THEY lived dangerously a lot of the time, but Kildorrery's sheer grit, courage and resilience ultimately carried them to a historic win over luckless Brian Dillons in a gripping county junior hurling championship final replay at Pairc Uí Rinn last Sunday.
In a contest that was every bit as compelling as the epic drawn encounter, even if the quality of the hurling suffered to a certain extent because of the underfoot conditions, both sides displayed admirable character and commitment in a bid to claim the cherished prize. In the final minute of regulation time, Brian Dillons appeared to have made the decisive push after corner-forward John Noonan completed a quick hat-trick of points for the city kingpins to leave Kildorrery trailing by 0-12 to 1-6.
While there were seven minutes of additional time to be played as a result of an injury sustained by Kildorrery wing-back Tom Monaghan, who was carried off on a stretcher late on, it was hard to visualise the North-Cork men mounting a comeback, given that they had registered just two second half points at that juncture. As in the drawn match, however, Kildorrery rekindled their hopes with a goal, which came courtesy of Finbarr Stapleton, who was on hand to knock in a low cross from the left by Dave Kelly.
Peter O'Brien, scorer of the goal that had hauled Kildorrery back from the brink the last day, did much of the spadework for Stapleton's crucial strike, making a powerful burst in from the wing before laying the ball off to Kelly. O'Brien fired over a couple of points after that to emerge as the hero of the hour for Kildorrery, but Dillons' prolific marksman John Horgan initially had the chance to break the deadlock in a dramatic finale.
The last thing Kildorrery would have wanted to see was the sight of the normally clinical Horgan bearing down on goal with the issue balanced on a knife-edge, but, much to their relief, his effort for a point was wide of the target. There was further frustration to follow for Dillons at the death as, after Horgan had cut the gap to the minimum from a free, Kildorrery 'keeper James McEnery denied Horgan a goal before wing back Darragh Brosnan shot narrowly wide with a long-range attempt to force extra-time.
That brought Dillons' wide-count to nine in the second half, whereas the Avondhu standard-bearers had just two shots off-target, making it easy to appreciate why relief was the overriding emotion in the Kildorrery camp at the finish. The winners were on the backfoot for much of the game, not least during the opening 20 minutes when Dillons dominated in the half-back line, and at midfield.
Peter O'Brien did open the scoring for Kildorrery in the 4th. minute, but he was generally well-policed by Mark White, who had an excellent match at centre back for Dillons. At the other end, wing-back Michael Lillis kept a similarly tight rein on Dillons' ace attacker John Horgan, and the Kildorrery defence resisted stoutly as a unit, with Tom Monaghan and Michael Walsh completing a strong half-back line, and Niall Kelly, Shane Fitzgerald and John Howard equally resolute in front of dependable custodian James McEnery.
The result was that Dillons' persistent pressure yielded just two points in the first quarter, although they went close to making a major breakthrough when John Noonan shaved the upright with a low drive in the ninth minute. Seven minutes later Kildorrery regained the lead, with wing forward Eamonn O'Connor finishing with aplomb after taking a pass from Finbarr Stapleton to grab a goal very much against the run of the play.
Dillons bagged the next two scores to draw level, but a tasty point from Dave Kelly nudged Kildorrery in front again before Peter O'Brien and Michael Walsh shared a brace of late scores from frees to make it 1-4 to 0-4 at the interval. It was a tenuous advantage considering Kildorrery had played with a strong wind in the first half, and they came under severe pressure once more on the resumption as Dillons, with Thomas Lawrence to the fore at midfield, reeled off four points on the trot, including a booming score from distance by Mark White, inside 40 minutes.
Peter O'Brien eventually broke Kildorrery's second half duck with an inspirational point in the 44th minute, and, with Jerry McCarthy more involved at midfield, they managed to match Dillons territorially in the last quarter. Their resolve was really put to the test, however, after Dillons midfielder Cian McCarthy exploded into action to post a couple of sublime points and John Noonan tacked another to complete a purple patch by the city side.
But Kildorrery weren't found wanting when the crunch came, and Peter O'Brien, switched to full forward, delivered the goods big-time as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in what was a remarkable conclusion by any standards.
While O'Brien was the chief architect of Kildorrery's memorable triumph in the end, they could have found themselves with too much ground to make up in the closing stages but for the heroics of their defence which, to a man, excelled, limiting the Dillons forwards to just two points from play between them over the hour. Still, Dillons will reflect ruefully on their erratic shooting which prevented them from tightening the screw before never-say-die Kildorrery produced the late flourish to inflict the cruelest defeat imaginable on their gallant opponents.