THE All-Ireland SHC five-in-a-row may have eluded Kilkenny but the season has had its compensations for Martin Comerford and Brian Hogan, both of whom played hugely significant parts in re-establishing O'Loughlin Gaels at the head of the pecking order in one of the most competitive county hurling championships.
Carrickshock, anchored by Kilkenny stars Richie Power, Michael Rice, John Tennyson and John Dalton, were fancied to end a 59-year wait for the title but found themselves chasing the game from the start against the well-organised Gaels. In the end, there were only three points between the teams but, in reality, Gaels' superiority was more pronounced than that.
They led by six points heading into stoppage time when John Tennyson got his stick to a dropping ball for a goal which gave Carrickshock hope of pulling off a dramatic escape. But, just as they had done all day, Gaels retaliated quickly as Sheamie Cummins pointed.
Niall Rohan pulled one back for Carrickshock but Gaels remained solid over the closing minute to secure their first title since 2003. They did so with an impressive combination of hard work, a solid team ethic and a heavy coating of individual excellence which left Carrickshock facing problems they never quite worked out.
A crowd of 11,008 turned out expecting a classic encounter on a gloriously sunny day but it never quite materialised as Carrickshock couldn't match the level of consistency which Gaels brought to every line. From goalkeeper Stephen Murphy to full-back Andy Kearns, who did a good marking job on Richie Power, centre-back Hogan, midfielders Peter Dowling and Maurice Nolan and on to an attack where all six did extremely well, Gaels were in a different class
Danny Loughnane was the only one of the forwards not to score but he contributed handsomely in other facets, including dropping back as part of the three-man defensive effort for Richie Power's penalty drive six minutes into the second half.
A goal would have cut the margin to three points but Loughnane diverted the ball out for '65' and while Power pointed, it had been a crucial moment.
Gaels went on to extend their lead to eight points (0-15 to 0-7) after 48 minutes and while Carrickshock rallied, they couldn't wear down an opposition which was growing in confidence with each passing minute.
Richie Power did his best to provide Carrickshock with inspiration but, with the ball supply into the attack far less than what Carrickshock would have expected, he found it difficult to make progress. Gaels had made it a priority to keep Power starved of the sort of possession which might have enabled him to cause serious problems and they achieved it in impressive style.
"Our game plan was to put their backs under as much pressure as possible so as not to allow them to pick out Richie with their clearances. We all know the damage he can do if he gets enough good possession," said Martin Comerford, who led by captain's example.
Comerford worked extremely hard in the more unglamorous work required of forwards these days, often funnelling back in search of responsibility. He also contributed two points from open play and won a few frees which Mark Bergin converted to bring his total to seven.
Alan Geoghegan scored three points from open play while Niall McEvoy and Brian Dowling scored two each. Carrickshock found it harder to create scores and, once they lost Michael Rice to injury in the second half (he had been most impressive in the first half), it never looked like it was going to be their day.
Gaels led by 0-6 to 0-2 after 18 minutes and by 0-10 to 0-4 at half-time, leaving Carrickshock in need of an early second-half flourish. The penalty opportunity provided them with an opening but, just as they had done all day, Gaels stood strong.
"It was a scary moment all right. If they got a goal at that stage it would have put us under real pressure but thankfully the lads held out," said Comerford, whose brother Andy coached the team along with manager Michael Nolan.
Not even the most partisan Carrickshock supporter could claim that the Gaels weren't full value for their victory in a game which, remarkably, produced no frees for 11 minutes and just four in the opening 30 minutes.
It wasn't as if the physical stakes weren't high but referee Eamon Mansfield let the game flow, although he did intervene a little more often in the second half, awarding eight frees.
So then the county title made the short trip from Nowlan Park to the O'Loughlin Gaels clubhouse while Carrickshock's long wait goes on.
Gaels have several players with previous county final experience which, according to Hogan, was an influential factor.
"It's always good to have been through an experience before. We got a good start and pressed on from there. It demanded a huge workrate to keep it going for the full hour but we managed it," he said.
Now, the Gaels press on into Leinster where they take on Rathdowney-Errill (Laois) next Sunday.
"Is that who we're playing? To be honest, we never even looked at it," said Hogan. "There wasn't much point when we still had a county final to play but now that we've won it, we'll give the Leinster championship our best shot."
Scorers -- O'Loughlin Gaels: M Bergin 0-7 (0-5f), A Geoghegan 0-3, M Comerford, B Dowling, N McEvoy 0-2 each, S Cummins 0-1. Carrickshock: R Power 0-6 (0-4f, 0-1 '65'), J Tennyson 1-1, N Rohan, M Rice 0-2 each.
O'Loughlin Gaels -- S Murphy; B Kelly, A Kearns, E Kearns; A O'Brien, B Hogan, N Bergin; P Dowling, M Nolan; A Geoghegan, M Bergin, N McEvoy; D Loughnane, M Comerford, B Dowling. Sub: S Cummins for B Dowling (56).
Carrickshock -- P Farrell; L Gaule, J Dalton, D Franks; P Mulcahy, N Tennyson, J Murphy; W Hoyne, J Tennyson; P Tennyson, M Rice, Jamie Power; John Power, R Power, N Rohan.Subs: M O'Dwyer for Hoyne (39), A Power for Rice (43), R Frisby for Mulcahy (47), B Donovan for P Tennyson (51).
Ref --E Mansfield