It was the slightest of margins, but James Stephens won’t care about the manner of victory. They’re in the semi-finals. Dicksboro’s championship has come to an end in the most excruciating way possible.
It was a game that lived up to its billing and then some as these old rivals went toe-to-toe at a sun-drenched UPMC Nowlan Park on Sunday afternoon.
A late goal from corner back Shane Donohue in the closing stages proved crucial in a game that was full of intensity and passion from both teams who were fully committed throughout.
The sides exchanged early scores with free-takers Eoin Guilfoyle and Shane Stapleton making no mistake with early opportunities to open their accounts from placed balls.
Man of the match Cian Kenny was a constant thorn in the side of the Dicksboro defence and his roaming out the pitch from his corner forward position paid dividends early on as he duly obliged to the wide-open space afforded to him with two excellent efforts from distance.
Luke Scanlon and Liam Moore both pointed within seconds of each other as the scoreboard read 0-05 to 0-05 after ten minutes but it didn’t remain level for much longer.
A long ball from Guilfoyle had the Dicksboro full-back line scrambling and they could only watch on as Tadhg O’Dwyer connected with the most delicate of touches to nudge the ball past Dicksboro goalkeeper Darragh Holohan.
With James Stephens 1-05 to 0-05 ahead at the start of the second quarter, Dicksboro were wary of allowing their rivals to build on their momentum and that early confidence was completely stunted thanks to two quick-fire goals from Andy Gaffney and Aidan Nolan. Gaffney’s goal in particular caught the eye. Gathering the ball above Diarmuid Cody, the talented forward regained his footing after a slip and powerfully shot past Seán Manogue.
Mark Nolan got the score of the game from inside his own half before a free from Stapleton gave Dicksboro a 2-07 to 1-08 lead at half-time against a punch-drunk Village. The experienced Matthew Ruth grabbing two crucial points from play to keep his side within one score of their opponents.
The third quarter was equally as tight as the first two, with neither side able to pull away from the other in a tentative but always entertaining affair in a city derby that was a treat for the onlooking mass of supporters at the home of Kilkenny hurling.
Stapleton and Gulfoyle, who was admittedly not at his best leading to his withdrawal for Eoin Larkin deep in the second half, continued to take advantage of chances provided to them through defensive ill-discipline.
Centre backs Cillian Buckley and Niall Brassil got superb scores from long-range as the second half water break drew ever closer, while Bill Sheehan and Matthew Ruth points, his third score from play, meant the sides were separated by two points as the game reached its final fifteen minutes, Dicksboro 2-11 to 1-12 James Stephens.
Kenny came to the fore again with three points in-a-row for the newly crowned shield champions, bringing his total for the day to six points (5 from play, 1 free). Timmy Clifford responded for the ‘boro as the sides could not be separated with five minutes of normal time remaining.
Robbie Fitzpatrick and Bill Sheehan points looked to have been enough to send Dicksboro into the semi-finals, but a wonderful run from corner back Shane Donohue saw him in unchartered waters at the other end of the pitch and his finish was reminiscent of the best forwards in the game. That goal was the deciding factor in a game where every score mattered.
Kenny and Gaffney exchanged late scores and the final whistle came to the relief of Seamus Dwyer and his side, while for Dicksboro it was agony and heartbreak as their championship comes to an end in a cruel way.