Monageer-Boolavogue pull through in incredible finish
Third time lucky for jubilant reds
Even the most imaginative script writer in Hollywood would have watched the last five minutes of Saturday's gripping Top Oil Intermediate 'A' hurling championship final and just laughed at the sheer wonder of it all.
Monageer-Boolavogue 3-10 St. James' 1-15
Proof positive that real-life drama is often better than the movies unfolded before disbelieving eyes in Innovate Wexford Park as Monageer-Boolavogue struck the winning goal on the game's last attack with nearly six added minutes played.
However, that's not even half the story as just moments earlier it looked like double-chasing St. James' had snatched the title from right under their noses, with the reds suddenly staring a third successive final defeat in the face.
For the purpose of telling the full tale, let's rewind to the 56th minute when county Under-21 Shane Murphy converted his eighth placed ball to reduce the Monageer-Boolavogue lead to 2-9 to 0-13, shortly after Matthew O'Hanlon had slightly over-hit a pass to Graeme Molloy when St. James' were in need of a goal.
O'Hanlon was at full-forward at that stage and was hoping to cause damage in the air. Monageer-Boolavogue were hanging on grimly, but their cause wasn't helped in the 59th minute when Mark Walsh collected a second yellow card for a foul on Donal Barron to leave them short a man.
O'Hanlon managed to pop a pass to Barron whose pull fizzed wide, and there was a moment's respite for the leaders when the experienced Colm O'Loughlin fired over a valuable point 52 seconds into added time (2-10 to 0-13).
The action wasn't likely to end any time soon though as the second-half, particularly the closing stages, had featured a number of stoppages for injuries. And so it continued, with another Shane Murphy free making it a two-point game two and a half minutes into added time.
Then came the moment that threatened to break Monageer-Boolavogue's hearts beyond repair given their experiences in 2013 and 2014 when the finals were lost to Shamrocks and Crossabeg-Ballymurn respectively.
St. James' midfielder Mark Molloy, the outstanding individual on the field by a long stretch, landed a delivery on top of Matthew O'Hanlon who caught it and handpassed to his right to Alan Walsh. The substitute's composure was excellent as he didn't break stride before crashing a superb shot across Seán Murphy to the far corner of the net.
The St. James' supporters shouted like it was Senior football final day all over again, and they were ready to celebrate once more when Mark Molloy set up Shane Murphy for his twelfth point in total with the stopwatch reading 34 minutes and 37 seconds (1-15 to 2-10).
Brian O'Loughlin struck the ninth Monageer-Boolavogue wide (St. James' had six) exactly 30 seconds later, but there was still time for one last spell-binding twist. A Ramsgrange attack broke down and two Monageer-Boolavogue veterans combined as Stephen Murphy's clearance was caught by Colm O'Loughlin.
He spotted substitute Mark Gahan tearing through unmarked on the right, with his crisp handpass gathered at pace by the nippy attacker who planted a low shot under Simon Murphy for a goal that will be remembered with great joy in Monageer-Boolavogue for as long as hurling is spoken about.
The final whistle was sounded within seconds of the puck-out, and the Enniscorthy District side didn't hold back as they celebrated their first major title since the Intermediate success 15 years ago when Stephen Murphy, Chris Daly, Patrick Breen and Colm O'Loughlin all played in the final while Niall O'Loughlin was a substitute.
The St. James' contingent were stunned, and who could blame them? First it looked like their smash-and-grab raid had succeeded, only to end up on the receiving end in the most amazing finish I have seen to a game in a long, long time.
Of course, that famous Senior football success will soften the blow, and qualifying for this final just twelve months after winning the Junior title was an achievement in itself.
And I'm sure the losers will understand too why neutrals were delighted to see Monageer-Boolavogue win this one given their sad stories from the last two campaigns.
The gap between the teams was never more than two points in a close-fought opening half, with Pádraig Flynn and Shane Murphy swapping early frees before the latter gave the New Ross District men the lead from play in the eighth minute.
Seán Murphy saved smartly at his near post from Kevin O'Grady before his namesake, Simon, darted out quickly to prevent a scoring chance at the other end. And the two netminders were the central figures in one of the game's key moments in the 17th minute.
A free from deep within his own half by Seán Murphy ended up in the net at the Clonard end, with Colm O'Loughlin's swinging hurley getting the slightest touch to distract the St. James' number one.
Twice the saints narrowed the gap to one, thanks to Shane Murphy (free) and Andrew Walsh, only for Bertie Gahan and the impressive Laurence Murphy to respond.
Mark Molloy's workrate was immense throughout for St. James', and one of his many pinpoint deliveries led to Shane Murphy making it a one-point game yet again in the 24th minute (1-3 to 0-5).
Niall O'Loughlin rattled the side-netting for Monageer-Boolavogue before Shane Murphy levelled from a free, and they remained deadlocked at the break after late points from Brian O'Loughlin and Kevin O'Grady (1-4 to 0-7).
The reds moved Mick Sweeney to midfield in a bid to keep tabs on the influential Mark Molloy, and the teams shared the first four points of the new half. This time it was Monageer-Boolavogue's turn to edge clear twice, first through Brian O'Loughlin and later Laurence Murphy, only to be reeled in by Shane Murphy's accuracy from placed balls.
Another Murphy free made it 0-10 to 1-6 for the Jimmies, but their rivals struck for a vital second goal in the 44th minute. Another long-range Seán Murphy free travelled with the wind behind it towards the town end posts, and Colm O'Loughlin managed to knock the ball across to Brian O'Loughlin who buried it in the top right corner of the net.
It was tight, tense and exciting, with Monageer-Boolavogue able to maintain their lead until that extra-time drama. Matthew O'Hanlon, who encountered a doughty opponent in the experienced Patrick Breen, picked off his sole point before Niall O'Loughlin replied swiftly as we entered the last quarter (2-7 to 0-11).
Monageer-Boolavogue dared to dream when Pádraig Flynn and substitute Mark Gahan added the next two points, but two Shane Murphy frees and the loss of Mark Walsh left them in nail-biting territory entering added time.
What followed was simply incredible, and the reason why sport means such a great deal to so many people.
The twists and turns abounded before Niall O'Reilly accepted the Tom Donohoe Memorial Cup from Yvonne Kavanagh (nee Donohoe), while St. James' midfielder Mark Molloy fully deserved the consolation of the man of the match award.
Monageer-Boolavogue: Seán Murphy; Chris Daly, Niall O'Reilly (capt.), Stephen Murphy; Dean Fenlon, Patrick Breen, Mick Sweeney; Mark Walsh, Laurence Murphy (0-2); Pádraig Flynn (0-2, 1 free), Tommy Breen, Colm O'Loughlin (1-1); Brian O'Loughlin (1-2), Niall O'Loughlin (0-1), Bertie Gahan (0-1). Subs. - Mark Gahan (1-1) for B. Gahan (46), Damien Fenlon for N. O'Loughlin (60+1), also James Gahan, Shane Kehoe, Peter Mernagh, Paul Gahan, Seán McCabe, Ray O'Brien, Diarmuid Fenlon, Shane Gahan, Matty Dunne, Morgan Gahan, Cathal Walsh, Ian Hawkins.
St. James': Simon Murphy; Brian Molloy, Jason Barron, Paul Barron; Daniel Keating, Liam Murphy, David Doyle; Mark Molloy, Robbie Barron (capt.); Mark Myler, Matthew O'Hanlon (0-1), Graeme Molloy; Shane Murphy (0-12, 8 frees, 1 '65), Kevin O'Grady (0-1), Andrew Walsh (0-1). Subs. - Donal Barron for Myler (42), Alan Walsh (1-0) for Andrew Walsh (46), Darragh Lyons for R. Barron (49), also Greg Doyle, Tomás Walsh, John Ryan, Michael O'Grady, Robert Murphy, Jason O'Grady, Tom Crosbie.
Referee: Seán Whelan (St. Martin's).