LEINSTER 0-16 CONNACHT 2-9 THE ailing Railway Cup received the ideal kiss-of-life when Leinster and Connacht administered just the right kind of medication in yesterday's hurling final at Kilkenny's Nowlan Park.
This was a cracking and highly competitive contest which held interest throughout, and which produced a particularly absorbing final 15 minutes, with the result in doubt until the final whistle.
GAA President Joe McDonagh summed up the feeling of the appreciative 2,500 crowd, when he said in his after-match speech that the high standard and intense competitive of the game proved that the Railway Cup was far from dead.
The players were certainly taking the competition seriously, something which was plain to see in the final ten minutes when there were two flare-ups, the first of which resulted in the booking of Connacht's Nigel Shaughnessy and Leinster's Martin Storey.
Leinster boss Tom Neville was in buoyant mood after his province's their first title since 1992. ``Today's game showed that the Railway Cup means a lot to the players, and I was delighted with the way our lads battled for the full course of the match,'' said the former Wexford star.
``Even though we led by a point at half-time (Leinster 0-10 Connacht 1-6), I thought that Connacht were winning most of the 50-50 balls. Their ability to score goals was also a worry, but thankfully our lads stepped up the performance in the second half.''
As in Leinster's semi-final win over Munster, local favourite Charlie Carter emerged as a heroic figure for the winning side.
Despite the close attentions of marker Gregory Kennedy, Carter proved as elusive as O'Neill, shooting four points himself, and also setting up a point for Martin Storey with a finely measured pass.
As well as Carter, Storey, Brian McEvoy and David Cuddy shaped up well in the Leinster attack, in which DJ Carey struggled to make an impact against a very impressive Vinnie Maher.
After 40 minutes, Carey was switched from right-corner forward to midfield, and Larry O'Gorman, who had been playing some fine hurling, was inexplicably taken off.
Not surprisingly, O'Gorman afterwards expressed surprise: ``Maybe they're keeping me in reserve for next year,'' he quipped.
Despite being beaten twice, Leinster goalkeeper Stephen Byrne added to his growing reputation, with Simon Whelehan, Joe Erritty, Brian Whelehan and Liam Keoghan also showing to effect in front of Byrne.
Connacht fullback Brian Feeney gave John Troy little scope, and Ronan Walsh and Paul Hardiman did well in the wing-back positions.
At midfield, Tom Kavanagh was consistently prominent, and up front the chief threat was supplied by Joe Rabbitte, Ollie Fahy and Kevin Broderick.
Sub Alan Kerins also made a major impact in his 23 minutes of action, shooting a goal and a point, and batting a goal chance narrowly wide just before he found the net seven minutes from time.
Kearns' goal levelled the match at 2-8 to 0-14, but Leinster hit two points to Connacht's one in remaining time. With four minutes left Storey was set up by McEvoy, and three minutes later sub Niall Maloney struck a glorious point from about 60 metres range and on the right sideline.
The match was two minutes into injury time when Kearns shot Connacht's last score.
MAN OF THE MATCH Charlie Carter (Leinster).
SCORERS Leinster: D Cuddy 0-5 (all f), C Carter 0-4, M Storey 0-3, B McEvoy, DJ Carey, N Moloney and J Troy 0-1 each. Connacht: K Broderick, A Kearns 1-1 each, O Fahy 0-2, A Kelly 0-2 (1f), J Rabbitte, C Moore and N Kenny 0-1 each.
LEINSTER S Byrne (Offaly); S Whelehan (Offaly), J Erritty (Offaly), W O'Connor (Kilkenny); L Walsh (Dublin), B Whelehan (Offaly), L Keoghan (Kilkenny); L O`Gorman (Wexford), A Fenlon (Wexford); D Cuddy (Laois), M Storey (Wexford), B McEvoy (Kilkenny); DJ Carey (Kilkenny), J Troy (Offaly), C Carter (Kilkenny). Subs: N Rigney (Laois) for Walsh, N Maloney (Kilkenny) for O'Gorman.
CONNACHT (All Galway except where stated) - K Devine; G Kennedy, B Feeney, V Maher; R Walsh, N Shaughnessy, P Hardiman; T Kavanagh, M Cunniffe (Roscommon); J Rabbitte, C Moore, N Kenny; O Fahy, A Kelly, K Broderick. Sub: A Kearns for Cunniffe (37 mins).
REF G Devlin (Armagh).