“Maybe we’ve played better,” said delighted St Patrick’s manager Maurice Aylward, a man who led his native Ballyhale Shamrocks to All-Ireland glory at senior level. “But we haven’t played better opposition. That was a very good Charleville team; they were hurlers, they were strong, they had ball-winners and they knew what to do with the ball when they won it. They did everything we expected and we did everything we could to try to stop them. In the end it was just enough. It must have been a terrific game to watch with great hurling and great scores. A typical Kilkenny Cork game.”
And indeed it was terrific to watch with two fit and skilful sides, utterly committed and giving their all without a foul stroke pulled.
St Patrick’s had the better start as Charleville, like so many times in this campaign, were left standing at the starting-gate. The Kilkenny champions led (0-4 to 0-0) after 13 minutes with the lively Joseph Brennan landing two points while half-forwards Kevin Kelly and Seoirse Kenny had one apiece. Eventually, driven on by the O’Flynn brothers (Colm at centre-back, captain Daniel in midfield) along with Alan O’Connor, Charleville clicked into gear. Now it was their turn to dominate and four points — two from flying corner-forward Andrew Cagney — had them on level by the 21st minute. Bill Staunton and Cagney exchanged points to leave them deadlocked at the break on five points apiece.
On the restart, again it was St Patrick’s storming into the lead with two points from the increasingly influential Staunton — now at centre-forward — and one from midfielder and captain Brian Phelan. Again Charleville looked like they were going to be playing second-fiddle.
Again, however, they came back with points from youngster Cagney and the veteran Mervyn Gammell who played his first championship game for Charleville in 1994, the year Andrew was born, steadying the ship. Even when Seoirse Kenny goaled for St Pat’s, a kicked finish from close range in the 42nd minute, Charleville didn’t panic. They hit back with three points in two minutes, including one apiece from Daniel O’Flynn and James Casey.
St Patrick’s then went into the ascendancy once more and in the 55th minute they were four points to the good (1-12 to 0-11) and were looking the more likely winners. And again Charleville came back, O’Connor grabbing a high centre on the edge of the square, parting to the in-rushing Gammell for goal. In the 59th minute wing-back Brendan Dennehy benefited from the break of his own sideline ball and pointed from distance to tie them up for the final time in the game (1-12 apiece) heading into the final minute. It was in that fateful minute, however, that this game was won with Staunton winning the puckout and pointing from distance.
“A super result, it means everything to me,” said Aylward. “I think this is every bit as good as Ballyhale, because Ballyhale were expected to win. You had superstars on that team — this was just an ordinary hurling team, no great superstars, but some terrific hurlers. It’s unbelievable what this is going to do for Ballyragget.”
Scorers for Charleville: M Gammell 1-2; A Cagney 0-4; D O’Flynn 0-2; M Kavanagh, B Dennehy, J Casey, J O’Brien, 0-1 each.
Scorers for St Patrick’s: B Staunton 0-5; J Brennan 0-4; S Kenny 1-1; K Kelly, J Gannon, B Phelan, 0-1 each.
CHARLEVILLE: S O’Connor; M O’Flynn, C Fitzgerald, A Dennehy; B McCarthy, C O’Flynn, B Dennehy; J Casey, D O’Flynn; D Murphy, A O’Connor, M Gammell; A Cagney, M Kavanagh, J O’Brien.
Subs: G Kelleher (Murphy 51; blood for D O’Flynn 27/30).
ST PATRICK’S: M Gannon; J Mooney, G Morrissey, S Staunton; P Cahill, G Brennan, S Roberts; B Phelan, J Gannon; J Phelan, S Kenny, K Kelly; M Brennan, B Staunton, J Brennan.
Subs: C Delaney (M Brennan 39); E Bergin (J Gannon 59); C Ruth (C Delaney 60).
Referee: E Hasson (Derry).