Holders had to work very hard
Pettitt's Senior Hurling Championship Group A: St Martin's 2-20 St Anne's 2-16
As much as they tried to make it pretty, it didn't always work out for St. Martin's as they battled resolutely to see off St. Anne's to start their Pettitt's Senior hurling championship defence with a Group A win in Bellefield on Friday.
The confidence of the Piercestown-based side is clearly sky high and why wouldn't it be? They are on top of the tree, holders of the title, there to be shot at, and they got to that point with this group of players.
The Rathangan side gave a lot to this contest though. They presented their opposition with the type of problems they rarely faced last season, and in Diarmuid O'Keeffe they came up against a runner from midfield that they found difficult to curtail.
But it would be wrong to suggest it was just the county star doing damage. They were winning battles across the field, Liam Rochford was excellent, and players like Mikey Fogarty and Andy Kennedy played at a level above what might be expected of them. It really was a ding-dong battle.
There were no St. Martin's celebrations at full-time, it was job done but they knew they were in a battle.
They will have more games like this, they will be asked serious questions, and time will tell how well they deal with the target attached to their backs.
Two Jess Codd frees, and some profligacy in front of goal, had them 0-3 to 0-1 down after ten minutes. However, soon Rory O'Connor darted down the left centre of the field, almost lost possession, got it back and fed across for Jake Firman to fire home the opening goal.
Things remained imperfect with the breeze at their backs as a pair of O'Keeffe points levelled the game by the 17th minute (1-3 to 0-6). Yet, for all their quality work, St. Martin's were still picking holes in the Anne's defence.
Again Rory O'Connor produced the assist, winning a long ball before feeding Firman for his second goal in six minutes. Despite going 2-4 to 0-6 up when O'Connor pointed, nine first-half wides scuppered the advances of Tomás Codd's side.
At the other end St. Anne's needed a goal to give themselves a vital boost before the break. It came in the 42nd minute when O'Keeffe committed defenders with another tantalising run and shot, Luke White made his second fine save of the evening, after stopping a Rochford effort two minutes earlier, but Andy Kennedy swept home the rebound.
Parity at the break (1-9 to 2-6) was probably a fair reflection on the contest. St. Anne's had taken their chances better and looked dangerous when running from deep, but there was a sense that St. Martin's could break the game open with a devastating few minutes of hurling if things clicked.
It was still level in the 41st minute, 2-10 to 1-13, when Conor Firman broke out of defence to register one of the points of the evening.
Rory O'Connor scored the next five for his side but St. Anne's kept battling away to trail by three with five minutes left.
When Darren Codd made the lead four points it seemed like St. Anne's were running out of steam. However, when Rochford ran at the St. Martin's defence in the 59th minute and found Redmond Barry, the experienced attacker was fouled, seconds before he rattled the crossbar.
Referee John O'Loughlin brought play back and gave the penalty, and O'Keeffe just about forced it past Luke White, despite the 'keeper guessing the right way. With the lead suddenly one point, St. Martin's motored on again.
Rory O'Connor, who else, immediately broke clear to make the lead two and then pointed a '65 for his 14th score.
Two minutes into added-time, Jack O'Connor wrapped up the win, scoring from the left of the posts while falling to the ground to secure both points for the champions.
St. Martin's: Luke White; Willie Devereux, Patrick O'Connor, Conor Firman (0-1); Ben Maddock, Aaron Maddock, Paudie Kelly (capt.); Harry O'Connor, Mark Maloney; Jack O'Connor (0-3), Rory O'Connor (0-14, 8 frees, 2 '65s), Darren Codd (0-1); Ciarán Lyng, Joe O'Connor, Jake Firman (2-1). Sub. - Jack Devereux for Maloney (53).
St. Anne's: Paul Brennan; Finn O'Driscoll, Páraic O'Keeffe, Tomás Cullen; Seamus Mythen, Aidan Rochford (0-1), Kenny Cloney; Diarmuid O'Keeffe (1-5, 1-0 pen., 0-2 frees), Mark Furlong; Jess Codd (0-7, 5 frees), Liam Rochford (0-1), Jonathan Fogarty (0-1); Mikey Fogarty (capt.), Redmond Barry (0-1), Andy Kennedy (1-0). Subs. - Kevin Whelan for Kennedy (46), Mikey O'Brien for Cullen (52).
Referee: John O'Loughlin (Monageer-Boolavogue).