Rangers wreck Boden's Leinster dream
OH, where to start after such a gloriously madcap contest? What better place than the end itself.
We've crept into injury-time when Denis Murphy nails a free to further acclaim from the exultant followers of Mount Leinster Rangers. They lead by five points against 14 stunned Ballyboden St Enda's men. Game over bar some 11th-hour book-keeping ...
But then Niall McMorrow goals on the rebound only to be whistled back for an earlier foul and 'Boden's second penalty of a pulsating second half. This time Paul Ryan finds the net; the clock reads 62 minutes 25 seconds.
Barely 35 seconds later, the hosts' defence has been shredded by a necklace of passes, the final one ending in McMorrow's paw.
He's one-on-one with the 'keeper, the most improbable of comebacks looms sharply into focus ... until the advancing Frank Foley, whether by accident or design, gets his upper anatomy in the way of McMorrow's putative match-winner.
There is time for one more 'Boden attack, but no more panic attacks for Mount Leinster. When James Owens calls time on this semi-final cliffhanger, players, mentors and virtually the entire stand in Dr Cullen Park erupt in unison. History: the first Carlow team to reach the final of the AIB Leinster senior hurling championship.
"We expect high standards of ourselves," said Tom Mullally, the managerial mastermind of this two-point triumph.
"As much as the world writes you off, we didn't come in today to make up numbers. Even at half-time, we weren't going for any kind of two-point loss or anything like that."
Their date with destiny comes on Sunday week against Oulart-The Ballagh at Nowlan Park. For the fourth year running, the Wexford standard-bearers will enter a Leinster final as favourites ... what odds a fourth consecutive upset?
Such an outcome would constitute a bigger ambush than each of the previous three.
But completely off the Richter Scale? We reckon not: despite those late palpitations, Mount Leinster were fully deserving of yesterday's 1-17 to 3-9 victory over the hotly fancied, yet fatally flat Dublin champions.
Ballyboden selector Darragh Spain summed it up succinctly thus: "Their desire seemed to be far superior to ours.
"We're obviously very disappointed, but that's the way it goes with hurling – it's 60 minutes and if your desire isn't as good as the opposition, you're going to get beaten."
The former Dublin defender demurred at the suggestion that 'Boden will find it increasingly difficult to land that elusive Leinster title, this being their sixth failed attempt in seven seasons.
"Every season is a new season – you start again. Every season is extremely difficult to get through Dublin; we were countless years trying to do it in the first place," Spain reminded.
But he then admitted: "You don't get to Leinster semi-finals every other day and I suppose that's what's disappointing about today: we didn't seize the moment, that old cliché, and Mount Leinster did."
The visitors had led 2-7 to 0-11 at the break without conveying any sense of being in total control of their destiny.
Too many marquee men weren't at their usual optimum level – Spain insisted afterwards that the seven-day turnaround from the Dublin final was not a contributory factor.
For Mount Leinster, meanwhile, Derek Byrne had clipped three impressive points from midfield, Eddie Byrne had landed two fine efforts on the run while freetaker Murphy was in the zone.
And yet they still trailed, partly because 'Boden were more efficient in going for the jugular (cue goals after six and 21 minutes by Gavin Corrigan and their most effervescent forward, Conor McCormack), partly because his fellow Dublin intercounty teammate, Paul Ryan, started to turn the screw approaching half-time; and partly because Malachy Travers was hurling up a storm at corner-back.
But on the resumption, Mount Leinster upped the intensity again and twice drew level in the third quarter, the second time after a sublime sideline cut by the increasingly influential Diarmuid Byrne.
Then came the game's watershed sequence.
Ballyboden sub Stephen Nagle won a high ball and then a hugely contentious penalty ... this reporter thought he had spied a jersey tug amid the congestion and Spain maintained afterwards it was a correct decision whereas home supporters were incandescent.
But this time, Ryan's trademark thunderbolt was repelled on the line and as the Carlow men counter-attacked, Ballyboden St Enda's defensive disarray was evident as Eddie Byrne ghosted into glorious isolation inside.
His brother Diarmuid duly picked out the unmarked Eddie, who finished to the net for a 50th minute game-changer.
So, did it all boil down to that 30 seconds? "Of madness?" Spain ventured. "Yeah, probably ... in hurling you have to be very much clued-in as a defence. We let our guard down there and your man got the goal."
The second half contained several flashpoints ending with players on the turf and soon afterwards, one such goalmouth incident resulted in a straight red for Gary Maguire after the Dublin netminder appeared to hit out at John Coady (who was booked). Cue another penalty, which Murphy was happy to tap over.
All that remained was some, ahem, 11th-hour book-keeping and near-cardiac meltdown.