Kilkenny SHL: City spoils shared as O’Loughlin Gaels top group

James Stephens will be happier to leave Nowlan Park with a draw, but it wasn't enough to overtake the Gaels at the top of the table
Kilkenny SHL: City spoils shared as O’Loughlin Gaels top group
Paddy Butler of O'Loughlin Gaels under pressure from Eoin Larkin of James Stephens at UPMC Nowlan Park. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

James Stephens 2-16 O’Loughlin Gaels 2-16 

City pride was shared as James Stephens and O’Loughlin Gaels split the points in the last round of the Kilkenny Senior Hurling League.

Of the two sides, James Stephens will be happier to leave UPMC Nowlan Park with a draw, but it wasn't enough to overtake the Gaels at the top of the table. Two points deep into injury-time from corner-back Dinny Stapleton and Luke Scanlon helped Cheddar Plunkett’s side hit back and deny their city rivals from taking their third win of the campaign.

With a place in the league final there for the winners, there was plenty at stake for the teams in Friday’s affair. The Village hit the ground running, taking just 30 seconds to roar in front. Eoin Guilfoyle rose the green flag, batting the sliotar to the net after Mikey Drennan’s shot was deflected into his path.

O’Loughlin’s were quick to post replies through Eoin O’Shea (free) and Owen Wall, but with Niall Brassil leading a strong Stephens defence, the Village quickly extended their lead. Drennan, Matthew McWey, and Brassil pushed them four points ahead (1-3 to 0-2).

O’Loughlin’s took some time to settle, but the water break saw them spark into life through an unlikely source. County player Paddy Deegan gave them a shot in the arm when his long drive took an awkward bounce, deceiving Village goalkeeper Sean Minogue before it ended up in the net. They followed that up with points from Luke Hogan and the impressive Paddy Butler to go in front for the first time by the 27th minute (1-5 to 1-4).

James Stephens were stunned by that salvo, adding just one more point before the break through Cian Kenny, while Wall and Butler kept the Gaels at full tilt (1-7 to 1-5).

An early Village break had the sides level quickly after the restart but O’Loughlin’s showed their hunger when Wall lashed an unstoppable shot past sub goalkeeper Gavin Costigan soon after (2-8 to 1-8).

From there on it was nip and tuck as both sides swapped points with regularity. O’Loughlin’s stayed in front – they could have been further ahead but Mark Bergin saw his first time pull flash wide of the mark in the 42nd minute.

That was a let-off for James Stephens, who hit back when Drennan pounced to flick the sliotar home after Guilfoyle’s 45th-minute shot was parried into his path. 

James Stephens were spurred on by that goal and hunted for more scores. Guilfoyle and Conor Browne kept them in the hunt, but superb points from sub Jay Leahy and O’Shea (free) kept O’Loughlin’s in front (2-15 to 2-13).

The Gaels were still ahead when the game went into injury-time. Bergin’s 60th-minute free looked like giving O’Loughlin’s a morale-boosting win over their old foes, but those two late points saw Stephens escape with a draw right at the death.

Scorers for James Stephens: E Guilfoyle (1-5, 0-4 frees); M Drennan (1-1); N Brassil, L Scanlon, D Stapleton (0-2 each); M McWey, C Kenny, M Ruth, C Browne (0-1 each).

Scorers for O’Loughlin Gaels: O Wall (1-4); E O’Shea (0-4 frees); P Deegan (1-0); P Butler (0-3); L Hogan, M Bergin (0-2 each); J Leahy (0-1).

JAMES STEPHENS: S Minogue; L Murphy, S Donoghue, D Stapleton; N Brassil, C Browne, N Mullins; C Kenny, E Larkin; M McWey, M Drennan, L Scanlon; T Dwyer, M Ruth, E Guilfoyle. 

Subs: G Costigan for Minogue (inj), 25; J McGrath for Larkin, 30; W Spencer for McWey, 31; T Keogh for Murphy, 48; D Cody for Ruth, 52.

O’LOUGHLIN GAELS: S Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, E Kearns; J Molloy, P Deegan, T Forristal; J Nolan, M Bergin; P Butler, E O’Shea, L Hogan; O Wall, C Loy, D Loughnane. 

Subs: C Heary for Loy, 31; J Leahy for Butler, 55; C Kelly for O’Shea, 55; D Burke for Nolan, 59.

Referee: O Beehan (Fenians).

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