DEFENDING champions, James Stephens gained the upper-hand during a good spell immediately after the break when they made good gains, and they never looked like surrendering the advantage when sailing through with some easy into the senior hurling league final.
Carrickshock, the conquerors of the city side in the championship last season, never looked like repeating that result. They suffered no doubt through the absence of Kilkenny duo, Michael Rice and John Dalton, who sat out the action because they were nursing injuries, but there was no real bite or zest to the losers’ play, even when backed by the fresh breeze during the opening half.
To be honest, it was all very sombre in Callan on Saturday but ’Stephens new manger, Niall Rigney won’t have minded. There was a good work ethic among his troops, the focus was tops and there was decent fluency to their play during their best moments.
As well, ’Stephens have introduced a lot of young and promising players, and the experience of the League campaign, plus an appearance in the final, won’t do their development any harm at all.
Four times during the opening half the scores were level. If that suggested some form of sizzling action, don’t be fooled. The play appeared to meander more than gallop along, although a few lovely moments lit up the greyness, including a diving save by ’Stephens goalie Derrick Brennan when a ball came back into play off an upright, a 24th minute pointed free from the sideline on the right at the town end by David Walton and a graceful point posted by Pat Tennyson from way inside his own half in the 25th minute.
Besides it was very average stuff. Early on Walton and John Power traded points from frees, and then Paddy Mulcahy and Diarmuid Cody did likewise.
The Village gained the advantage with points from Eoin Larkin, after winning possession following a long free by Donnacha Cody, and Walton (free), but the tit-for-tat nature of things continued when John Power hit back at the double (0-4 each).
The divide went up to a pair of points again after that before minors from Richie Power (free) and John Power, after a lovely 1-2 passing movement with his aforementioned brother, left it all square with normal time completed.
’Stephens went to the dressing-room ahead, however. Into lost time Donnacha Cody placed a low, angled ball nicely for out-rushing right corner-forward, Jack McGrath, who snapped up possession before shooting his side 0-8 to 0-7 in front at the rest.
The early minutes of the new half proved to be the game changing time. ’Stephens strung together 1-2 to gain a bit of breathing space. The blast appeared to fill the ’Stephens lungs with oxygen. That gave them greater power for the job, while the concessions knocked a bit of fight out of the opposition.
A foul on the much more involved Matt Ruth was turned into a score by the unerring David Walton after three minutes. The next score was a pointed 65 from the same player.
Within seconds Ruth was involved big time again. This time he snapped up a poor puck-out by the losers and punched a hole in the opposing defence before releasing David McCormack for a run at goal.
The latter used the possession well, and rifled home a goal from 14-metres. The difference jumped up to 1-10 to 0-7.
’Stephens were in control from there to the end, and some of their aimed puck-outs were so accurate and judiciously placed they caused the opposition big trouble. That aspect of their game was very impressive too.
Carrickshock tried to get something going when Richie and Andrew Power put points back-to-back nearing the end of the third quarter. The winners’ response was strong. David McCormack blasted over a great point from the sideline on the left (1-12 to 0-10) that appeared to lift all around him.
During the following minutes Walton, Jackie Tyrrell, after a powerful run up the middle of the field, and Eoin Larkin, after taking a lovely pass from Ruth, all found the target as The Village secured their position. Walton and Larkin continued the one-sided scoring run, which left ’Stephens all but out of sight with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Had a casual observer happened upon Callan he wouldn’t have been in any doubt but this wasn’t do-or-die stuff. It was a useful exercise for ’Stephens, who look to be progressing nicely.
The make-up of their defence changed during the game, but no matter what the shape, it performed well with Jackie Tyrrell keeping a very, very tight rein on fellow county man, Richie Power. Larkin, Walton and Ruth were all very good in an attack that ran up a fine score. This was a good outing for The Village.
What of Carrickshock? The loss of Rice and Dalton, not to mention the powerhouse that is John Tennyson, hurt them, and badly. They have much work to do before the championship it would appear.
James Stephens – Derrick Brennan, John Comerford, Tomas Keogh, Patrick Butler, Conor McQuillan, Jackie Tyrrell, Donnacha Cody, Niall McQuillan, Niall Tyrrell, David Walton, Matt Ruth, David McCormack, Diarmuid Cody, Eoin Larkin, Jack McGrath. Subs – Gary Whelan for Diarmuid Cody; Richie Hayes for J. McGrath; Michael Morris for D. McCormack.
Carrickshock – Patrick Farrell, Darren O’Dwyer, John Murphy, Richie Frisby, Niall Tennyson, Pat Tennyson, John Cahill, John Butler, Shane Power, Niall Rohan, John Power (Stoneyford), Jamie Power, Paddy Mulcahy, Richie Power, Michael Rohan. Subs – William Hoyne for N. Rohan; Andrew Power for J. Butler; Brian Donovan for P. Mulcahy; Damien Walsh for Jamie Power.
Referee – Gavin Quilty (Slieverue).