton, and of course the outstanding David English.
The Rower Inistioge will relish this win. They will celebrate it for a few days, but it is back to business smartly. Nicky Kenny, Sean Cummins, John Murphy were a solid full-back line. Neil Lyng and David Tennyson hurled with tremendous gusto as wing backs, while Sean Grace was outstanding.
Up front Tom Murphy, Cathal Bolger, Padraig Tierney, Michael Doyle and Conor Lyng clocked in a good shift, but there is no doubting that the contributions of Dunphy and John James Kenny were central to a great team victory.
Scorers: Rower-Inistioge - John James Kenny (0-6, one 65, two frees); Neil Lyng (1-1); Tom Murphy (1-0); Cathal Bolger (0-2, one free); David Dunphy (0-2, frees); Sean Grace, Padraig Tierney (0-1 each). Ballinkillen - David English (0-6, frees); Sean Murphy (0-3); Marty Dalton (0-2); Daryl Roberts, Craig Wall (0-1 each).
Rower-Inistioge - David Dunphy, Nicky Kenny, Sean Cummins, John Murphy, Neil Lyng, Padraig Lyng, David Tennyson, Sean Grace, John James Kenny, Padraig Ryan, Tom Murphy, Padraig Tierney, Cathal Bolger, Conor Lyng, Michael Doyle. Subs - Dean Kehoe, Danny Cottrell, Dillon Kehoe.
Ballinkillen - Martin Minchin, John Hughes, Michael Ryan, Lauren Kinsella, Colm Hughes, David English, Padraig Kinsella, Craig Wall, Darren Dalton,Andrew Gaule, Vincent Meaney, Sean Murphy, Marty Minchin, Damien O’Neill, Daryl Roberts. Subs - Declan Foley, John Ryan, Declan Foley.
Referee - John Bennett (Tullogher).