LAST year's Division 1 winners Ballyboden St Enda's produced a competent, all-round display in narrowly accounting for a battling Castleknock in their MHL1 encounter at Sancta Maria on Sunday morning.
With both sides understrength due to injuries to key personnel, the fare on offer was of a distinctly average quality with sporadic pockets of individual skill punctuating longer periods of mediocre hurling in a clash which only reached the expected levels of intensity for the final five minutes.
St Enda's, without the talismanic Naoise Maguire and with many of their panel having played in Coláiste Éanna's All-Ireland 'B' semi-final defeat to Dungarvan the previous day, will be happy with the win, of course, but 13 wides over the hour was indicative of some poor shot selection and, despite their dominance of possession, a two-point winning margin was far too tight for their liking.
In contrast, Castleknock can be justifiably pleased with their efforts considering they were missing both Ian Cleary and Ross Mullins, and they showed immense courage and no little skill to keep themselves in contention right up to the final whistle, with wing-forward Eoghan Quinn scoring five superb points from play in a tremendous individual performance.
With the hosts playing with the benefit of a stiff breeze, they made their intentions clear as early as the opening minute when the classy Niall Ryan knocked over a glorious point from the left-hand touchline.
Stephen Jordan soon doubled 'Boden's lead with another fine effort from midfield, and although Quinn finally pointed for Castleknock after a mazy run on six minutes, Ryan restored his side's two point advantage with another elegant point from the resultant puck-out.
The visitors began to settle as the half progressed with Emmet Hogan, Eoin Conway and centre-back Peter Keaney all impressing with their defensive positioning and tenacity, and by the 11th minute they had drawn level at 0-3 apiece thanks to a Ciarán Kilkenny free and another cracking score by Quinn.
However, with Cillian Moffatt, John Breen and Brian McCarthy becoming increasingly influential, St Enda's pushed ahead with three unanswered points from Ryan, David Garry and a wonderful strike from distance by centre-back Eoin Small.
The game's two most dominant players, McCarthy and Quinn, soon exchanged points before Ryan knocked over a brace of scores in the 25th minute as 'Boden strived to take advantage of increasing hesitancy in the Castleknock rearguard, and two minutes before the break they crucially struck for the game's opening goal.
It arrived in a slightly fortuitous manner as Andy Treacy was penalised for an innocuous-looking challenge and, from the resultant 20-metre free, Ryan, despite not making the best of connections, found the roof of the net through a phalanx of Castleknock defenders on the line.
Two late points by Seán Healy and the ubiquitous Quinn was the least the visitors' deserved for their efforts as they entered the break trailing by six points (1-9 to 0-6) with the elements in their favour for the second half.
Kilkenny pointed immediately upon the resumption, but his score proved a false dawn as both Breen and, in particular, McCarthy began to assume complete control of proceedings, with the latter prompting affairs from midfield, and Paul Doherty and Naoise Greene added excellent points to stretch their lead to seven points.
Two further points from Kilkenny narrowed the margin slightly but, as the match became progressively loose, Doherty and Garry took advantage to fire over a point apiece with the marking close to non-existent as tiredness set in on both sides.
Back came 'Knock to assert further pressure on an overworked Ballyboden St Enda's defence, and when Kilkenny found a yard of space on the edge of the square, his cross-shot on 57 minutes was deftly touched home by substitute Brian Hughes. Despite some late pressure the hosts did enough to hold on for a well-merited two-point victory.