James Stephens 2-18
Two goals from Eoin Guilfoyle and Conor Browne proved to be the winning of Sunday’s St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny SHC semi-final as James Stephens booked their place in the decider in a fortnight’s time following a hard-fought victory over city rivals Dicksboro.
Seemingly inspired by the introduction of former Kilkenny manager Brian Cody into their management team and the return of some key players after injuries throughout the season, they have now moved one-step closer to ending their 11-year wait for the biggest prize of them all
James Stephens got off to the perfect start as Willie Spencer, Matthew Ruth and Tadhg O’Dwyer gave them an early three-point advantage.
Their city rivals responded through Eoin Fennelly, Liam Moore (2) and Andy Gaffney (2), but a brilliant goal from Eoin Guilfoyle allowed Seamus Dwyer’s men to move into a 1-04 to 0-05 lead after an action-packed opening ten minutes.
Michael Walsh’s shield runners-up opted to take their points rather than try to manufacture goal scoring opportunities in the early exchanges, something that they would come to rue.
That did change after 15 minutes however, as Andy Gaffney’s low shot was expertly saved by Village goalkeeper Gavan Costigan after captain Bill Sheehan had got on the scoresheet for the first time in an intense encounter.
Free taker Niall Brassil was in a ruthless mood any time there was ill-discipline from the Boro’s defence as he slotted over two points from dead ball situations to make it James Stephens 1-07 to 0-08 with ten minutes left in the first half.
Timmy Clifford and Shane Donohue exchanged fantastic scores as half-time loomed, and a fourth and fifth point of the afternoon for Brassil saw James Stephens take a 1-11 to 0-10 advantage into the break.
The second half began with three much-needed frees from the ever-reliable Andy Gaffney and Liam Moore duly took on the mantle of score-getter as the 2017 county champions navigated a way back to parity, 1-11 to 0-14.
The lively forward turned provider soon after as he found Gaffney who grabbed a crucial goal for his side which saw James Stephens trail.
It looked as though Dicksboro would kick on from that point, but it was James Stephens who regained control of a tight affair.
O’Dwyer and Brassil replied for the 2011 champions and it was Gaffney again who unsurprisingly made no mistake with a free that would be difficult for the majority of sharp-shooters before substitute Harry Shine helped Dicksboro lead by 1-16 to 1-15 as the game entered its final quarter.
Brassil equalised and Conor Browne got his team’s ultra-important second goal of the day as the James Stephens supporters who were part of the 4,089 attendance at UPMC Nowlan Park sensed that they may get revenge following yesterday’s minor decider defeat and Sunday’s junior section B loss to the same opposition.
Bill Sheehan and Andy Gaffney made it a one-point game again in an enthralling affair that both sets of fans simply could not take their eyes off until the end.
Guilfoyle and Brassil scores saw Dicksboro’s deficit extend to three points once more and despite their best efforts they could not find a goal to take the game to extra-time.
James Stephens now await the winners of Saturday’s second semi-final between county champions Ballyhale Shamrocks and league winners Tullaroan.