“It is a very special day for the club. You can see how much it means to everyone out there,” he smiled. “It won’t sink in for a while. Croke Park is a beautiful place, yet it can be daunting and it is heartbreaking to see the opposite team crying there at the end. There are two sides to the coin, even what happened to that young man from their club. The club is everything and we are delighted. I am fairly broke up at the moment, but we will make a good night of it.”
Joyce was making poignant reference to Patrick Halpin who was found dead in London on Thursday night. A minute’s silence was held for the 18-year-old, who hurled at minor level for Kilnadeema/Leitrim last year.
To the match itself, and Rower Inistioge were forced to grind out the win in extra-time, in truth however, the Kilkenny club should have been bustling down the M9 by the time Michael Grace eventually got his hands on the trophy shortly before 8pm.
Gerard Morrissey’s side controlled the contest early on with Joyce asserting himself at centre-back, while Seán Grace and Joe Lynch gained the upper hand in their midfield battle against former Galway hurler David Tierney and Michael Donohue. And yet for all their dominance, the teams were deadlocked by the end of the first quarter — Ruairí Galavan and Michael Grace (free) nullifying the efforts of Tom Tierney and Brian Molloy (free).
The concern from Rower Inistioge’s perspective was the seven wides during this period, rising to 11 by half-time. No forward escaped blame, while the radar of free-taker Michael Grace was worryingly out of sync. Their frustration reached a crescendo when the full-forward line of Cathal Bolger, Tom Murphy and Ciaran Ryan squandered three successive attempts on goal, full-back Darragh O’Donoghue and keeper Kevin Boyle combining to keep the green flag out of the umpires hand. “We got a good start and then hit a lot of wides. It can get frustrating in the backs to see those wides. You’d be shouting and roaring at the forwards,” continued Joyce. “We were making the chances and we were happy with that. We were dominant in some areas and playing second fiddle in other areas. So we just had to grind it out. All year it’s been the same.”
Rower Inistioge looked to have finally broken free when Ciarán Ryan’s speculative effort on 32 minutes slipped through the right paw of Boyle, moving the Leinster champions 1-4 to 0-3 clear. Dara Herlihy and Joe Lyng swapped white flags in the ensuing passages of play, but Rower Inistioge struggled to tighten the noose hanging from Kilnadeema’s neck.
On 42 minutes, Alvin Mitchell cut through the opposition defence and drawing the last defender, offloaded to the unmarked Liam Geraghty. The Kilnadeema sub dropped Mitchell’s pass but made sufficient connection on the floor. Brian Molloy pointed in the subsequent action and all of a sudden the score was tied. Game on.
Rower sub Paul Sheehan nudged his side in front approaching the end of normal time, but 18-year old Brian Molloy converted a 62nd minute free right on the sideline to salvage a draw for the westerners.
Liam Geraghty fired over early in the first period of extra-time, but it proved their last score of the decider. Joe Lyng, James Cassin and Sheehan restored Rower’s advantage and when Molloy’s 21-yard free was repelled in the 78th minute, it signalled the end of Kilnadeema’s resistance. The floodgates opened and points flowed from David Lyng, Sheehan and Cassin.
“We finished very strong and the fresh legs kept us going,” Joyce added. “All year it has been tough for lads trying to break into the team. My brother Conor and Jamie Cassin didn’t manage to start today. They came on and had a massive influence.”
As for when he expects to rejoin Brian Cody’s panel now that club matters are done and dusted. “I might show up for training the next night if I get the call.”
Scorers for Rower Inistioge: P Sheehan (0-4, 0-3 frees); J Lyng, D Lyng (0-3 each); C Ryan (1-0); M Grace (0-2, 0-2 frees); J Cassin (0-2); R Galvan, C Joyce (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilnadeema/Leitrim: B Molloy (0-5, 0-3 frees); L Geraghty (1-1); D Herlihy (0-2); T Tierney (0-1).
ROWER INISTIOGE: L Tierney; E Doyle, S Cummins, J Doyle; R Galvan, K Joyce, S Lyster; S Grace, J Lyng; M Grace, D Lyng, P Tierney; C Bolger, T Murphy, C Ryan.
Subs: C Joyce for Bolger (34), P Sheehan for M Grace (45), J Casin for S Grace (55).
KILNADEEMA/LEITRIM: K Boyle; P Kelly, D O’Donoghue, M Kelly; G Winters, E Hyland, A Spaight; D Tierney, M Donohue; A Mitchell, D Herlihy, D Donohue; T Tierney, B Molloy, S Lawless.
Subs: L Geraghty for D Donohue (34).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).
Two minutes from the end of the second period of extra-time, Kilnadeema/Leitrim trailed by three and were presented with a 20 metre free. Brian Molloy struck his effort sweetly, but Rower Inistioge goalkeeper Liam Tierney made a fantastic save.
The Rower Inistioge substitutions – James Cassin, Paul Sheehan and Conor Joyce. The trio contributed 0-7 when introduced.
The presentation of the cup to Michael Grace in the Cusack Stand. Yes, the Cusack Stand.
Kieran Joyce stood head and shoulders above the pack, truly a class apart. Controlled affairs from centre-half back and provided the launchpad for several Rower Inistioge scores.
Gerard Morrissey, no contest there. Realised that fresh legs were required at various stages of the second half and made the key switches in personnel.
Quiet evening here. Fergal Horgan did his best to allow a poor contest flow.
Both sides will take a few weeks off before launching their respective senior campaigns.