A goal by Robert O’Driscoll with seven minutes of normal time left proved the decisive score in this thrilling Evening Echo county SHC final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
On a memorable afternoon in front of 12,136 spectators, youthful Sarsfields bridged a gap of 51 years, and given the age profile of their team, they could be around for a while.
Down by two points and struggling to stay in contention, Sars needed inspiration if they were to turn this cliff-hanger around, and it came from their captain Kieran Murphy.
Switched to centre forward from midfield for the second half, Murphy took off on a run before passing inside to the unmarked O’Driscoll who found the net with a powerful strike to edge his side in front. They stayed there for the remaining ten minutes — three were added — before the final whistle sparked incredible scenes of jubilation.
When Sars were in serious trouble at centre-back they moved Joe Barry out from full-back and he proceeded to minimise the threat of Rovers centre forward Jerome O’Driscoll.
Pat Ryan ensured Sars won the midfield exchanges in the second half, contributing six points, while Michael Cussen could become a dual inter-county player if he wants to. With little or no hurling done due to his inter-county football commitments with the county senior team, he scored 1-2 and was ‘Man of the Match’.
Bride Rovers can take a lot of credit for making this one of the best county senior finals in years: appearing in their first ever senior decider, they led their more fancied opponents from the 15th minute, after Kieran Collins flicked home a goal, up until O’Driscoll’s goal. But a number of their more experienced players seemed to flag on the run-in, though they never gave up.
Despite falling two points behind in the opening five minutes, they thundered into the game to level it after ten minutes, before hitting the front with Collins’ goal five minutes later.
Jerome O’Driscoll sparkled at centre forward and his accuracy had the Sars youngsters in all sorts of trouble. He created the goal for Collins after a great run and with Sean Ryan equally effective on his right and Barry Johnson dominant at midfield, the Rovers were full value for their half time lead of 1-8 to 0-6.
Sars moved to remedy their problems at centre back, midfield and up front by bringing Joe Barry out to centre back on O’Driscoll, moving Tadgh Óg Murphy to midfield, and sending Kieran Murphy to centre forward and all three moves worked well for them — but not before Jerome O’Driscoll had stretched the Rovers lead to six points after the break.
Michael Cussen curled over a delightful point to spark off his side’s comeback and when Cussen changed the direction of Tadgh Óg Murphy’s long delivery for a goal in the 39th minute, the scene was set for a grandstand finish.
Jerome O’Driscoll eased the pressure on Rovers with a point, but Sars hurled with tremendous pace and skill, and they drew level.
Sub Daniel Roche chipped in with a point as Sars, with Ryan showing his class at midfield, came forward in waves. After O’Driscoll’s crucial goal, the Riverstown side had the bit firmly between their teeth.
Tadgh Óg Murphy added a long range point to edge Sars further in front, however it wasn’t plain sailing and they’ll be forever grateful to goalkeeper Alan Kennedy for a superb save to deny Michael Collins.
As they have done all season, Sars finished strongly and points by Cussen and Kieran Murphy had them four up as the game wound down. Rovers didn’t fold but after Jerome O’Driscoll added his fourth point from a free, Pat Ryan restored Sars’ four-point advantage with the 60 minutes up.
Three minutes were added and in that time the Rovers threw everything at Sars, and when Sean Ryan first-timed Jerome O’Driscoll’s 65 to the net, there was still time to pull this enthralling final out of the fire.
The crowd would have settled for a draw — and Bride Rovers would have deserved it for their efforts — but they couldn’t get the ball up the field in the remaining minutes. The final whistle set in train a pitch invasion by young and old Sars fans who thought this day would never come.
Scorers for Sarsfields: P Ryan 0-6 (0-4f); M Cussen 1-2; R O’Driscoll 1-0; K Murphy 0-2; C McCarthy, D Kearney, D Roche, T Og Murphy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Bride Rovers: S Ryan 1-3; J O’Driscoll 0-6 (0-4f); K Collins 1-0; B Johnson 0-2 (f); M Collins, R Cahill 0-1 each.
SARSFIELDS: A Kennedy; R Ryan, J Barry, C O’Sullivan; D Kearney, C Leahy, B McCarthy; P Ryan, K Murphy; C McCarthy, R Murphy, M Cussen; R O’Driscoll, P Barry, T Óg Murphy.
Subs: J Murphy for R Murphy (32); D Roche for Kearney (44)
BRIDE ROVERS: D Fitzgerald; A Collins, B Walsh, T Moloney; Barry Murphy, Brian Murphy, J Murphy; P Murphy, B Johnson; S Ryan, J O’Driscoll, M Kearney; M Collins, D Ryan, K Collins. Subs: P Walsh for A Collins (4); R Cahill for K Collins (48); C O’Keeffe for Moloney (49); N Fitzgerald for D Ryan (56).
Referee: J Sexton (Ballyhea).