With time ebbing away in this clash, an impressive Dicksboro team looked set to claim the club’s second national intermediate crown in six years and claim the scalp of a second South-East Cork team in the process.
Ballymartle trailed by 1-20 to 2-15 when McCarthy sized up a free 50 yards from the Hill 16 goal. McCarthy had produced a key performance over the hour, particularly when shifted from attack to midfield in the second-half, but he reserved his most significant input until the end when unleashing a dipping drive that deceived the Dicksboro defence and flew to the roof of the net.
From the resultant puckout, referee Alan Kelly wound up proceedings and McCarthy was mobbed by his Ballymartle teammates. But the match-winner was not making claims to any wonder strikes after the final whistle.
“I was fairly haunted,” he laughed. “I said I’d put it in the square and hope for the best, and it ended up in the net. It looked like the game might have been gone for us but every fella kept plugging away and we got the break.”
On the sideline an exuberant Ballymartle boss Anthony McCarthy revealed there were conflicting calls from the management as to what McCarthy should do with that late free.
“There was one instruction from this sideline and another instruction from the other sideline. But we won’t say who gave the right one! Darren’s a great player and he made a big difference when we brought him out to midfield. The way we won was unbelievable. To be fair to Dicksboro, we did rob them. But it’s the best moment of my life.”
It was an electric ending to a clash that throbbed with drama and intensity throughout.
Dicksboro began the game in a lethargic fashion as they fell 0-6 to 0-0 adrift after six minutes. However they recovered with some scintillating displays by Danny Kenny, Ollie Walsh, Paul O’Flynn and Adrian Stapleton underpinning their comeback. The tour de force came from Martin Gaffney, a recent Kilkenny minor, and a player who posted a brilliant 0-12 tally.
Ballymartle’s spirit and battling qualities enabled them to eke out victory from such a bleak situation.
They made a blistering opening to the game with Daniel Edmonds and Barry Dwyer on fire in front of goal. However Dicksboro got into their rhythm before the interval and only trailed 0-10 to 0-9 after dominating the second quarter. Indeed Ballymartle could well have been staring at a deficit but for the heroics of goalkeeper Declan McCarthy, who repelled a Shane Maher penalty in the 23rd minute and a goal bound drive by Stapleton two minutes later.
Ballymartle’s aspirations received a major boost after the break when Jamie Dwyer expertly finished to the net in the 32nd minute to push them 1-11 to 0-9 in front.
However Dicksboro, inspired by the outstanding Gaffney and O’Flynn, took over proceedings and were 0-17 to 1-13 ahead in the 47th minute when Stapleton buried a fierce drive to the net. Ballymartle’s response was critical, though, as within a minute Barry Dwyer arrowed a long-range effort into the top corner of the net past a crowded Dicksboro defence.
But the Kilkenny team seemed to cope with the concession of that strike to forge ahead once more and a spree of points placed them on the cusp of victory. Ballymartle kept battling away with Patrick Dwyer and Seamus Corry spearheading their drive, and they were grateful to Declan McCarthy once again in the 59th minute when he denied Stapleton again with a terrific block.
Then Darren McCarthy crowned a standout individual performance by crashing in that injury-time goal to seal an improbable victory.
Scorers for Ballymartle: B Dwyer 1-7 (1-3 frees, 0-2 ‘65); Darren McCarthy (1-0 free), J Dwyer 1-2 each; D Edmonds 0-2; Dan Dwyer, J Kelly 0-1 each.
Scorers for Dicksboro: M Gaffney 0-12 (0-8 frees); A Stapleton 1-2; P O’Flynn 0-4; C O’Loughlin, S Maher 0-1 each.
BALLYMARTLE: Declan McCarthy; Declan Dwyer, M Tobin, D Coleman; J Kelly, P Dwyer, N Sheehan; S Corry, G Webb; R Dwyer, B Dwyer, D Edmonds; J Dwyer, Dan Dwyer, Darren McCarthy.
Subs: C Coleman for Declan Dwyer (inj) (29), M O’Mahony for Webb (37), B Coleman for Sheehan (48), S O’Mahony for Edmonds (57), P Coughlan for J Dwyer (58).
DICKSBORO: S Morrissey; D Glynn, K Cuddihy, P Hogan; M Fagan, D Kenny, E Malone; D O’Gorman, C O’Loughlin; P O’Flynn, M Gaffney, O Walsh; C Starr, S Maher, A Stapleton.
Subs: K Nolan for O’Gorman (53), T Manning for Starr (58).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)