THEY may have won four county senior hurling titles in the last decade, but Newtownshandrum's reaction to last Saturday night's first round victory over Ballymartle at Kilworth left little doubt that it tasted especially sweet.
It wasn't difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the unbridled jubilation displayed by the players, management and supporters alike after Newtown's new-look side came out on the top in an enthralling contest that went to extra time. In the absence of so many former stars, the general perception was that Newtown might struggle against opposition that had reached the semi-finals in just their second season operating at senior level last year, and had high hopes of reversing the narrow defeat endured in the 2011 first round clash between the teams.
For much of the game, it appeared as if Newtown's worst fears were about to be confirmed, but they never dropped their heads, and their never-say-die attitude, not to mention a fierce pride in the jersey, enabled them to turn things around in dramatic fashion in the last quarter.
After transforming a five-point deficit into a three-point lead, they were denied the laurels in normal time when Ballymartle's Darren McCarthy blasted in a last-gasp goal from a free, and they came under pressure again after another goal from McCarthy pushed the Riverstick men two points ahead three minutes into the first period of extra time.
Digging deep, however, Newtown went on to outscore Ballymartle by eight points to two, with Ryan Clifford, from a free, impressive substitute Michael Bowles, who notched a brace, and PJ Copse sharing the last four scores in the second period of extra time to secure the win. It was indeed heroic stuff from Newtown, who appeared to be in serious trouble after Ballymartle held an unflattering five-point lead eleven minutes into the second half.
They had been chasing the game since Ballymartle hit five points on the trot to move 0-5 to 0-2 in front inside 12 minutes, and they had found it difficult to build up a bit of momentum, not least because of their problems at the back. With such as Darren McCarthy, Dan Dwyer, Brian Corry and Keith Fitzpatrick sparkling up front, Ballymartle were able to respond positively anytime their advantage was seriously threatened in the first half.
Having posted the last four scores before the break, Ballymartle turned over 0-14 to 0-9 to the good, and they had every reason to fancy their chances considering that Newtown's key attackers Jamie Coughlan and Cathal Naughton were struggling to produce their best form. While Ryan Clifford had his moments at corner forward, it was largely due to the efforts of midfielders PJ Copse and especially John Paul King that Newtown stayed in touch in the first half.
The gap was down to two points, 0-15 to 1-10 after Cathal Naughton placed Jamie Coughlan for a Newtown goal in the 33rd. minute, but Ballymartle, making light of that setback, quickly restored their five-point advantage, and there was little to indicate their fire-power would be stifled as the last quarter dawned.
Following the boost of another goal by Cathal Naughton, after John Paul King, now operating on the '40, latched on to a William Biggane puck-out to create the opening, Newtown finally managed to snatch the initiative. Although Darren McCarthy replied with a point for Ballymartle, Newtown reeled off five on the trot before McCarthy's late goal from a free left the teams tied, 2-18 to 1-21, at the end of the hour.
Both sides had a player dismissed just before the end of regulation time, with Ballymartle's Ruairi Dwyer getting a straight red-card following an off the ball clash with Newtown full back Dermot Gleeson, who picked up a second yellow. Newtown always looked the more likely side to prevail in extra-time, and, despite the concession of an early goal to Darren McCarthy, they finished the first period 2-23 to 2-22 in front.
McCarthy, who had an excellent match, brought Ballymartle back on terms shortly after the restart, but they failed to score again as the Newtown rearguard, with Jack Herlihy to the fore at centre back, established firm control. Newtown's improvement at the back was unquestionably a key factor in their win, and the fact that Ballymartle had put 21 points on the board by the three-quarter stage, and managed to register just 2-2 over the next 35 minutes tells its own story.
Equally significant of course was the impact made by Jamie Coughlan - who, switched to midfield, landed a point from all off 90 metres out in the first period of extra time - and Cathal Naughton after the interval. John Paul King, PJ Copse and second half substitute Michael Bowles were others to make particularly generous contributions to a famous Newtown victory.
Newtownshandrum: C Naughton 1-4, R Clifford 0-7, 0-4 frees, J Coughlan 1-3, JP King 0-4, PJ Copse and M Bowles 0-3 each, D Stack, M Ryan, free, and J Bowles 0-1 each
Ballymartle: Darren McCarthy 2-6, 1-1 frees, Dan Dwyer 0-4 and B Corry 0-4 each, K Fitzpatrick 0-3, B Dwyer 0-3, 0-1 free, R Dwyer 0-2, Darragh McCarthy 0-1
Newtowhshandrum: W Biggane, J O'Mahony, D Gleeson, R Fallon, M Ryan, J Herlihy, C Twomey, PJ Copse, JP King, J Coughlan, J Bowles, C Naughton, G Lane, D Stack, R Clifford Subs: M Bowles for Lane, M Thompson for Stack, G O'Mahony (extra time replacement)
Ballymartle: Declan McCarthy, J Kelly, M Tobin, D Coleman, S Corry, P Dwyer, C Coleman, S O'Mahony, D Edmonds, B Dwyer, B Corry, Darren McCarthy, Dan Dwyer, R Dwyer, K Fitzpatrick. Subs: Darragh McCarthy for P Dwyer, J Dwyer (extra time replacement), Declan Dwyer for Kelly, Kelly for S Corry (injured), D O'Leary for B Dwyer
Referee: C McAlister (Aghada)