Nenagh Eire Og successfully defended their Clean Ireland Recycling county minor A hurling title for the third time in their history as an absorbing encounter came to a controversial and dramatic ending at Semple Stadium on Sunday.
With Holycross Ballycahill a point down in the last minute, a penalty was awarded following a foul on Ciaran Maher. But, an attempt to introduce a new sliothar resulted in referee Paddy Ivors (Ballingarry) over turning the penalty and instead throwing the ball in. It was chance gone for the Mid men and a devastating end to what had been a gripping minor decider.
It was all Holycross Ballycahill in the early stages as they dominated from the off. But, despite their possession, they failed to put proportionate scores on the board. They had raced into a 0-4 to nill lead thanks to a brace from Jamie Woods, and Brian Hanrahan and Paraic Russell scores to leave them comfortable. But, Nenagh Eire Og hit back and when Gary Howard had their first in the 10th minute they began to match their rivals on the scoreboard.
Matty Stakelum and Donnacha Quinn traded points as did Quinn again and Liam Moloney - a fine score which was matched by a third from Quinn from distance. Holycross Ballycahill were 0-7 to 0-5 to the good when Killian Gleeson goalled for Nenagh Eire Og and the complexion of the game changed. It was hard to believe that Gleeson’s 28th minute strike would see Nenagh into the interval with thier noses in front - little did we know what was to follow.
Another Quinn point swapped with a Peter Gavin one for Holycross left the margin at one point, but James Mackey was about to change all that when he grabbed a second Nenagh goal in five minutes - three minutes into injury time. The score meant that the defending champions, incredibly, led by 2-6 to 0-9 at the break - Stephen Ryan grabbing the last score of the half for Holycross Ballycahill with a pointed free.
Credit to Nenagh, they had come back into the game in the last ten minutes, but for the way they were playing they could hardly have expected a three point advantage.
Holycross Ballycahill struck five points in the third quarter to bring them right back into it - Brian Hanrahan, Jamie Woods, Luke O’Mara and two superb scores from Liam Moloney, cancelling Donncha Quinn (2) -one of them a fabulous sideline cut - and Anthony Walsh scores for Nenagh. A brilliant save by Brian Gubbins from Peter Gavin in the 15th kept Holycross at bay, but Gavin struck two minutes later when he got a touch on a Jamie Woods sideline cut to rattle the Nenagh net and shove his side back in front again.
It was a lead short lived and after both sides had squandered goal chances, Quinn struck another sideline cut in the 21st minute which ended up in the Holycross net giving his side a 2 point advantage.
The exchanges were brisk and sharp and a superb Liam Moloney point, struck over his shoulder levelled the game only for Quinn to push Nenagh in front again with three to go.
Then came the controversy after Ciaran Maher was fouled as he advanced on goal in the 30th minute.
Holycross Ballycahill certainly deserved a draw and while they had their chances and missed a few, nobody could take from their effort on the day. They showed tremendous fighting spirit and pride in their jersey and with the likes of Shane Ryan, Liam Moloney, Conor Ryan, Jack Skehan, Peter Gavin and Brian Hanrahan leading them, they took the fight to a fancied Nenagh side. They came up just short on what was a very cruel and painful end for them.
Nenagh Eire Og’s successful defence of the crown makes up, in some way for defeat in the senior a week previously. They got the goals which mattered and with players like Barry Heffernan, Donnacha Quinn, Andrew Coffey, James Mackey, James Molumphy and Killian Gleeson they were always going to be a force to be reckoned with. Crowding their defense towards the end worked out, but only just. Congratulations to them on retaining the silverware -they had done likewise in 1991/’92 and 1977/’78 .
Teams and Scorers: Nenagh Eire Og: B Gubbins, C Ryan, M Collins, G O’Gorman, A Geaney, B Heffernan, J Molumphy, A Coffey, J mackey 1-00, J Cahalan, D Quinn 1-8, K Gleeson 1-0, A Walsh 0-1, G Howard 0-1, P Hickey.
Holycross Ballycahill: S Skelly, D Carroll, C Ryan, K O’Dwyer, R Nally, S Ryan 0-2, J Skehan, M Stakelum 0-1, P Russell 0-1, L O’Mara 0-1, C Maher, L Moloney 0-4, J Woods 0-3, P Gavin 1-1, B Hanrahan 0-2. Subs: C Hehir for K O’Dwyer.
Referee: P Ivors