Rathnure seal deal after break
Rathgarogue-Cushinstown made favourites work hard
Rathnure produced a blistering second-half to shake off the attentions of a gallant Rathgarogue-Cushinstown and capture the Greenstar Under-21 hurling Roinn 1 championship crown in O'Kennedy Park, New Ross, on Tuesday.
Rathnure 4-12 Rathgarogue-Cushinstown 2-9
With the aid of the breeze, Rathgarogue-Cushintown really put it up to their highly-fancied neighbours in the opening 30 minutes, but the Enniscorthy District champions kicked on in some style after the interval.
Rathgarogue-Cushinstown came into the game as real outsiders, but they quickly showed that they weren't prepared to roll over and let their bellies be tickled, and with wing-forwards Daire Bolger and Jason Dunne influential they held a 1-8 to 2-3 advantage as the sides switched ends.
However, captain Shane Lawlor kept Rathnure right on their coat-tails during a frenetic first-half as he showed his killer instinct by blasting two unstoppable shots past goalkeeper Fionn Slattery.
Rathgarogue-Cushinstown did briefly threaten to pull off an upset when a Bryan Cody delivery from way out the field found its way to the back of the net to give them a 2-8 to 2-6 lead, but Rathnure showed a ruthless streak thereafter, with Ciarán O'Connor and Jason Lawlor bagging goals as they killed off the game with unsympathetic efficiency.
Being labelled with the underdogs' tag before throw-in, Rathgarogue-Cushinstown needed to get off to a positive start, and they did just that. Their captain, Barry Murphy, split the posts inside the opening 30 seconds, and in the seventh minute the lively Jason Dunne had the green flag waving.
However, the goal wasn't a product of the energetic and cavalier side to his game as it came when his sideline cut from 40 yards out on the right took a wicked bounce and deceived goalkeeper Liam Barron.
Rathnure weren't long about showing that they meant business though, when two minutes later Shane Lawlor gathered possession, bore down on goal and planted a sweet strike to the top corner of the net.
The New Ross District kingpins responded well, with Tadhg Cody knocking over a nice point, but Rathnure were back on terms in double-quick time, with Michael Redmond and Shane Lawlor both sending the ball over the bar.
A Daire Bolger free edged Rathgarogue-Cushinstown back in front, but Shane Lawlor again showed his cut-throat finishing ability when he produced an almost carbon copy of his opening goal as he fizzed the ball past Fionn Slattery to give Rathnure a 2-2 to 1-3 advantage.
Some teams may have let their heads drop, but Rathgarogue-Cushinstown were in no mood to throw in the towel and turned the tide back in their favour with five points on the trot.
Daire Bolger arrowed over two placed balls, sandwiching scores from Jason Dunne and the industrious Eoin Porter, and Dunne completed the scoring spurt when he gathered a crossfield pass from Bolger and fired over a great long-range point to give them a three-point cushion.
Turning around to face a stiff breeze in the second-half, they needed a bigger buffer, but it was Rathnure who registered the final score of the half when Ciarán O'Connor popped over a free, after Seánie Redmond's run had been halted when attempting to burst through on goal.
With the wind at their backs, the influence of midfielders Michael Redmond and Podge Doyle grew and the black and ambers attacked relentlessly.
They picked off three points in as many minutes after the turnaround to get their noses in front, with Ciarán O'Connor converting a free, Michael Redmond adding a booming point, and Jason Lawlor squeezing the ball between the posts from a tight angle.
Everything looked to be going Rathnure's way but Rathgarogue-Cushinstown got the shot in the arm they needed in the 35th minute, when Bryan Cody sent in a hopeful delivery and it brushed off the hand of a defender to wrongfoot goalkeeper Liam Barron.
Rathnure remained unperturbed though and they outscored their opponents by 2-4 to 0-1 for the remainder of the game, with Daire Bolger's 55th-minute point Rathgarogue-Cushintown's only other reward for their efforts.
Ciarán O'Connor got the juggernaut rolling with a point, Podge Doyle leaped like a gazelle to gather the ball before thumping it over, and Aodhán Foley's effort was then deflected over the bar after the quick-thinking O'Connor found him with a short free.
Eoin Higgins decided to get in on the act as he roamed forward to fire over a point, and the wind was well and truly taken out of Rathgarogue-Cushinstown's sails in the 45th minute when Brian Quigley floated in a free that found its way to Ciarán O'Connor and he blasted the ball to the net.
O'Connor then turned provider four minutes from time, sending in a delivery from the right sideline and Jason Lawlor clinically rifled a ground stroke over the line.
Rathnure: Liam Barron; Cathal O'Connor, Denis Maher, Eoghan Byrne; Ben Ronan, Brian Quigley, Eoin Higgins (0-1); Michael Redmond (0-2), Podge Doyle (0-1); Shane Lawlor (capt., 2-2), Seánie Redmond, Michael Martin; Jason Lawlor (1-1), Ciarán O'Connor (1-4, 0-3 frees), Aodhán Foley (0-1). Subs. - Patrick Flynn for Martin, Martin O'Connor for S. Redmond, Nicky Quigley for J. Lawlor, Thomas Furlong for Cathal O'Connor, also Domhnall McGahan, Niall Dillon, Daragh Reddy, Dylan Hogan, Rory Higgins, James Tobin.
Rathgarogue-Cushinstown: Fionn Slattery; Liam O'Shea, Ricky McGrath, Ian Kennedy; Patrick Murphy, Bryan Cody (1-0), Aaron Ryan; Tadhg Cody (0-1), Peter Aspel; Daire Bolger (0-4, 2 frees, 1 '65), Eric Cummins, Jason Dunne (1-2, 1-0 line ball; John James Carroll, Eoin Porter (0-1), Barry Murphy (capt., 0-1). Subs. - John O'Keeffe for Carroll, Shane Delaney for Cummins, Shane O'Connor for B. Murphy, Jack McGrath for Kennedy, also John Forristal, Brian Creane, Garrett Browne, Dylan Bookle.
Referee: Damien Donovan (Volunteers).