A special cup comes home
Gusserane 1-9 HWH-Bunclody 0-9
They say there's no room for sentiment in sport, but sometimes an onfield contest can produce one of those truly special moments to encapsulate what life is really all about.
Bellefield was the scene for a prime example on Saturday when the Gusserane Junior 'A' footballers finally achieved a cherished club ambition by bringing the Duffin-Browne Memorial Cup home with a one-goal win over HWH-Bunclody in a keenly-fought county championship final.
There was a considerable amount of emotion as Mick Duffin and Brendan Browne presented the magnificent silverware to team captain Jamie Cooney afterwards, and it was easy to understand why.
It prompted memories of June 26, 2003, a dark day for the parish when two of its most talented young players, Ivan Duffin and David Browne, died in a road traffic accident.
The grieving families donated their memorial trophy to the County Board for this competition, and Cloughbawn were the first winners in 2004.
Since then Gusserane had made it their mission to bring it home, only to encounter a series of bitter defeats along the way.
Their sole previous appearance at this stage had resulted in a loss to Glynn-Barntown in 2008, and they had come up short in an incredible six semi-finals since.
This year was to be different though, with a team mixed with experienced former Seniors and members of the successful Under-21 side of 2016 combining to beat all-comers.
And while defeat was hard to take for HWH-Bunclody, having lost last year's decider to St. Martin's by one point, I'm sure nobody in the club will begrudge Gusserane their victory given those extra-special circumstances.
Former St. James' player Alan Myler provided the victors with the necessary X-factor up front as he contributed a match-winning 1-6 to their tally, including 1-2 from play.
And special mention has to be made of the incredible longevity of mighty midfielder John Roche, now in his 50th year and still manning the position he held with the county Seniors for so long, and also now occupied at present by his son, John Jnr., for the club's Senior team.
Whenever the pressure came on, Gusserane were able to look to wily campaigners such as full-back Cathal Somers, the O'Grady brothers, Jamie Cooney and Philip Wallace to steady the ship.
All neutrals will be delighted to see the latter collecting another county medal after his years of sterling service to the purple and gold.
Wallace moved down to this level after achieving his lifetime ambition of Senior glory last year, picking off a valuable point from centre-forward before dropping back as an extra body in his former Wexford role on the edge of the square to deny HWH-Bunclody the late goal they needed.
It was one of the most sporting deciders I can ever remember, with first-time adult county final referee Brendan Holohan keeping firm control without the need to show even one yellow card.
And what proved to be the key score arrived early, with Gusserane pouncing for that all-important goal in the seventh minute after an early Jason Cowman point for HWH-Bunclody had been cancelled by Jamie Cooney.
Cooney had a hand in the goal too as all three members of the full-forward line combined. Seán O'Connor fed the captain who in turn located Alan Myler, and the experienced new arrival to the club calmly slotted a low shot into the left corner of the net.
He followed up quickly with a pointed free after a HWH-Bunclody defender overcarried under pressure from Gary O'Grady, but Gusserane were destined not to score again in the opening half after Myler knocked over another free in the 14th minute (1-3 to 0-1).
The Carlow border crew started to gain a foothold, and rival netminder Brian Hennessy had to be at his best to save Jason Cowman's shot at the expense of a '45 after an astute Stephen Kavanagh handpass put the corner-forward wearing number 8 in the clear.
Paul Jackman then made a vital interception at the other end as Robert Browne tried to feed Myler for another attempt on goal, and nearly 13 minutes had elapsed without a score before Paul Finn was fouled and knocked over the free for HWH-Bunclody.
He added a second just before the break when Stephen Kavanagh was impeded, leaving Gusserane with a 1-3 to 0-3 interval lead but in dire need of a few scores to regain lost momentum.
HWH-Bunclody made further inroads into the deficit just over five minutes into the second period with a Finn point from a Kavanagh lay-off, and it was time for Alan Myler to step up and steady Gusserane with a couple of pointed frees.
The first ended their scoreless spell lasting all of 26 minutes, with both earned by the hard-working Jamie Cooney in the left corner.
Matty Byrne and Stephen Kavanagh combined to pick out Cathal Doyle for a HWH-Bunclody point, but Gusserane delivered an emphatic response with four unanswered scores between the 44th and 50th minutes that made all the difference in the long run.
Myler kicked a brilliant point from play with little room to manoeuvre after good work by Keith and Gary O'Grady, before a crossfield Seán O'Connor line ball found Robert Browne who popped a pass to Donal Kiely, with the impressive young wing-back splitting the posts (1-7 to 0-5).
Substitute Seán Kinsella was the provider for Myler's second point from play, and Philip Wallace then widened the gap to seven with the victory line in sight.
However, given their history of heartbreak in the grade, it was probably written in the stars that they would live dangerously for the remainder of the game.
Byron Byrne drilled a low shot across goal and wide, with play then called back for a free converted by Paul Finn.
Jason Cowman, who had moved outfield in the second-half, added his second point in the 57th minute, and Matty Byrne lobbed in a free as added time began but Brian Hennessy managed to clear the danger.
Cathal Doyle and Joe Kavanagh ramped up the pressure though with HWH-Bunclody points, and there was one final chance to force a replay with the last attack almost four minutes into added time.
Matty Byrne passed to Doyle whose head-high shot wasn't powerful enough to really test rock-solid netminder Brian Hennessy, and the final whistle seconds later was sweet music to the ears of the overjoyed Gusserane faithful.
The victory has lifted a monkey off their backs and, while the defence of last year's Senior title didn't go according to plan, these are exciting times for a club with a second successive Junior hurling final appearance to look forward to in the coming weeks.
Gusserane manager Michael Hennessy deserves a great deal of credit for his role in this triumph, because he has made it his personal goal to bring the Duffin-Browne Cup home. I'm sure it got a rousing reception on its arrival in Ballycullane last Saturday night.
Gusserane: Brian Hennessy; James Redmond, Cathal Somers, Eoghan Foran; Donal Kiely (0-1), Keith O'Grady, Tommy Cosgrave; John Roche, Robert Browne; Gary O'Grady, Philip Wallace (0-1), Fintan Ryan; Jamie Cooney (capt., 0-1), Alan Myler (1-6, 0-4 frees), Seán O'Connor. Subs. - Seán Kinsella for Cosgrave, inj. (46), Conor Cleary for Ryan (57), Jack Culleton for O'Connor (57), also Ger Wallace, Oisín Foran, Matty Flynn, Tom Breen, Chris Cullen, Nicky Cahill, Shane Doyle, Tom Foran.
HWH-Bunclody: Francis Reck; Paul Jackman, Thomas O'Neill (joint capt.), Conor Hendrick; Matty Byrne (joint capt.), Joe Kavanagh (0-1), Byron Byrne; Paul Finn (0-4, 3 frees), James Taylor; Adrian Hendrick, Niall Kelly, Stephen Kavanagh; Jason Cowman (0-2), John Paul Connors, Cathal Doyle (0-2). Subs. - John Connors for Kelly (36), Michael Connors for J.P. Connors (43), Darren Murphy for A. Hendrick (57), also Páiric Doyle, Diarmuid Crean, Fergal Kelly, Seán Taylor, Seán Nolan, Podge Kehoe, Ronan Roberts, Bobby McKeown, Adam Sadler, Seán Hogan, James Fitzgerald, Mickey Connors.
Referee: Brendan Holohan (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown).