A crazy game of hurling in the month of January, as best described by Pádraig Walsh. The Tullaroan centreback and county star, was one of four brothers who helped the Kilkenny side to All Ireland intermediate hurling championship glory in Croke Park on Saturday night.
Pádraig’s brother Shane, the captain and man-of-the-match, crowned a memorable evening with the winning point in the fourth minute of stoppage. His ninth in total, after an extra-ordinary battle laced with passion and skill.
“Stuff of dreams, unbelievable. A crazy game as well, which made it even better, win with the last puck of the game, just special,” said Pádraig.
“That was the craziest game I was ever involved in. Just crazy. One team was on top, then the next team was on top.
"Even with a few minutes to go, it looked like we had it, we were five points up. Then bang, they were back level again.
“This is the pinnacle, it is so, so special. You won’t get better than this, winning an All Ireland in Croke Park with your friends and all your family around you. And to celebrate with all the people is unbelievable.”
This was one of the greatest All Ireland intermediate club finals. It had everything from first whistle to last.
Fr O’Neill’s drew first blood as Declan Dalton’s goal put them 1-4 to 0-1 ahead.
Tullaroan recovered from a slow start, Shane Walsh from play and frees catching the eye. It was Shane who fed Martin Keoghan for their opening goal three minutes from the break to edge one up.
Shane Walsh was at it again when he intercepted Colin Sloane’s short puck out before parting to Peter Walsh and his goal nudged his side 2-5 to 1-6 ahead at the interval.
A cracking second half was in store. And it delivered on the expecation
Eoin Conway’s goal in the 36th minute scored from a Dalton line ball swung the momentum O’Neill’s way. Tullaroan didn’t panic, they continued to pick off their points, Multiple All Ireland medallist Tommy Walsh and Peter Walsh adding to the tally, 2-9 to 2-8 in front.
Fr O’Neill’s dramatic two-goal burst was next. Dalton unleashed a rocket and a minute later Cillian Broderick, set up by Paudie McMahon, found the target to move five clear approaching the end of the third quarter.
It was fast and furious. The Leinster side replied with a flurry of quickfire points followed by Keoghan’s second goal. Another point from Tommy Walsh left them 3-16 to 4-8 to the good. A 10-point turnaround meaning they went from five down to five up.
Fr O’Neill’s were right back in it when sub Jason Hankard lashed the sliotar past Paul Buggy and a minute from time another sub Sean O’Connor landed a point to leave it a one-point match, 5-10 to 3-17.
Soon after Pádraig Walsh converted a 65 as three additional minutes was announced. Enough time for Thomas Millerick and McMahon to level again. Extra-time looked set to be required and nobody would have argued.
Shane Walsh was having none of it - nailing the winner from 50 years with a nonchalant strike.
“I was hoping the ball would go to Shane because the form he was in today, everything went over the bar,” continued Pádraig. “It fell to the right man. I knew the minute he threw it up it was going to go over.”
And with that, devastation for Fr O’Neill’s.
“It was an awful way to lose it with the last puck of the game,” said joint-manager Dave Colbert. “We would be fierce proud of the lads, they put in a super-human effort. We are so proud of what they did out there and how they came back and back and just kept going.
“It is crushing. But look, we have been on the right side of them many times. It was just two teams going out there. Serious teams. We were unlucky to come out the wrong side of it.
"We are champions of Cork. We are champions of Munster. We have lost an All Ireland final by a point. That is all we have lost. They are the best group we have ever produced. They are fantastic fellas. They are role models for every boy and girl in our club.
“We were dealt with serious setbacks. We are down our full back (Adrian Kenneally) through injury. Mark (O’Keeffe) and Billy (Dunne), their demeanour and behaviour all week was outstanding. They were up and down the road to Croke Park (in a bid to overturn the red cards picked up in the semi-final). They never missed training. They were positive. They were inspirational in how they conducted themselves.
“Were the red cards a distraction? I don’t think they were. The performance out there shows we weren’t distracted. They trained exceptionally well. There was no sulking. They just tore into it. That is what they do. I think the performance showed that today. The club is so proud of how they performed all year.”
Scorers for Tullaroan: S Walsh (0-9, 0-4 frees), M Keoghan (2-1), Peter Walsh (1-2), Padraig Walsh (0-1 65), J Walton and T Walsh (0-2 each), B Gaffney (0-1).
Scorers for Fr O’Neill’s: D Dalton (2-4, 0-2 frees, 0-1 65), E Conway (1-2), C Broderick and J Hankard (1-0 each), P McMahon and K O’Sullivan (0-2 each), T Millerick and S O’Connor (0-1 each).
TULLAROAN: P Buggy; D Doheny, Tommy Walsh (Village), S Maher; Martin Walsh, Padraig Walsh, J Keoghan; T Dunne, Mark Walsh; B Gaffney, M Keoghan, J Walton; Peter Walsh, Tommy Walsh (Mountgale), S Walsh (Capt).
Subs: K Coogan for T Dunne (39), A Tallis for M Walsh (44).
FR O'NEILL'S: C Sloane; P Butler, G Millerick, M Millerick; T Millerick, D Harrington (Capt), J Barry; J Millerick, K O’Sullivan; E Conway, R Cullinane, P McMahon; L O’Driscoll, D Dalton, C Broderick.
Subs: J Hankard for E Conway (50), S O’Connor for J Barry (54), E Motherway for C Broderick (57).
Referee: Thomas Walsh (Waterford).