St Mullins recall 34-point defeat on rocky road to final

St Mullins recall 34-point defeat on rocky road to final
St Mullins players including Marty Kavanagh, right, and Garry Bennett, second from right, celebrate with supporters after the AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship semi-final match between St Mullins and Rathdowney Errill at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile.

When St Mullins outfought Rathdowney-Errill to reach the AIB Leinster club final, they won by the exact same 2-17 to 1-19 scoreline as in the county final.

In between, they also edged a one-point game against Cuala, the 2017 and 2018 All-Ireland winners, to advance in the Leinster Championship.

The little Carlow club remain roaring underdogs to dethrone holders Ballyhale Shamrocks on Sunday week — bookmakers have installed them as 9/1 outsiders — yet three one-point wins on the trot hints at a willingness to get down and dirty and to grind out results when necessary.

Nobody sums up St Mullins’ can-do spirit quite like James Doyle, who took on the responsibility to score the two decisive points last weekend that made them just the second-ever Carlow club to reach the decider.

The first of those scores, in the 61st minute, levelled the game after a huge catch and long-range strike, while Doyle’s second, the winner, came after an audacious flick over an approaching defender and nonchalant strike.

They certainly won’t lack belief against Ballyhale — even if everyone is telling them they don’t stand a chance.

“Oh, without a doubt we have belief in ourselves to do it,” said Doyle. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have that.

“Everyone is just so passionate about the club and we know what we can do and we definitely won’t fear Ballyhale.

“We know how good we are, [but] there’s such a band of brothers here, everyone gets on so well. I think that’s a massive thing for such a small parish. The drive and the passion that we have for the club, it just showed against Rathdowney.”

It’ll be an interesting couple of weekends for St Mullins manager Niall O’Donnell, the former Ballygunner player and manager whose club will be on Munster final duty next Sunday. A week later, his adopted St Mullins will take on the All-Ireland holders. Who knows — maybe the Carlow and Waterford sides may even meet somewhere down the line.

Even O’Donnell couldn’t have predicted days like these just a few months ago. He recalled after Sunday’s defeat of Rathdowney-Errill that when his team — admittedly minus a number of county players — played Piltown of Kilkenny in a low-key game earlier this year, they were beaten by 34 points.

Now they have to somehow overcome the very best that Kilkenny has to offer — Henry Shefflin’s Ballyhale.

“We’d be near enough neighbours, but we haven’t really played against them much in the last couple of years, we never got the chance,” said Doyle, whose club is located in the south of Carlow, next to the Kilkenny and Wexford borders.

The chance now is coming for us in two weeks’ time and we’ll look forward to it and we’ll give it our best shot. We won’t fear them anyway.

A terrific year for St Mullins was almost tinged with tragedy when selector Micheal Ryan suffered a heart attack during their quarter-final win over Cuala.

He is said to be making good progress and while O’Donnell admitted after Sunday’s win that while Ryan wouldn’t have wished to be the subject of a pre-match team-talk, that was inevitable.

Asked if it provided motivation to win, Doyle nodded enthusiastically.

“Oh without a doubt, I know he’d have loved to be there,” said Doyle.

“We knew going out that we had to do it, not alone for ourselves but we had to do it for him, he’s such a great club man. That was definitely a motivation for us, to get out there and drive it on.”

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