WHAT AN absolutely fantastic advertisement for hurling this game was on Sunday afternoon in Dr. Cullen Park.
Rangers were well ahead at half time by 1-13 to 0-1 but it didn't reflect the hurling contest on the field. Granted, Rangers deserved their lead but the atmosphere and the heart in the whole ground was simply wonderful.
Every puck, hook and field was applauded and cheered throughout the game for both sides and if ever a game showed how important support can be it was this one.
St. Mullins were down by 15 points and yet when they emerged from the tunnel from the second half their support on the terrace got right behind them and that coupled with the move of Marty Kavanagh to full forward worked wonders for the men in green and white.
What about poor Marty Kavanagh, the man they call mouse, he is surely the first man to ever score 3-5 in a Minor hurling final and still come out on the losing side. Amazingly his haul came entirely in the second half with 1-3 in the first seven minutes of the restart and 2-1 in the final seven minutes.
Credit to the Rangers though for one of the most complete hurling performances in the first half, they lost the second by 10 but they won the first by 15 and ultimately that was enough.
At centre back Diarmuid Byrne was simply outstanding and certainly a contender for man of the match and how much banter would that have created in the Byrne household with Eddie picking up the award in the Senior game.
Conor Fenlon also stood up to be counted in midfield and his points on the run were a joy to witness but the man of the match award went to Kevin McDonald who didn't get the award because he pucked four points but because of the manner in which he took them and because he was involved in most of the positive things MLR did.
Tom O'Neill, Michael O'Grady and Diarmuid Byrne had pointed MLR into a five point lead before St. Mullins got on the score board through the hard working Eddie Doyle but MLR's midfield began to dominate and both men scored fine points with Fenlon and Jack Murphy attacking relentlessly. Up front McDonald and O'Grady looked dangerous and too hard to handle.
The same two clubs contest the Intermediate final replay next weekend and many of the players overlap between Minor and Intermediate.
Any GAA follower would be forgiven for thinking the game was over, but there was just something in the air that said otherwise and St. Mullins still had belief and through Marty Kavanagh they scored 1-3 on the trot at the start of the second half.
There was still a huge gap to bridge though and Rangers looked experienced and controlled as they continuously weathered the storm. When St. Mullins would score Rangers would hit back immediately, or even with two in a row and they just made it tough for St. Mullins to penetrate past the 20m line.
St. Mullins final two goals came from Marty in the 28th and 29th minutes and certainly made the scoreboard more respectable but for those at the game you could see they caused some major concern at the Rangers end of proceedings.
Ted Joyce became the fifth Ranger forward to score and the young red half of the southerners claimed the first part of the weekend double. A mention too for the spirit and sportsmanship on show in this final and credit to Paud Dwyer, the referee, not one yellow card in the hour, an all round good show.
MOUNT LEINSTER RANGERS
Dean Grennan, MJ Doran, Luke Roche, Daniel Ryan, Michael Malone, Diarmuid Byrne, Jamie Doran, Conor Fenlon, Jack Murphy, Kevin McDonald, Ted Joyce, James Kelly, Tom O'Neill, Michael O'Grady, Joe Porter. SUBS: Michael Bible, Shane O'Neill, James Barron, Cormac Kavanagh.
James Curran, David Lawless, Liam Grennan, Pierce Deegan, James Kelly, Ger Coady, Seamus Murphy, Marty Kavanagh, Peter Kavanagh, Eddie Doyle, James Doyle, John Murphy, Mickey Byrne, Michael Walsh, Philip Connors. SUBS: Alex Doyle, Steven Elmes, Patrick Doyle, Michael Finn, Shane Byrne, Adam O'Neill, Aaron Ralph VENUE: Dr Cullen Park REFEREE: Paud Dwyer (Palatine)