The curtain came down on the Munster club championships with Russell Rovers taking the last piece of silverware in front of 1,610 enthusiastic spectators at the Fraher Field and adding another chapter in a fairytale season for hurling in East Cork.
Russell Rovers made history with their first Cork JHC title last month and now have added a provincial crown while near neighbours Fr O’Neill’s have also conquered all put before them in a remarkable season for this corner of the county.
Storm Atiyah threatened to spoil this decider but the switch of venue from Mallow to Dungarvan meant the impact wasn’t as severe.
St Mary’s elected to play with the gale but were rocked within a minute when Josh Beausang slotted home a Russell Rovers goal after good work by Brian ‘Bud’ Hartnett. Hartnett and Beausang (top scored with 1-8) are key figures for this team and they produced the goods again.
Coach Noel Furlong was fulsome in his praise for all his players.
“Conditions were brutal so we knew we had to dig it out against the champions of Waterford who took down the Limerick and Tipperary representatives.
“We were delighted with the start. We were saying keep it as tight as possible. A goal in a game like this is worth more than a goal.
“The boys inside — Bud Hartnett and Josh Beausang — they are lethal. But our defence is the rock on which our team is built. Our average concession all year was 11.5 points.”
Furlong hit the nail on the head. As well as Beausang’s goal and one from Hartnett eight minutes from time, the Russell Rovers defence only conceded five points from play. It was honours even at half-time, 1-4 to 0-7 — with Eoin Kearns shooting five points (four from frees) for St Mary’s. The Waterford outfit should have been in front though as they missed a couple of frees along with a goal chance before the break.
Coach Dan Shanahan said he couldn’t fault their effort. “I’m disappointed for my players because they gave it everything. We’ve had a great year; they hadn’t won anything for 30 years. Coming from Mallow to Dungarvan put more pressure on us because people were saying it was a home game.
“We came up against a fantastic team who have good men in charge. We missed one or two goal chances while they had one or two goal chances and took them. I don’t want to blame anyone. I loved my time with St Mary’s, you never know what will happen down the line.”
A Kevin Sheehan point at the start of the second half put St Mary’s in the lead for the first time. Five points to one they were outscored for Russell Rovers’ to dominate once more – Beausang rifling over three superb frees and a fabulous sideline cut and there was a point from Jack McGrath.
Their defence shut up shop, superbly anchored by Paul Lane and James Kennifick and St Mary’s found the going tough – only managing a brace of frees from Kearns. Jack Power forced Ross Walsh off his line to make an important save with the score 1-10 to 0-10.
When Kieran Walsh teed up Hartnett for his goal in the 52nd minute, it was game over and the winners closed with two more Beausang frees.
Furlong said: “Four years ago the club was nearly going to fold. It is the players there on the field that held it together. It was the players who went to the committee when things were at their worst. You can see the pride and the passion they have in their club today.”
Scorers for Russell Rovers: J Beausang (1-8, 0-6 frees, 0-1 sl), B Hartnett (1-1), J McGrath (0-2), K Moynihan and K Walsh (0-1 each).
Scorers for St Mary’s: E Kearns (0-7, 0-6 frees), D Tobin, S Fitzpatrick, K Sheehan and JJ Coffey (0-1 each).
RUSSELL ROVERS: R Walsh, K O’Brien, E O’Sullivan, P Lane; J Kennifick, JP Ivers, C Ruddy; K Tattan, K Walsh; D Moynihan (Capt), L Duggan Murray, J McGrath; B Hartnett, K Moynihan, J Beausang.
Subs: D O’Brien for J McGrath (56), E McGrath for K Walsh (62), K Ivers for C Ruddy (63), J Ahern for P Lane (66).
ST MARY’S: JP Fitzpatrick; C Tobin, D Coffey (Joint-Capt), R Gleeson; A Kearney, B McGourty (Joint-Capt), D Tobin; S Fitzpatrick, K Sheehan; J Power, J Skehan, E Kearns; S Coffey, M Kearns, J Sheehan.
Subs: JJ Coffey for S Coffey (20), J O’Shea for J Skehan (half-time), C Geary for J Sheehan (53), G Hallinan for J Power (63).
Referee: John O’Halloran (Limerick).