It was cruel justice for Kilkenny CBS, for the outstanding Mark Bergin in particular, whose well-struck last-minute free from wide right, just inside the 65, came back off the far upright and into play.
In perfect conditions, before a small but enthusiastic crowd, these two went at each other from the start.
De La Salle with their noses just in front at the break, 0-6 to 0-5. For De La Salle it was Power doing most of the scoring, four points from placed balls, co-captain Craig Maloney (De La Salle operate a unique but worthy system of having two captains, one for the back – centre-back David O’Sullivan with the honour on this occasion – and one for the forwards, Maloney) and wing-forward Peter McCarthy with the other points. For Kilkenny CBS Mark Bergin had two, Adrian Stapleton had one, with midfielder Mark Kelly chipping in with two long-rangers.
De La Salle did in fact have the ball in the net early on, Maloney flicking the ball from his knees after being fouled inside the small square, but referee Michael Haverty had blown and a penalty was awarded instead. Power’s bullet whizzed just over the cross-bar for a point.
At the other end, and just before that penalty incident, De La Salle corner-back Noel Connors recovered magnificently after being beaten by Paul Guinan to get in a goal-saving hook just as Guinan pulled the trigger from point-blank range. Patrick Kennedy in the other corner duplicated Connors’ hook five minutes before half-time to save another certain score.
It was apparent there wasn’t going to be a whole lot between these two come the final whistle, and so it proved. An exchange of points between Power and Bergin began the half, before De La Salle were again denied what looked a certain goal by another early whistle from Mr Haverty: wing-forward Willie Walsh grabbed a long Stephen O’Keeffe puckout, took off on a run, parted to Peter McCarthy on the opposite wing; McCarthy drew the tackle before off-loading to the isolated Stephen Power, less than 20 metres from the Kilkenny goals. There was surely only one outcome, but McCarthy had been fouled in the act of passing and Haverty had whistled.
From the resultant free Power went for goal, but Stephen Murphy (son of Cork’s medal-laden Brian, star of the 70s) saved superbly; to rub salt in the De La Salle wounds, Power missed the resultant 65.
De La Salle manager Derek McGrath was unperturbed, however: “Things have a habit of working out. Overall I think Michael Haverty did a good job.”
Things did indeed work out for De La Salle. In the 48th minute Kilkenny gained the initiative with a well-taken goal by Stapleton after a big catch and centre from the impressive Shane Maher, putting them 1-8 to 0-9 ahead, but the Waterford boys didn’t panic.
Three points in succession, one from Walsh, two from Power, had them back in front with just seven minutes to go, albeit by the minimum margin. Bergin cancelled that out with a fine strike from a 30m free on the left touchline, setting up the grand finale. At least two minutes of additional time, said the announcer, but we were into the third when De La Salle were awarded a free in their own half.
With a free-taker other than Stephen Power you’d be looking at dangerous ball being dropped into the Kilkenny kitchen; not with this kid. A Ballygunner clubmate of another famed long-distance free-taker, Paul Flynn, Stephen stepped up and from fully 85 metres, sent the ball long and true.
There was still time for one last Kilkenny attack, Shane Maher was fouled to set up that last-shot scenario for Mark Bergin.
Wrong side of the park for a lefty, but it was well struck and heading between the posts, but it just tailed off. Didn’t even make it to the off-side of the upright, hit it fair and square, full on, rebounded back into play. And that was it, game up.
Cruel? Yes, all of that, on both Mark and Kilkenny, but given that De La Salle were denied five points by two premature whistles from the referee, justice was served.
Scorers for DLS: S. Power 0-9 (0-6 frees, 0-2 65’s); C. Maloney 0-2; P. McCarthy, W. Walsh 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilkenny CBS: A. Stapleton 1-2; M. Bergin 0-5 (0-3 frees); M. Kelly 0-2.
S. O’Keeffe; P. Kennedy, A. O’Neill, N. Connors; P. Mahony, D. O’Sullivan , S. Daniels; M. Grace, F. McGrath; W. Walsh, T. Connors, P. McCarthy; S. Power, C. Maloney N. Kelly. Subs: A. Brophy (McCarthy 53); K. Gahan (O’Neill inj. 59); E. Casey (Kelly 60+4).
S. Murphy; J. Traynor, D. Kenny, R. Doyle; P. Nolan, D. Langton, E. Malone; M. Kelly, J. Fitzpatrick; S. Maher, O. Walsh, A. Stapleton; P. Guinan, M. Bergin (c), M. Gaffney. Subs: T. Langton (Malone 51); M. Bambrick (Walsh 60+1).
M. Haverty (Galway)