WHEN 'The Village' people face the darkest adversity they don't look across other frontiers for help. Instead, they appeal to their emotions to locate a survival route, a choice that elicited a remarkable response in Portlaoise yesterday as James Stephens recovered from a nine-point first-half deficit to grind UCD into defeat in the AIB Leinster club hurling final.
J Stephens 2-13
WHEN 'The Village' people face the darkest adversity they don't look across other frontiers for help.
Instead, they appeal to their emotions to locate a survival route, a choice that elicited a remarkable response in Portlaoise yesterday as James Stephens recovered from a nine-point first-half deficit to grind UCD into defeat in the AIB Leinster club hurling final.
It was a truly remarkable tale of courage and defiance by the defending Leinster and All-Ireland champions, who looked to be headed on a disastrous course when they trailed by 1-9 to 0-3 after 24 minutes. It was as if the criticisms of UCD's participation in a club competition had motivated the students to unprecedented heights of endeavour as they blitzed the Kilkenny champions from all angles.
UCD half-backs Colm Everard, Eamonn Ryan and Diarmuid Fitzgerald were driving forward at every opportunity; Stephen Lucey and Bryan Barry were dominant at midfield while the attack was teasing the James Stephens defence relentlessly.
John O'Connor scored UCD's goal in the ninth minute and as Lucey's influence grew, there was little James Stephens could do except hope that the storm would blow itself out. Still, when Lucey flashed over a second great point in the 24th minute to increase the lead to nine points, UCD seemed to have the formula in place to deliver a first Leinster title success.
James Stephens manager Adrian Finan began his repair work by switching team captain Peter Barry from wing-back to midfield, a move that was to prove hugely influential. Lucey wasn't anywhere near as effective from there on while Barry's power and commitment repeatedly broke up the play, allowing Brian McEvoy to feed hungrily off loose ball.
McEvoy had a quiet first half but revisited the peak of his considerable powers in the second half when, as well as providing the attack with lots of good possession, he also popped over two priceless points from a free and a '65'.
Eoin Larkin's accuracy was even more important as he picked off eight points, seven from placed balls and one delightful effort from play. Larkin scored five of James Stephens' six first-half points, including three just before the break which not only cut the margin to six points (1-9 to 0-6) but also convinced them that the recovery could be completed with the wind in the second half.
It was UCD who staged a spirited - if ultimately futile - fightback in the 2004 final but this time James Stephens not only completed the task but did it in the most remarkable circumstances.
Francis Cantwell, Donncha Cody, Jackie Tyrrell. Philip Larkin, Peter Barry, Brian McEvoy and Eoin Larkin all grew with the demands of the day while subs Shane Egan and Matthew Ruth each scored a vital goal. Egan's goal in 51st minute put 'The Village' ahead (1-11 to 1-10) and while Bryan Barry equalised, the momentum was with the defending champions.
Larkin and Everard exchanged points to leave it all square heading into the final minute before Ruth pounced for a crucial goal after a long-range lob wasn't cleared by the UCD defence. Ruth poked the ball over the line and, direct from the puck-out, David McCormack galloped through to fire over an opportunist point.
Devastated UCD could hardly believe what had happened. They had been out-scored by 2-10 to 0-3 over the final 35 minutes, a scenario that looked all but impossible after the students' wonderfully enterprising opening.
When Bryan Barry pointed a sideline with a delightfully angled cut in the 14th minute, it looked as if the gods had decided that despite the widespread opposition to their involvement in the competition, UCD were about to be called to the winners' podium for the very first time.
They were quick, slick and powerful, leaving manager Babs Keating calm and relaxed on the sideline as all the jigsaw pieces slotted into place. James Stephens were struggling to put even two pieces together at that stage but Peter Barry's switch to midfield began the discovery process which ultimately ended in triumph.
Amazingly, James Stephens' starting six forwards contributed only three points between them from play but then this was a day for improvisation and an utter stubbornness which manifested itself in the stoic refusal to regard a nine-point deficit as anything other than a cross sent to test them.
SCORERS - James Stephens: E Larkin 0-8 (6f, 1 65), S Egan, M Ruth 1-0 each, B McEvoy (1f, 1 65), D McCormack 0-2 each, P O'Brien 0-1.
UCD: P Morrissey (3f), B Barry (1f, 1 lineball, 1 65), C Everard 0-3 each; J O'Connor 1-0, S Lucey 0-2, T Fitzgerald 0-1.
JAMES STEPHENS - F Cantwell; D Cody, M Phelan, D Grogan; J Tyrrell, P Larkin, P Barry; B McEvoy, P O'Brien; J Murray, E Larkin, G Whelan; E McCormack, R Hayes, D McCormack. Subs: S Egan for Whelan (42), M Ruth for Murray (45).
UCD - B Campion; D Walton, M Fitzgerald, E Campion; D Fitzgerald, E Ryan, C Everard; B Barry, S Lucey; P Morrissey, B Phelan, E O'Gorman; T Fitzgerald, J O'Connor, B Murphy. Sub: R Barry for Fitzgerald (ht).
REF - B Gavin (Offaly)