Bennettsbridge will take on Clara in the league final as they eventually proved too strong for a Rower-Inistioge side who will go into the championship on the back of three consecutive defeats.
Following defeats of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Lisdowney in their opening two clashes, Bennettsbridge knew that a victory in against an out-of-form Rower-Inistioge team would seal their place as winners of Group B and in doing so guarantee a league final clash with Clara.
They didn’t disappoint as they proved too strong for a Rower-Inistioge side who will be inspired by their performance in Gowran on Saturday afternoon.
It was Rower-Inistioge who started the better of the two sides with two Pat Lyng scores from play in between a Jack Walsh free giving them an early two-point lead following the opening score of the game from Bennettsbridge full forward Jason Cleere.
Free takers Nicky Cleere and Jack Walsh exchanged scores nine minutes into the game and Cleere’s first score from play saw the scoreboard reading Rower-Inistioge 0-04 to 0-03 Bennettsbridge after ten minutes of a non-stop opening period.
The trusty Walsh pointed another free for his side and points from half forward Richie Leahy and All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny Kieran Joyce gave Michael Doyle’s team a deserved four-point lead midway through the first half.
An unsettled Bennettsbridge were uncharacteristically sloppy during the opening exchanges with four wides from scoreable positions, but they got a much-needed point through Seán Morrissey to temporarily stem their opponent’s early momentum.
Leahy and Morrissey had enough time to double their respective tallies before the first half water break as the unbeaten Bennettsbridge found themselves trailing by three points against a side who came into this game on the back of two defeats from their opening two games, Rower-Inistioge 0-08 to 0-05 Bennettsbridge.
The second quarter was played at a slower pace compared to the first 15 minutes and it wasn’t until the 20th minute that the first score after the brief rest for the players came thanks to a Jack Walsh free.
Bennettsbridge, seeking to secure a league final berth with victory in Gowran, began to show why they were the standout team of the league campaign when Nicky Cleere, Hugh O’Neill and Jason Cleere points reduced the deficit to a single point, 0-09 to 0-08.
The ‘Bridge were in complete control of the middle third and utilised that dominance to the full extent as a third point from the impressive Seán Morrissey meant the sides were level for only the second occasion.
Half back Jack Walsh and Nicky Cleere once again exchanged well-taken frees from difficult angles on the stroke of half-time. There was time for three more scores as midfielder Aidan Cleere split the posts with his effort from distance before Morrissey added another while Kevin Murphy opened his account for the afternoon for Rower-Inistioge as Bennettsbridge took a 0-12 to 0-11 lead into half-time.
The second half started as the first had concluded with Aidan Cleere pointing straight from the throw-in, but the Rower-Inistioge were not willing to lie down as Pat Lyng tapped over his third point in response to Cleere’s early score.
Bennettsbridge moved into the ascendancy as the second half progressed with David Blanchfield, Kevin Blanchfield and Conor Murphy getting on the scoresheet as a gap appeared between both teams for the first time in a hotly contested affair, Bennettsbridge 0-16 to 0-12 Rower-Inistioge.
Bennettsbridge furthered their healthy lead with the ever-consistent Cleere pointing a free from within his own half before easily dispatching another free straight in front of the posts.
Richie Leahy looked to lead the comeback charge as he scored his first of the second half and an Eoin O’Brien point from play left four between the sides, 0-18 to 0-14.
Kevin Blanchfield and Shane Ryan exchanged scores from play before Nicky Cleere pointed one last free prior to the second half water break, Bennettsbridge 0-20 to 0-15 Rower-Inistioge.
Jack Walsh responded immediately after the water break for Rower-Inistioge with another score from a placed ball but that was cancelled out by Cleere proving he was equally as capable as his counterpart with a free of his own.
Rower-Inistioge could not eat into Bennettsbridge’s lead and it only got bigger throughout the last quarter with a second point from centre back David Blanchfield and a point from midfielder Shane Byrne giving them a 0-23 to 0-17 lead with five minutes of normal time remaining.
Eoin O’Brien and Tom Doyle added two more points for Rower-Inistioge, but they could not bridge the gap as Bennettsbridge came out on top in unspectacular but efficient fashion.
Bennettsbridge move on to a mouth-watering clash with Clara in the league decider next weekend while Rower-Inistioge will look to put their league form behind them when they enter the first round of the championship.