JAMES STEPHENS 2-16 YOUNG IRELANDS 3-12 Kilkenny SHC final THE Village people are back at number one in the Kilkenny hurling hit parade for the first time in 23 years after surviving a remarkable goal blitz by DJ Carey in the closing minutes of yesterday's county final at Nowlan Park.
Carey blasted three goals (two frees, one penalty) to the James Stephens net in the final seven minutes and had a last minute chance to grab a sensational victory when he faced up to another 21-yard free deep in injury-time but this time his powerful drive flew over the bar.
A gasp of relief rose from the Village supporters in the 13,000 crowd who had watched in agony as their side surrendered an eight-point lead over the final ten minutes before eventually hanging on by the narrowest of margins.
Of course the winning margin didn't matter for a Village team that played some wonderful hurling for long periods. With Philly Larkin stitching a defiant defence tightly together, James Stephens curtailed the threat of Carey and Charlie Carter for most of the game; Brian McEvoy hurled plenty of ball around midfield while Eoin Larkin, Eoin McCormack and Joe Murphy were quick and inventive up front.
Larkin was outstanding at centre-forward, repeatedly taking on the Gowran defence with his sniping runs while also keeping his nerve when on free-taking duty. He scored 0-11 (0-4 from play) but was still out-scored by DJ Carey who hit 3-6, all from placed balls.
It would have been enough to win most games but, on this occasion, James Stephens had banked enough after 52 minutes to insulate them against Gowran's late tornado.
The Village led by 1-15 to 0-10 at that stage and when Dick Carroll pulled back a point for Gowran, it looked no more than a token gesture of retaliation.
Even when Carey drove a free to the net in the 64th minute, Gowran still had quite some way to go, especially when Eoin Larkin pointed a James Stephens free. Carey's second goal, also from a free, cut the deficit to two points in the 58th minute but James Stephens struck back almost immediately, with sub, Joe Murray whipping the ball to the net.
Gowran weren't finished, however, and when they won a penalty in the 61st minute, Carey spun the ball high into the net to slice the margin to two points. The impossible seemed on for Young Irelands but Carey's magic just couldn't continue as his last second 21-yard free sailed over the bar.
The last ten minutes had yielded a total of 4-3, which was in contrast to a low-key opening in which the sides matched each other point for point for 22 minutes.
It was 0-5 each at that stage but James Stephens made the first decisive break a minute later when wing-forward, Gary Whelan shot for a point from the right-wing and was thrilled to earn a massive bonus when the ball into the net. The city side led by 1-8 to 0-6 at the interval and were comfortably in control throughout the third quarter, due in no small way to the energy and industry of 20-year Eoin Larkin who must have put himself in line for promotion to the county senior panel.
Dick Carroll and David Carter worked hard to support DJ Carey and Charlie Carter as Gowran tried to battle their way into a recovery position. However, they were met by a stoic defensive resistance, led by Philly Larkin who was well supported by Peter Barry, Donnacha Cody and Martin Phelan.
Goalkeeper Francis Cantwell, who had made a brilliant save from Carey in the eighth minute maintained high standards of vigilance but, like his colleagues, had no interception equipment to counter Carey's late missiles.
With Carey aboard, a Gowran revival was always a possibility but, on the overall pattern of the game, there could be no disputing James Stephens' superiority. They were slicker than their rivals in several areas and appeared to have built up an unstoppable momentum in the third quarter.
In normal circumstances, they would probably have galloped to an easy win but when DJ Carey is in town anything can happen. He did his best to manufacture what would have been an incredible victory but the gods finally turned against him in that late free, opting instead to smile on James Stephens who were crowned Kilkenny champions for the first time since 1981.
SCORERS - James Stephens: E Larkin 0-11 (7f), E McCormack 0-3, G Whelan, J Murray 1-0, J Murphy, D McCormack 0-1 each. Young Irelands: DJ Carey 3-6 (2-6f, 1-0 pen), C Carter, D Carter 0-2 each, O Carter, D Carroll 0-1 each.
JAMES STEPHENS - F Cantwell; D Cody, M Phelan, D Grogan; P Butler, P Larkin, P Barry; B McEvoy, J Tyrrell; J Murphy, E Larkin, G Whelan; E McCormack, R Hayes, D McCormack. Sub: J Murray for Murphy (53).
YOUNG IRELANDS - M Carey; C Carroll, E Farrell, C Fitzgerald; S Byrne, T Drennan, D Phelan; J McDermott, J Fitzgerald; T Carroll, O Carter, D Carroll; C Carter, DJ Carey, D Carter. Sub: C Phelan for T Carroll (ht).
REF - D Connelly (Mooncoin:)