Ballygarrett bag late winner
Hobbs hits dozen points in come from behind victory
Two clubs rarely in the limelight gave their all in a heart-stopping Top Oil Intermediate 'A' hurling championship final in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday, with Ballygarrett coming from behind to pip Geraldine O'Hanrahans and return to the second tier after being relegated in 2017.
The last of Jack Hobbs' twelve points, 20 seconds into the six and a half minutes of added time played, ultimately brought them a first adult title since the Junior success of 2004, but they only made it by the skin of their teeth.
Indeed, it's not intended as an insult to their efforts to state that most neutrals were willing the ball to go over the bar when the Geraldines earned a last-gasp '65 and had a chance to force a replay.
They had done enough to earn another day out, and ace marksman Dylan Egan already had an impressive 1-8 to his name when he stepped up midway between the right post and the sideline, shooting into the Clonard end.
His slow, deliberate style of free-taking ensured that his approach was precise and there was no sign of panic, but the ball went wide at his own side and the final whistle followed on the puck-out.
That sparked joyous celebrations from the Ballygarrett contingent as they swarmed onto the field to savour their victory, with last week's prediction on these pages that they might pip their rivals coming to pass.
And they certainly claimed this title the hard way, hitting back from a 1-10 to 1-5 interval deficit and only taking the lead for the first time in the second period with that game-winning Jack Hobbs point.
After his 1-12 haul had inspired the team to a semi-final win over Gusserane, the former Wexford under-age attacker was up to his old tricks once more as he picked off a dozen precious points, registering twelve of the winning team's 15 scores.
Further back the field, experienced captain Stephen Redmond was a defiant figure in the centre-back role, reading the play superbly and getting through a mountain of hard work that propelled him to the official man of the match award.
The quality of hurling was superior in the first-half than in the second, but the excitement levels reached fever pitch near the end when it was clear that the outcome was hanging in the balance.
And while the Geraldines were ultimately thwarted in their bid to bring a first adult title home since the Junior victory of 1995, they have laid a platform that should encourage this generally young team to have another serious crack at glory next year.
They had first use of the wind blowing towards the town end, and big full-forward Danielius Niekis made an impact without troubling the scoreboard due to his strength under the dropping ball and unselfish distribution.
Killian Doyle had picked out John Doyle for an early Ballygarrett point, but they conceded three on the trot to Eoin Kelly and a Barry Roche brace before Cormac Moore-Kavanagh and Jack Hobbs (free) brought the north county side back to parity (0-3 each).
Dylan Egan (free and play) plus Ned Connors knocked over three points on the trot in a good spell for the Barrowsiders, but Hobbs pulled one back from a placed ball before Ballygarrett hit the front with a 19th-minute goal.
A clearance by Stephen Redmond was caught in style on the left flank by corner-forward John Doyle, and he bore down on the Clonard end posts before blasting the ball beyond Brandon Gardiner (1-4 to 0-6).
And although it was a considerable blow to the Geraldines, their response was first rate as they hit back with 1-3 on the bounce before their rivals scored again.
Ballygarrett full-back Darren Morris got a vital touch on a Dylan Egan handpass intended for temporary substitute David Crowdle to cut out a potential goal chance, with the '65 that followed sent over by Egan.
And when a Pádraig Bailey clearance was won and transferred quickly by Niekis in the 24th minute, Egan whipped first-time to the net to drive the Barrowsiders into a 1-7 to 1-4 lead.
He went on to add three points before the break too, including one swift turn and strike from play despite heavy pressure, with a sole reply from Hobbs leaving Ballygarrett behind by 1-10 to 1-5 at half-time.
Incredibly, Hobbs was his team's only marksman following that goal by John Doyle in the 19th minute, adding ten points thereafter, eight from placed balls, to give the Gorey District men the edge.
However, eating into that Ross lead was a gradual process, until they finally came good with the last four points from the 53rd minute onwards to get over the line.
The scoring dried up in the third quarter, with three Hobbs frees yielding responses from Ned Connors and a Dylan Egan placed ball (1-12 to 1-8).
Hobbs followed through to bat a point on the run after an attempt on goal by Eoin Corcoran was saved in the 47th minute, and he added another from a free to reduce the deficit to two.
There was a let-off for the Geraldines when referee Philip Murphy called a halt for an injury to the hard-working Patrick Naughter in a bone-shuddering accidental collision, as Ballygarrett would have been quite happy to play on with their team-mate out of action as they had a three-on-one overlap at the time.
A converted Dylan Egan free brought welcome relief for a Geraldines side for whom Enda Kelly and Garry Hill got through an immense amount of defensive work (1-13 to 1-10).
From that point on, the clock became their enemy though as Ballygarrett gradually reeled off the title-winning scores.
A push on Eoin Corcoran from the puck-out after Egan's last successful strike led to a free that Hobbs pointed, and the ace finisher then latched on to a Stephen Redmond clearance and sprinted clear before a neat turn and memorable first-time score directly off his hurl (1-13 to 1-12).
Ned Connors thought he had restored the two-point gap for the Geraldines, only for the play to be brought back for a free out to Ballygarrett.
The black and ambers lost a scoreable free, but immediately earned another one from the throw-in that followed when Hobbs was fouled, and he duly struck the equaliser in the 58th minute.
Conor Cleere blocked and cleared a mishit John Doyle goal attempt as the excitement mounted, and the winner arrived after Patrick Naughter robbed the ball from Garry Hill as the experienced pair continued their memorable tussle around the '40.
Jack Hobbs was 60 metres out, closer to the right sideline than centrefield, but his aim was true and it's a point that will be re-lived in the Ballygarrett clubhouse for many years to come.
It was an all-out defensive effort for the new leaders for the remainder of added time, with the Redmond brothers, Stephen and Eddie, making crucial clearances before the ball broke off the latter to hand Dylan Egan that last-gasp chance.
The Geraldines wouldn't have been in a position to possibly earn a replay without his scoring heroics beforehand, but unfortunately the cruel side of sport loomed large again as the opportunity was missed.
It meant that Stephen Redmond accepted the Tom Donohoe Memorial Cup from Sonia Funge, and proceeded to make an excellent speeech before being named man of the match.
The teams had six wides apiece, with the free count reading 18-10 in favour of Ballygarrett who will be in Leinster action on November 2 in either Carlow or Louth.
Ballygarrett: Aaron Hall; Eddie Redmond, Darren Morris, Aidan Murphy; Brendan Corcoran, Stephen Redmond (capt.), Colm Kennelly; Cormac Moore-Kavanagh (0-1), Tom Sinnott; Killian Doyle, Patrick Naughter, Eoin Corcoran; Jack Hobbs (0-12, 9 frees), Shane Quinn, John Doyle (1-1). Subs. - Seamus Doyle for K. Doyle (54), Jimmy Murphy for E. Corcoran (60+2), Johnny Sinnott for Quinn (60+6), also Mark Doyle, Harry Byrne, Oisín Dunbar, Adam Fleming, Tom Hobbs, Seán O'Brien.
Geraldine O'Hanrahans: Brandon Gardiner; Pádraig Bailey, Conor Cleere, Michael Cleere; Barry Kelly, Garry Hill, Enda Kelly; Jack Foran, Diarmuid Kehoe; Eoin Kelly (0-1), Dylan Egan (1-8, 0-5 frees, 0-1 '65), Stephen Somers (capt.); Ned Connors (0-2), Danielius Niekis, Barry Roche (0-2). Subs. - David Crowdle for Kehoe, temp. (18-24), Matt Crowdle for Somers (47), David Crowdle for Connors (60), Bryan Haberlin for Roche (60+2), also Jimmy Smith, Dylan Wickham, Paddy Somers, Tony Murphy, Michael Cullen, Jake Byrne, Daithí Merrigan.
Referee: Philip Murphy (Faythe Harriers).