The clocked had spilled into the dying seconds in the second period of extra-time and with the scoreboard showing Creggan Kickhams ahead by three, defeat appeared inevitable.
Waterford’s wait for a first club All-Ireland was set to continue, or so believed their faithful following.
The 15 navy clad hurlers inside the whitewash, however, hadn’t quite thrown in the towel and in the 81st minute of this incredible tale, one final twist played out. Kieran Bennett secured possession underneath the Cusack Stand and pulling away from his marker, unleashed a Hail Mary into the Creggan danger area. Several bodies lunged into the air, but none rose higher than 17-year old Shane Bennett who connected superbly with his brother’s delivery to fashion the unlikeliest of equalisers.
Referee Christy Browne sounded the full-time whistle moment later and Ballysaggart celebrated as if they had indeed ended the Déise’s long wait for club success.
Clutching tightly his Man of the Match award, Creggan Kickhams forward Conor McCann could do little to hide his devastation: “Gutted, absolutely gutted,” he sighed. “Every emotion was felt out there. We started extra-time well. We put in a lot of effort to forge out a lead and we are just gutted. Fair play to Ballysaggart they hung in and they got the goal.”
A Stephen Bennett free directly after the change of ends had moved Ballysaggart ten points clear (3-7 to 0-6) and at that juncture the only issue up for debate looked to be the final winning margin.
The aforementioned full-forward had been crucial in constructing said advantage, netting from the placed ball on two occasions in the first-half.
Ballysaggart, however, were dealt a crucial blow in the subsequent action when full-back Kieran Fennessy was forced off with an injury. Manager Adrian Meagher elected to bring in a forward replacement, forcing positional switches in every line, the most notable being Stephen Bennett’s withdrawal to the half-forward line, eliminating their main threat in front of goal.
Creggan soon found their rhythm and Conor Small pulled to the Ballysaggart net on 39 minutes for their first goal. Points from Oran McCann (0-3, 0-2 frees) and Conor McCann further reduced the deficit and nine minutes from time, the Antrim outfit trailed only by the minimum. Eugene O’Brien was adjudged to have fouled Small and Conor McCann nailed the resulting penalty strike.
Ballysaggart’s Kenneth Cashell and Mathew Nelson traded efforts and although a barren ten minute scoring spell ensued, Conor McCann converted a 62nd minute free from out around halfway to force extra-time.
“We looked dead and buried coming out there in the second-half,” noted McCann. “We were nine down and then went ten down, it was some turnaround. Fair play to our boys, we’ve never been on a stage as big as this before and we really stood up in that second-half. We could have won it, but then going back to normal time we could have just as easy lost it. We are happy to be still alive.”
Creggan powered ahead in the first period of extra-time, but any notions of a runaway victory were dispelled by Shane Bennett’s second major of the evening, his 70 yard strike somehow evading ‘keeper Brendan Prenter.
Oran, Ruairí and Conor McCann, along with further white flags from Kevin Rice and James Carey, edged Kickhams four clear with the sandglass quickly running empty.
Kieran Bennett added his name to the scoresheet before teeing up brother Shane who brought this opening chapter to a dramatic close.
Scorers for Ballysaggart: Stephen Bennett (2-7, 2-5 frees); Shane Bennett (3-0); K Cashell (0-2); D Devine, K Bennett, R Walsh (0-1 each).
Scorers for Creggan Kickhams: C McCann (1-6, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free); O McCann (0-8, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ’65); K Rice (0-4); C Small (1-0); R McCann, J Carey, M Nelson (0-1 each).
BALLYSAGGART: M Meagher; B Ryan, K Fennessy, C O’Gorman; B Murphy, E O’Brien, D Devine; C Murphy, K Bennett; Shane Bennett, D Meagher, K Cashell; R Walsh, Stephen Bennett, T Bennett.
Subs: M Kearney for Fennessy (35 mins), S Hale for Kearney (66 mins), S Meagher for T Bennett (70 mins), C Fitzgerald for Devine (78 mins).
CREGGAN KICKHAMS: B Prenter; B Maguire, A Maguire, D Carey; D McCann, T McCann, M Johnston; R McCann, A McKeown; K Rice, O McCann, C McCann; C Small, J Dougan, S Maguire.
Subs: J Carey for Dougan (27 mins), M Nelson for D McCann (37 mins).
Referee: C Browne (Galway).
Shane Bennett’s 81st goal stands out, otherwise we’d be reflecting on a Creggan Kickhams victory this morning.
The Bennett brothers, Kieran, Shane and Stephen, aged 17, 18 and 19 respectively. Forwards Shane and Stephen contributed 5-7 between them, while Kieran shipped a point from midfield as well as providing the delivery for his brother’s injury- time goal strike.
The All-Ireland junior club hurling final ending in stalemate following extra-time.
Conor McGann — a never-ending thorn in the Ballysaggart defence. Pilfered 1-6 over the 80 minutes, including the 50th penalty which resurrected the northern side’s cause.
Creggan’s Thomas McCann kept faith with his starting line-up despite the very bleak outlook early in the second-half. When Ballysaggart full-back Kieran Fennessy hobbled off injured, manager Adrian Meagher opted to bring in a corner-forward, leading to positional switches in every line.
Christy Browne was inconsistent in pulling players for elementary fouls. Was correct, however, in sending off Creggan’s Sam Maguire for a late strike on Shane Bennett in extra-time.
All-Ireland final replay at a date to be confirmed