St Mullins 2-17
Rathdowney Errill 1-19
By Kieran Murphy
ST Mullins made history at Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday when they dug deep to edge their Laois rivals in a thrilling Leinster club senior hurling championship semi-final. There couldn’t have been any neutrals here. It was one side or the other and no matter who you were following, supporters were put through the mill from the beginning all the way to the final whistle.
In the end the green and whites dug just that little deeper to become the second ever Carlow side to qualify for a Leinster senior decider.
This was a contest good enough to stand alongside any of the great battles which the county grounds has seen. That makes it even sweeter.
As anticipated, there was always going to be a scoring battle between the two Kavanaghs: Mark from Rathdowney Errill and Marty from the Carlow champions. In the end the two were tied: 1-9 to 0-12.
In the county semi-final it was James Doyle more than anyone else who saved his side with a haul of 0-8 against Ballinkillen. Here he was rightly adjudged to have been the man of the match, finding 0-5 from play and slotting the two late points which saw his side through.
In an intensely exciting game, Shane Madden’s 58th-minute point looked set to be the decisive strike. St Mullins were required to dig as deep as they have ever done. Enter Doyle.
When he ran at the Rathdowney Errill defence he made enough space at the scoreboard end of the ground and from just 45 metres out he got enough on his shot which was equally as accurate to level the game.
All around the field St Mullins players geared themselves for a last-ditch effort. Their defiance reaped the rewards and again the ball worked its way towards Doyle left of goal. With another clean strike, the tables were turned. St Mullins were one point ahead.
Rathdowney were chasing the game now. They had one last chance which fell to midfielder Paddy Purcell. He had been immense all through, but underneath the stand on the right-hand side of the pitch he had to watch in horror as his effort drifted just wide of the right-hand upright. The final whistle on the puck-out signalled the St Mullins victory.
They deserved it. Twice in the first half they needed goals to keep their challenge intact. Ahead by a point on nine minutes, the visitors scored a goal when Purcell ran at the heart of the St Mullins defence and fired home. It was important the south Carlow team hit back with at least a point. They did better than that as Kavanagh found Paddy Boland for a vital St Mullins goal.
Rathdowney Errill reacted well to the concession and points from Mark Kavanagh, Ross King, Jack Kelly and James Ryan saw them ease ahead again. This time Marty Kavanagh took on the responsibility to run at the Rathdowney Errill defence for the second St Mullins goal. From there to the end it was two sides slugging it out in warrior fashion.
Some of the scores from both sides were out of the top drawer. At half-time Mark Kavanagh’s free put Rathdowney Errill ahead by 1-10 to 2-6.
From the moments James Doyle and Seamus Murphy slotted a point each within a minute of the restart, the tie rattled and hummed all the way to the dramatic conclusion.
Having hit seven wides in the first half, St Mullins needed to be less profligate. Both sides created a number of goal chances in the first half with Kevin Kehoe denying Rathdowney’s Joe Fitzpatrick early on while at the other end Damian Madden kept out an effort from James Doyle.
Despite the high scoring, defences did well. Gary Bennett cleared a mountain of ball for St Mullins. When the game was finely balanced, John Doran twice rampaged out to clear danger.
A brilliant block by a Rathdowney Errill defender ensured Marty Kavanagh wouldn’t get in a telling shot on 41 minutes.
Forwards earned their scores with nothing soft given away. Nine times in the game the sides were tied, including three times in the last 10 minutes as each side reached out for victory.
Then St Mullins went that little bit higher to take their place in a provincial decider. It was a privilege to be there.
St Mullins: Kevin Kehoe; John Doran, Paul Doyle, Gary Bennett; Chris Kavanagh, Ger Coady, Oisin Boland; Mick Walsh, Jack Kavanagh; Seamus Murphy (0-2), Marty Kavanagh (1-9, 0-5 frees), Paddy Walsh; Jason O’Neill (0-1), James Doyle (0-5), Paddy Boland (1-0). Sub: Philly Connors for P Walsh (41 mins).
Rathdowney Errill; Damien Madden; Jimmy Corrigan, Brian Campion, John Purcell; Joe Fitzpatrick, Jack Kelly (0-1), Eric Killeen; John Keane, Paddy Purcell (1-1); James Ryan (0-1), Mark Kavanagh (0-12, 0-5 frees, 65), Shane Dollard; Paddy McCane (0-1), Ross King (0-2), Brandon McGinley. Subs: Kevin O’Dea for Keane (40 mins), Shane Madden (0-1) for Dollard (45 mins), Ray Bowe for McGinley (46 mins).
Referee: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny).