Larkin grabs crucial goal as James Stephens have the final say

FAVOURITES James Stephens just about did enough in Nowlan Park yesterday to get back to the Kilkenny SHC final.

While gaining confidence from an early goal, scored by team captain Eoin Larkin, they were pushed all the way by an Erin’s Own team which came with a reputation for a fiery determination but which was over reliant on the free-taking of Martin Boran.

Ultimately, Larkin’s goal and a superb second one from Matthew Ruth in the 26th minute were to prove decisive.

Larkin was delighted with the opportunity which presented itself in the eighth minute – he ran on to scoop up the ball after it broke from full-forward Walton – because in the second minute he wasted a good chance from a penalty.

Making no mistake with a pointed free immediately afterwards, it was noteworthy that strong play from him and support from the other forwards yielded a poor return on the scoreboard because of poor finishing. Erin’s Own weren’t faring any better, limited to three points over the half from Boran frees.

Their main difficulty was they were finding it even more difficult to penetrate as a result of the effectiveness of the James Stephens covering in defence, with Jackie Tyrell very influential across the half-back line and Philly Larkin showing the value of his experience at full-back.

Additionally, Niall Tyrell was doing good work for the Village at midfield, even though at stages the Erin’s Own pairing of Gordon Byrne and Ronan Ryan worked better as a unit. Yet, in spite of all these positives on the James Stephens side – including Larkin’s hard work at centre-forward – they had to wait until the 26th minute for a third score.

It arrived courtesy of Ruth’s great goal. Right corner-forward Joe Murray hit over a low ball, Ruth gathered it and hit an angled shot to his left. With Martin Boran promising a goal for Erin’s Own until corner-back Niall McQuillan recovered to block his shot, James Stephens turned over 2-2 to 0-3 in front.

The trend of the game didn’t alter much on the resumption, with the Village managing to stay ahead because of their ability to get scores. Nevertheless, Erin’s Own had the margin down to two points after nine minutes – Boran again to the forefront with clinical free-taking – but that was the closest they came.

Displaying an awareness of the vulnerability of their situation, James Stephens hit four points without reply between the 42nd and 51st minutes to restore a six-point advantage. Around this time, Jackie Tyrrell got in valuable clearances while Brian Cody’s son Donncha was dominant in the centre, and for a while they were very much in control.

Yet they were still unable to relax because of an increasing challenge from Erin’s Own, for whom team captain Damien Fogarty and his brother Conor (even more so) in the half-back line were also key players, while experienced full-forward David Buggy put in a big effort.

Nearing injury time, they clawed their way back to within two points, except that this time it was the clock which ruled out a late recovery.

Scorers for James Stephens: E. Larkin 1-4 (0-3f); M. Ruth 1-1; G. Whelan and E. McCormack 0-1.

Erin’s Own: M. Boran 0-9 (0-8f, 0-1 ‘65); M. Murphy and D. Meally 0-1.

JAMES STEPHENS: D. Brennan; N. McQuillan, P. Larkin, T. Keogh; J. Tyrrell, D. Cody, E. Sheehy; D. McCormack, N. Tyrrell; M. Ruth, E. Larkin (capt.), G. Whelan; J. Murray, D. Walton, E. McCormack.

Subs: S. Brennan for Murray (43); S. Egan for D. McCormack (61).

ERIN’S OWN: T. Brophy; A. Moran, S. Meally, P. O’Donovan; G. Callinan, D. Fogarty (capt.), C. Fogarty; G. Byrne, R. Ryan; M. Moran, M. Murphy, M. Owens; P. Boran, D. Buggy, M. Boran.

Subs: E. Brennan for P. Boran (36); D. Meally for Owens (49).

Referee: Pat Dunphy (Carrigeen).

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