The jubilant St Mullins hurlers gathered in midfield and belted out a lusty version of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' after they had edged out Rathdowney Errill of Laois in one of the outstanding hurling games of the
year at Netwatch Culllen Park. Victory was clinched courtesy of an injury-time point from James Doyle, his fifth of the game from open play in a man-of-the-match performance.
This was a thrilling game which had everything – two very evenly matched sides going toe to toe, bouts of great hurling, some outstanding individual performances and a multitude of scores, 39 in all, a number of which were of the highest quality. And it was a very sporting encounter.
Watched by an attendance approaching 4,000 and played in ideal conditions, the game went right down to the wire. After the sides had been deadlocked on eight occasions, James Doyle fielded the sliotar brilliantly in midfield amidst a forest of hurleys, to surge forward and send over the winning point.
It was score for score throughout, with the visiting Laois champions making the first significant breakthrough on 10 minutes when influential midfielder and captain Paddy Purcell gained possession in midfield and careered straight through the heart of the St Mullins defence before crashing a low shot to the net.
The St Mullins reaction was instantaneous. From the puckout Marty Kavanagh grabbed possession, took out a few Rathdowney Errill defenders, which created an overlap which the No 11 exploited by feeding unmarked left full-forward Paddy Boland with a handpass and the No 15 found the net.
With Brian Campion, Jack Kelly, Paddy Purcell and the deadly accurate Mark Kavanagh in terrific form, the Laois champions swept into a four-point lead (1-8 to 1-4). But in the 25th minute St Mullins struck for a second goal. This time the talented Marty Kavanagh, who had missed some early frees, cut through and unleashed a bullet to the corner of the net.
St Mullins had moved to bring greater presence to their midfield by moving James Doyle from full-forward to midfield. It was match-winning move.
At half time Rathdowney Errill led 1-10 to 2-6 but within two minutesof the restart St Mullins were in front following points from play by James Doyle and Seamus Murphy, who had an fine game, his ability to pluck the high ball from the air being a feature of his play.
The second half saw the St Mullins lead vary between one and two points with the accuracy of Mark Kavanagh from frees of all angles and distances - allied to one wonder strike out of play from midfield and just on the sideline - keeping the Laois men very much in touch.
It looked as if they might snatch victory when Kavanagh levelled matters from a 57th-minute free (1-18 to 2-15) and then substitute Shane Madden pointed from play.
But it was that man James Doyle who turned the game back in favour of St Mullins with a levelling point from play before he fashioned the winning point for the south Carlow club, who have reached their first Leinster club hurling title and will now take on Leinster and All-Ireland club champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks in the final in two weeks time. Mount Leinster Rangers are the only Carlow team to have won the Leinster club title, which they claimed in 2013.
St Mullins manager Niall O'Donnell, a Fermoy native, said: “It was two teams giving everything to get to the final. We are delighted to get over the line – it means everything to St Mullins.
“We did not think we played particularly well in the first half. Bringing James Doyle to midfield turned it.”
The move had to be made, he said, after the manner of the Paddy Purcell goal.
The Saints boss continued; “We carry a goal threat in all our games.”
Referring to Marty Kavanagh's brilliant individual goal he said: “That's always in him.”
It is an honour, O'Donnell said, to go up against the Leinster and All-Ireland Club champions. “When the ball is thrown in (in the final) we are going to be very proud to be playing against that level of opposition. We are certainly going to enjoy the experience.”
O'Donnell, who has worn the Cork jersey, added: “I am a Corkman, living in Waterford, working in Wexford (he is a New Ross based member of An Garda Siochána) and training a team in Carlow.”
M Kavanagh 1-9, 0-6 frees, J Doyle 0-5, P Boland 1-0, S Murphy 0-2, J O'Neill 0-1.
M Kavanagh 0-11, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65, P Purcell 1-1, R King 0-2, J Kelly, J Ryan, P Cane, S Madden 0-1 each.
K Kehoe; J Doran, P Doyle, G Bennett; C Kavangh, G Coady, O Boland; M Walsh, J Kavanagh; S Murphy, M Kavanagh, P Walsh; J O'Neill, J Doyle, P Boland. Sub: C Connors for P Walsh (41).
D Madden; J Corrigan, B Campion, J Purcell; J Fitzpatrick, J Kelly, E Killeen; J Keane, P Purcell; J Ryan, M Kavasnagh, S Dollard; P McCane, R King, B McGinley. Subs: K O'Dea for Keane (41); S Maden for Dollard (45); R Bowe for McGinley (46).
S Cleere (Kilkenny).