Rangers deliver landmark day for Carlow
Mt Leinster R 0-11 Oulart-The B' 0-8
Just when you thought the hurling season that keeps giving couldn't deliver any more drama, it threw up one final twist – quite probably the most sensational twist of all.
Mount Leinster Rangers, champions of Carlow, are now club champions of Leinster. It has a most unfamiliar ring to it.
Over an hour after the end at Nowlan Park, there were still knots of jubilant supporters out on the pitch still trying to acquaint themselves with a new status for the game in the county.
Carlow hurling has been making steady progress in recent seasons, and on top of the county's U-21 victory over Dublin earlier this year, this result can really accelerate that development.
As the crowds spilled out on to Nowlan Park afterwards, it was noticeable that just about every other GAA club in the county was there in support.
That the team they conquered with a stirring and passionate second-half performance were losing their fourth successive Leinster final merely adds to the drama.
Oulart-The Ballagh only have themselves to blame for the level of paralysis that afflicted their game, with 11 wides and another six shots dropping into Mount Leinster goalkeeper Frank Foley's grateful hands, reflecting the pressure that clearly consumed them.
Two years ago, they shot 17 wides in the corresponding game against Coolderry, so this was a painful reminder.
Once again when it mattered most, their nerve deserted them in excruciating fashion. Their former manager Liam Dunne suggested during the week that a fourth defeat at this stage of the competition could be "the straw that broke the camel's back." It's hard to see a way back from this.
Current manager Martin Storey suggested afterwards that he could probably come up with five or six different scenarios as to why they lost once again. But it probably comes down to one simple truth – they froze.
Mount Leinster Rangers – an amalgamation of Borris, Ballymurphy and Rathanna, who are celebrating their 25th year in existence this year – have become accustomed to gathering silverware, with All-Ireland intermediate success in 2012 the springboard for this victory.
The win ensures that Carlow joins the list of counties who have provided the winners of Leinster senior club football and hurling. Only counties from Laois, Offaly and Dublin had achieved this distinction before.
Mount Leinster took command in the second half, with Richard Coady delivering a masterclass at centre-back and Denis Murphy's accuracy from frees and play crucial in hauling in Oulart, who took a 0-5 to 0-3 lead in at half-time.
There were telling signs of that pressure in the opening half when Oulart hit seven wides in the first 24 minutes, but Mount Leinster Rangers were out of sorts too and some of their striking was poor.
They didn't score from play in the opening half and scored just four from play from their total of 11 points, which matches the lowest ever winning score in a Leinster SHC final (Birr also scored 11 points in 1997). These are statistics that will hardly matter to them, however, when stacked against the scale of their achievement.
Oulart's failure to score for 20 minutes after Darren Nolan's 31st-minute point allowed Rangers to establish the belief to create history.
Coady was the source of so much enrichment for the new champions. He is not the most robust presence in the position but his reading was superb and his ability to sidestep traffic and trouble was a feature of the game. He was in the right place almost all of the time.
Beside him, his brother Edward also had a terrific match, while corner-back Gary Kelly made countless telling interceptions and tackles.
Buoyed by a fervent following in the estimated 7,200 attendance, every challenge, every catch and every clearance was greeted with an unprecedented enthusiasm that made for quite atmosphere and may even have felt intimidating for an already fragile
Oulart. In the second half especially, the decibel level rose to even higher levels as Mount Leinster got the scent of success and went for it with an inspiring backdrop of noise every time they committed a worthy deed.
Kelly may have been fortunate not to concede a penalty when Gareth Sinnott went to ground in the goalmouth after only two minutes after latching on to Lar Prendergast's smart delivery.
Sinnott managed to put the ball into the net but he was adjudged to have handpassed it and the score was disallowed.
Both sides struggled for fluency early on but Oulart did look to have that little bit more polish to their play and when Des Mythen broke through for a fourth point and Eoin Moore planted a long-range free coming up to half-time, they had breathing space.
Nolan's early point after the resumption should really have settled the five-in-a-row Wexford champions but instead they became even more "squeezed", as Storey put it afterwards.
Some of the exchanges were quite robust and referee John Keegan was somewhat lenient in his approach. Murphy fouled liberally throughout but still wasn't shown a card.
The corner-forward hit four unanswered points between the 31st and 41st minutes to push the new champions in front for the first time.
Oulart's response reflected a team that had that sinking feeling. From a relatively straightforward angle, Nolan screwed a shot wide and then Nicky Kirwin, just on the field, flashed a low shot across the goalmouth that represented their best goal chance and ultimately their best shot at redemption.
Paul Coady's 46th-minute point following more good work from Richard Coady and the industrious David Phelan stretched the lead before Rory Jacob's free threw Oulart a lifeline.
But when Diarmuid Byrne belted over a sideline to thunderous approval on 54 minutes, Oulart could collectively feel their world caving in.
Murphy landed another point from play to increase the lead to three on 55 minutes as momentum grew and, in the closing stages, Oulart's pursuit of a goal was fruitless.
Oulart's pain will be compounded by the fact they have beaten the Kilkenny champions for the last three years in Leinster but still don't have a title.
For Mount Leinster Rangers and Carlow hurling, it is a landmark day, tangible reward for the progression of the game in the county.
SCORERS – Mount Leinster Rangers: D Murphy 0-8 (6fs), P Coady, Derek Byrne, Diarmuid Byrne 0-1 each. Oulart-The Ballagh: D Mythen, R Jacob (1f) 0-2 each, D Redmond, D Nolan, C O'Leary, E Moore (f) 0-1 each.
Mount Leinster Rangers – F Foley; M Doyle, G Doyle, G Kelly; D Byrne, R Coady, E Coady; D Byrne, P Nolan; D Phelan, P Coady, E Byrne; E Doyle, J Coady, D Murphy. Subs: HP O'Byrne for J Coady (45), J Hickey for E Doyle (52), W Hickey for P Coady (60).
Oulart-The Ballagh – B O'Connor; E Moore, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; C Goff, P Roche, L Prendergast; M Jacob, S Murphy; D Nolan, D Redmond, D Mythen; C O'Leary, G Sinnott, R Jacob. Subs: N Kirwin for O'Leary (43), D Stamp for Murphy (57).
REF – J Keegan (Wicklow).