The last of the Munster club hurling championships and the junior champions of two proud hurling counties served up a pre-festive treat, fully appreciated by the 2,594 fans who had made the trip.
Ignore the final scoreline, it does scant justice to the efforts of a Cappamore side which endured a schedule over the past few weeks (five championship games) that would have tested even a top professional side.
With only 13 minutes to go there were just two points between the teams, Charleville ahead 1-9 to 1-7, the Cork side’s young attackers — James O’Brien, Andrew Cagney, Derry Murphy and Mark Kavanagh — all to the fore.
From the outset this was a contest that sparkled, the sides trading early points before the precocious James O’Brien (a minor again next year) rounded Cappamore keeper Tommy Ryan and coolly slotted home from a narrow angle, putting his side 1-3 to 0-2 ahead after 12 minutes.
Points from long-striking wing-back Brendan Dennehy and midfielder Daniel O’Flynn extended the Charleville lead and it looked ominous for Cappamore. A superb overhead pass from full-forward Conor Sheehan, however, a bullet of a volley from point-blank range by Tommy O’Donoghue and the Limerick champions were back in the game. Four points on the trot (two from O’Donoghue, one each from Eamon Gleeson and Declan Deere) and suddenly they were tied, 1-6 apiece.
An injury-time James O’Brien pointed free was all that separated the sides at the break, Charleville with their noses in front, but this one had all the makings of a humdinger.
Three minutes after the restart it was tied again, Cappamore midfielder Seamus Ryan with a fine point and for the next ten minutes, as the lights came on, it was stalemate.
Who would have thought, at that stage, it would end as it did? Cappamore, however, were finding the going increasingly tough against a Charleville defence that simply shut up shop. Cyrian Curtin was assured, Michael O’Flynn, Conor Fitzgerald and Alan Dennehy combined superbly in the full-back line, centre-back Colm O’Flynn gave a man of the match performance but was ably supported by Barry McCarthy and Brendan Dennehy. In midfield James Casey and captain fantastic Daniel O’Flynn were increasingly dominant, while the move of the experienced Mervyn Gammell from full-forward to the wing meant an added ball-winner in that vital area, alongside another veteran, Alan O’Connor.
Ultimately, however, it was the pace, panache, energy and exuberance of their youngsters up front that made the difference for Charleville. Andrew Cagney and Derry Murphy got the goals that mattered most, 50th and 52nd minutes respectively, sub Mark Kavanagh had a hat-trick of points, and despite Eamon Gleeson’s fine late goal for Cappamore, a false gloss was put on what had been a tight contest.
Disappointing end to the season for the Limerick club but manager Seamus Coffey was looking on the bright side.
“We got what we wanted from the year and that was promotion. We only came down from intermediate two years ago so to win the junior this year and get back up to intermediate is a great achievement, and that’s how we’ll look back on this year.
“It took us three games to win our county title, we played a county league as well that took two games and the second one went to extra time. In both cases we were behind but came back to win. Our fellas will always make a game of it, they’ll keep fighting right to the end, they don’t know how to stop.”
Scorers for Charleville: J O’Brien 1-5 (1f), D Murphy 1-1, A Cagney 1-1, M Kavanagh 0-3, B Dennehy (1f), D O’Flynn 0-2 each, M Gammell 0-1.
Scorers for Cappamore: T O’Donoghue 1-3 (1f), E Gleeson 1-1, B Creamer, D Deere, S Ryan, J Ryan, 0-1 each.
CHARLEVILLE: C Curtin; M O’Flynn, C Fitzgerald, A Dennehy; B McCarthy, C O’Flynn, B Dennehy; J Casey, D O’Flynn (c); D Murphy, G Kelleher, A O’Connor; A Cagney, M Gammell, J O’Brien.
Subs: M Kavanagh for Kelleher (41), PJ O’Halloran for Gammell (58), D O’Sullivan for M O’Flynn (58), F O’Callaghan for Cagney (58), J Foley for D O’Flynn (58).
CAPPAMORE: T Ryan; D Sheehan, S Lane, J Campbell; M Tracey, B Coffey (c), J Ryan; S Ryan, D Deere; D O’Dwyer, E Gleeson, B Creamer; A Murphy, C Sheehan, T O’Donoghue.
Subs: L Cronin for O’Dwyer (42), J O’Driscoll for S Ryan (50), J Hayes for Creamer (54), D Ryan for Murphy (54), S Humphreys for Campbell (58).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).