THE CURTAIN-raiser to the SHC final in Markievicz Park was an enthralling encounter between the top two juvenile hurling clubs in the county.
Two drawn games had necessitated a second replay and the closeness of the previous ties had suggested a tight game. Indeed in the first half defences were on top for both teams, as apart from a fifth minute Paul Kilcoyne goal that gave Naomh Eoin a solitary score lead, attacks were nullified until Easkey's Mikey Gordon sent over a point in the 19th minute. Naomh Eoin's full-back line especially to the fore, marshalled expertly by full-back Ryan Feehily and centre-back Liam Henry. This Easkey score sparked a flurry of conversions with Naomh Eoin captain Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch pointing from 50 metres out to restore their goal lead in the 21st minute and Easkey full forward Joe McHugh sending over a free a minute later to liven this tight contest.
Stephen Henry, who impressed throughout, ignited the contest as he finished off a fine run from his centre-forward berth with a firm strike sending the sliotar into the top corner of the Easkey net to give the holders a 2-1 to 0-2 lead after 23 minutes.
Backs again took control for the remainder of the half with Naomh Eoin thwarting the growing Easkey attacks and failing to convert a number of scorable chances before the break.
On the resumption Stephen Henry again made a scoring impact this time within the first minute of the second period with another mazy run and welltaken point from the right corner to extend the city club's lead. More pressure around the Easkey square lead to a quick double from corner forward Brendan Corcoran who twice flicked three-pointers past Jack Kelly's goal following good work from Gerard O'Kelly-lynch, Conan O'Donnell and Paul Kilcoyne to give Naomh Eoin an unassailable lead of 4-2 to 0-2 by the 36th minute.
Mikey Gordon, who impressed with good stick control and passing, pulled a point back in the 46th minute but the some excellent defending from both teams restricted the scoring somewhat. Easkey full forward McHugh sent over a quickly worked point from play and impressive midfielder Finian Cawley added a well-taken goal following some determined play to reduce the gap to seven points (4-2 to 1-4) by the 48th minute but three minutes later the athletic Paul Kilcoyne pointed following a skilful solo run, and despite the talented Joe McHugh responding with another well-taken point, Stephen Henry grabbed a second goal on 54 minutes to seal the title for the holders Naomh Eoin.
Naomh Eoin full forward Conan O'Donnell added to their impressive tally with a goal from just outside the small rectangle to complete the scoring with a minute to play. Naomh Eoin captain Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch accepted the trophy from Hurling Chairman Gerry O'Connor and paid tribute to mentors Bill O'Kelly-Lynch and Pat Hickey and to the gallant Easkey team who battled to the end.
NAOMH EOIN: Michael Kilcoyne; Oisin Kelly, Ryan Feehily, Mark Connolly; Donal Conlon, Liam Henry, Jack Keegan; Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch (0-1f), Paul Kilcoyne (1-1); Tony O'Kelly-Lynch, Stephen Henry (21), Ryan Phillips; Sean Heaney, Conan O'Donnell (1-0), Brendan Corcoran (2-0). Subs: Fearghal Kilfeather, Cathal Jordan, Conor McGovern, Darren McNelis, and Diarmuid Mulligan. EASKEY: Jack Kelly; Ian Barrett, Bernard Feeney, Patrick Flynn; Fergal Ryan, Patrick O'Connor, Eamonn Kilgannon; Finian Cawley (1-0), Hayden Gilroy; Shane Mooney, Mikey Gordon (0-2), Rory McHugh; Thomas Whitty, Joe McHugh (0-3, 1f), Gavin Calpin.Sub: Eamonn O'Dowd.