St Mullins 2-17
Mount Leinster Rangers 1-19
By Kieran Murphy
THIS was a day when the famous South Carlow club looked adversary straight between the eyes and defied it. This was a day where good young hurlers put in huge performances and joined the ranks of great St Mullins hurlers both past and present. This was a day where the pressure was on the leaders within the team. They delivered. While it might not be fair to single out one player, this was a day where Marty Kavanagh produced his best ever performance on any hurling field. With this display at Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday in the senior hurling final, he confirmed once and for all he has to be considered one of the best players Carlow and St Mullins have ever produced.
Rangers were going for a second three-in-a-row in their history. They started well with Denis Murphy converting two frees. Kavanagh gave an inkling of what was to come when he picked off a nice point and levelled with a free.
Playing deep he was hoovering up possession nearer his own half-back line rather than on the half-forward line where his number 12 jersey suggested he should be positioned. The tactic paid off and after one run he off-loaded to Patrick Boland who bisected the posts at the scoreboard end of the ground. The 20-year-old was beginning to enjoy his first start in a senior final. Twelve minutes in with St Mullins ahead by 0-5 to 0-3 a high ball dropped between Boland and his marker. Keeping his eye on the ball, the St Mullins man swung in the air and the sliotar ended up in the back of the net.
Two minutes later all St Mullins’ good work looked set to be undone when Ger Coady was sent off for what looked like a dangerous frontal challenge on Jon Nolan. It was a controversial decision by Paud O’Dwyer who is considered to be one of the top referees in the country. It would be interesting to see a video of the incident. Many onlookers afterwards said that the match official’s reaction to the foul suggested there was one law for top intercounty players and another for club players. So early in the game and against a side like Mount Leinster Rangers, the dismissal looked like a match changer. Denis Murphy’s resultant free was successfully converted to leave only four points between them.
“It is something we had to get on with. Lads didn’t react badly. We had to get lads back from the forwards,” said John Doran, the experienced St Mullins right-half back.
Marty ‘Mouse’ Kavanagh shrugged off this double whammy and once again exhorted his men. Another of his cuts into the heart of the Rangers defence saw the St Mullins captain off-load to Seamus Murphy and his rocket beat Dean Grennan.
Rangers hit back and when the St Mullins defence was exposed in Coady’s absence Denis Murphy scored his side’s only goal on 24 minutes. St Mullins reacted to the concession with Kavanagh slotting two more points and James Doyle scoring his second point of the half. Going in leading at half-time 2-12 to 1-9, St Mullins braced themselves for the inevitable Rangers surge.
“We talked about that at half-time, that they would get a run at us at some stage. Sometimes when you are winning by a good few and teams starting pulling you back you can drop the head. We talked about that,” Doran explained.
Denis Murphy’s 31st-minute free set the comeback in motion. He added two more while Diarmuid Byrne found the posts from distance. When Chris Nolan took a pass from Ted Joyce and scored there was only one between them. While Kavanagh landed a free, it was his bone-shuddering tackle on Paul Coady which indicated St Mullins were not finished yet.
The final quarter was a fascinating affair. With Rangers trailing by a point Eddie Byrne got inside the Mullins defence. A goal would surely have won it. Instead two St Mullins defenders combined to deny the Rangers forward.
Crucially, Rangers never got their noses in front. James Doyle’s 55th-minute point was cancelled out by Denis Murphy’s 13th free of the game. Going into the 64th minute Rangers came in search of a winner. St Mullins dug deep to keep their line intact.
They changed defence into attack and when the ball was delivered long, Seamus Murphy rose high to collect. They kept their heads well to retain possession. This time Jason O’Neill took on the responsibility and from about 35 metres out his strike soared through the air and inside the posts.
There was time for no more. St Mullins were champions in a fascinating and engrossing encounter.
John Doran suggested it was Marty Kavanagh’s best ever performance. He wasn’t forgetting those around him either.
“Any match that I have played it was the best performance I have seen from anyone. I have to say James Doyle’s performance in the semi-final last week against Ballinkillen, there would be nothing here today without his scores in extra-time. He does fierce work. Jason O’Neill’s point, Seamus Murphy’s catch today. Everybody had something to give.”
So, a 27th senior title for St Mullins. The sweetest of them all? Without the suspended Jack Kavanagh and down to 14 players for three-quarters of the game? Possibly so.
St Mullins: Kevin Kehoe; Chris Kavanagh, Paul Doyle, Gary Bennett; John Doran, Michael Walsh, Ger Coady; James Doyle (0-3), Oisin Boland; Patrick Walsh, Seamus Murphy (1-1), Marty Kavanagh (0-10, 0-5 frees); Jason O’Neill (0-2), Patrick Boland (1-1), Philip Connors. Subs: Peter Fortune for P Walsh (48 mins), Oisin Ryan for Boland (61 mins).
Mount Leinster Rangers: Dean Grennan; Willie Hickey, Dara Tobin, Michael Doyle; Kevin McDonald, Richard Coady, Richard Kelly; Diarmuid Byrne (0-1), Jack Murphy; Jon Nolan (0-2), Ted Joyce (0-1), David Phelan; Denis Murphy (1-13, 0-13 frees), Chris Nolan (0-2), Eddie Byrne. Subs: Paul Coady for Phelan (28 mins), Derek Byrne for Kelly (33 mins), Michael Malone for Tobin (62 mins).
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Palatine)