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De La Salle hold their nerve

SUBSTITUTE David Purcell secured his place in DLS Waterford folklore with a match-winning point a minute from time in this enthralling All-Ireland Colleges SHC A final replay at Nowlan Park on Saturday.

It’s little consolation to Thurles that they again failed to put away their opponents when they had the initiative, but their contribution to one of the best college campaigns in years will long live in the memory.

DLS have been the most consistent college over the last two years, have answered all the questions that have been asked of them, and when it comes to updating the history of the Croke Cup, the 2007 and 2008 seasons will rank up there with the very best of them.

For team coach Derek McGrath it was a dream come true. Involved in schools teams for close on a decade, he, along with Dermot Dooley, have put De La Salle College Waterford on the college hurling map.

“Winning the Harty for the first time last year was something very special but today tops everything. While you have to have sympathy for Thurles, it’s all about winning, and I cannot speak highly enough of our lads and they way they held their nerve in the face of the enormous pressure in that second half.

“It looked to be going our way when we raced into a 1-3 to nil lead playing into the wind, but I knew Thurles won’t lie down. They have some magnificent hurlers and today you saw how good they were.

“The game was slipping away from us after they went in front, but this team has been through so much together over the last four years, they were never going to give up their All-Ireland title easily.

“A lot has been made of our physicality throughout the year but I’d like to think we have skilful hurlers also. You saw the way players like Noel Connors, Jake Dillon, Stephen Power, Philip Mahony, Pauric Mahony and David Purcell hurled out there. They were unbelievable.

“Today is a glorious day for the De La Salle Brothers in the college, the players, their parents and the clubs. It’s only in the years to come when the players look back on their school days that they will fully realise what they have achieved. Back to back Harty and Crokes Cups — it doesn’t come any better than that, unless we can make it a hat-trick next year.”

For Brother Damien Kelleher it was an emotional occasion.

“We were a boarding school for years and football was our number one code. That’s changed now and the local national schools and clubs have been feeding us with some very exciting young hurlers and you saw today just how good they were. Over the two games we were treated to all that is best about hurling. This is a massive boost for us and these victories have raised the profile of the college to new heights. It’s hard to describe how I feel right now. I’m absolutely over the moon about the whole thing.

For joint captains Noel Connors and Philip Mahony the victory brings to an end their secondary school days, and what a way to bow out.

“When I first came into the college two years ago I could never have envisaged a day like this,” said Connors.

“Questions were asked of us after Thurles got their two goals, but this is an exceptional group of players, and there was never any doubt in my mind that we could pull it out of the bag.”

Mahony, majestic at centre-back, said: “We are a unique group of players who have been together since under- 14. There is a camaraderie and spirit among us you wouldn’t find in a club team and that’s what pulled us through out there when the chips were down.”

Thurles won the toss, elected to play with the wind but it was the champions who made the better start. Stephen Power threatened to win the game on his own scoring 1-3 in the opening nine minutes, and when Pauric Mahony slipped home another goal in the 25th minute, it looked all over.

However Thurles got a badly needed goal coming up to half time when Kieran Morris, who finished with 2-5, found the net. But the Waterford side were in the driving seat leading 2-4 to 1-3 as they turned to play with the strong wind.

Just like DLS did in the first half, Thurles found it easier to play into the wind and in the space of nine minutes they had hit the front, with Morris scoring 1-2 without reply.

It was the first time all season that DLS found themselves behind but they held their nerve and the introduction of Purcell midway through was to prove an inspired substitution. The last quarter was truly wonderful as the game ebbed and flowed, and two superb teams were level four times, before Purcell became the hero for DLS with a magnificent point from midfield, worthy of winning any final.

Scorers: DLS: S Power (1-1 free, 0-1 65), P Mahony 1-3 each; D Purcell 0-2; P McCarthy 0-1. Thurles CBS: K Morris 2-5 (0-3 frees); C Shelley, R Ryan, A McCormack 0-1 each.

DE LA SALLE: S O’Keeffe; R Cunningham, B Coughlan, O Keevers; N Connors, P Mahony, S Daniels; E Barrett, K Fitzgerald; J Dillon, N Clifford, P McCarthy; S Power, B O’Sullivan, P Mahony.

Subs: D Purcell for Cunningham; D Smith for Clifford; I Power for O’Sullivan.

THURLES CBS: B McCormack; S Power, K O’Gorman, P Ryan; M Doyle J Barry, R Ryan; D Maher, P O’Brien; C Shelley, M Russell, C Ryan; D Butler, K. Morris, J O’Neill.

Subs: A McCormack for Butler; M Greene for Russell.

Referee: J Owens (Wexford).