Holders deliver a major statement
SHC in Wexford Park: Naomh Eanna 2-16 Oylegate-G'brien 2-13
It was 2018 when Naomh Eanna won their first Pettitt's Senior hurling championship title, but on the evidence of this showing it is going to take an extra special effort from their challengers to deny them a further hold of the Dr. Bowe Cup.
The quality of their hurling saw them dismantle the challenge of Oylegate-Glenbrien in this exciting Group B game in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday.
When Conor McDonald shot 1-2 inside the opening three minutes, the goal coming after just 30 seconds, it was patently evident that the champions meant business.
They had travelled south with a clear intent of laying down a marker for all their title pretenders to heed, and served up a delightful 60 minutes of flowing hurling.
There were any amount of passages of play that one could highlight. McDonald's opening goal, when he delightfully lifted the ball over the advancing 'keeper into the net, was followed by his second point after just three minutes when he appeared to have lost possession of the high ball, slipping from his grasp, but he stroked the break over his shoulder for the score of the game.
Then at the opposite end one witnessed a superb defensive display from Jack Cullen. A player who dominated so much in his side's path to the title last year, he once again showed the quality that should surely see him appear in the inter-county set-up for 2020.
Late on in the game he came in for some heavy treatment, with the opposition's Marty Kelly receiving a second yellow card followed by a red for a high pull, while minutes later he was on the receiving end of a further wild stroke, that led to his withdrawal. Up to then he was the dominant player on the pitch.
Oylegate-Glenbrien were shaken by that opening flourish. McDonald had done untold damage when faced by Fergie Heffernan on the edge of the square, while the switch of Damien Reck back to curtail the Naomh Eanna attacker upset the side's gameplan, since Reck had been earmarked to play a sweeper role when playing into the strong breeze.
Credit to them for the manner in which they kept on battling, but they were unable to complete the comeback against a more composed Naomh Eanna side.
Naomh Eanna led by 1-2 to 0-1 after just three minutes, with McDonald getting the opening goal inside 30 seconds of the start, lobbing the 'keeper with a cheeky finish, having collected a long, high ball directly from the throw-in.
This was followed by two quick points, the second a delightful over the shoulder finish, while Jamie Reck responded with an opposition point in between.
The Naomh Eanna dominance was to continue right through the half, with Pádraig Doyle showing real accuracy from frees to leave his side leading by 1-11 to 0-7 at the interval.
With Doyle and Dunbar continuing to fire over points, one of the best team scores of the championship arrived after 34 minutes.
Building from deep in defence through Jack Cullen, the ball was moved swiftly through a number of players before reaching Dunbar who superbly found the corner of the net from 14 metres, leaving his side leading by 2-14 to 0-9.
Seamus Casey handed his side a lifeline with a fortuitous goal from a 45-metre free six minutes from the end, making it 2-14 to 1-11.
While Casey points kept his side somewhat in contention, they were unable to break down a Naomh Eanna defence superbly marshalled by Cullen and Eoin Conroy, with the losers' second goal coming through Casey deep in additional time.
Naomh Eanna: Barry Kinsella; Peter Travers, Jack Cullen, Eoin Molloy; Tom Stafford, Eoin Conroy (0-1), Seán Doyle; Aodhán Doyle, Gary Molloy (0-1); Charlie McGuckin, Pádraig Doyle (0-5, 3 frees), Jack Cushe; Cathal Dunbar (1-1), Conor McDonald (1-5), David O'Brien (0-3). Subs. - Conor Hughes for A. Doyle (45), Jack Doran for Cullen, inj. (58).
Oylegate-Glenbrien: Eddie Mernagh; Robbie O'Connor, Fergie Heffernan, Mike Kelly; Damien Reck; Peter Rowley, Michael Heffernan, Shane Reck; Jamie Reck (0-3), Jack Reck; Marty Kelly, Conor Heffernan, Jim White (0-2); Conor Doyle, Seamus Casey (2-8, 1-4 frees). Subs. - Fiachra Hourihane for F. Heffernan (37), Conor Nolan for Rowley (48), Fergal Doran for Doyle (48).
Referee: John Carton (Monageer-Boolavogue).