Dicksboro the top cats for first time in 24 years
Kilkenny SHC final: Dicksboro 4-15 James Stephens 4-10
High expectations abounded for the first all-Kilkenny city county final since 1950 and they were well justified in a cracking contest which had Nowlan Park rocking on a delightful afternoon.
It ended with the title heading for Dicksboro for the first time since 1993 after a game that provided the most goals in a Kilkenny final since 1973.
The eight goals were evenly shared, but Dicksboro held a decided advantage in the points column, especially in a first half which returned no less than 6-16.
Dicksboro led by 3-11 to 3-5 at the interval but given James Stephens's record as a strong second-half force, the crowd of 7,453 was anticipating more drama.
It came too, with Martin Gaffney's 42nd-minute goal extending Dicksboro's lead to nine points (4-13 to 3-7) before The Village dug in for a battling finish.
They restricted Dicksboro to two more points, while they scored 1-3, the goal coming from Matt Ruth in the 49th minute.
They pared the deficit to five points on three occasions but couldn't get through for a fifth goal which they so badly needed.
Dicksboro dropped deep into defence in what proved a successful attempt to restrict James Stephens's supply lines. That was in contrast to the attack-minded philosophy utilised so spectacularly in the first half.
"We purposely dropped back and tried to reduce the space. It wasn't easy - The Village came at us in droves," said Dicksboro manager Mark Dowling.
A turning point came in the 41st minute when Dicksboro goalkeeper Darragh Holohan made a great save and in a swift counter-attack, they scored their fourth goal.
Holohan and his Village counterpart Derrick Brennan made a number of excellent saves, further emphasising the open nature of the game.
That wasn't expected to be the case but straight from the start it became apparent that both sets of attackers were menacing.
"We wouldn't be known for hitting high scores. We would be known for having a good defence, so something went amiss but it all came right in the end," said Dowling.
They struck for their first goal, scored by Bill Sheehan, in the third minute, with James Stephens countering through Luke Scanlon in the 12th minute to level it up at 1-4 each.
By the time James Stephens scored again ten minutes later, they had conceded 2-6 in a spell that ultimately proved decisive.
Dicksboro were superb in that period, winning most of the individual battles, linking cleverly on the overlap and putting on an exhibition of clinical finishing.
Oisin Gough scored two goals and the points flowed too, leaving James Stephens to hope that when the storm passed they still had something to salvage.
That process began with a goal from David Walton in the 23rd minute and another followed from Tadhg Dwyer three minutes later, leaving The Village six points behind at half-time.
The scoring rate dropped considerably in the second half, which was very much to Dicksboro's advantage.
"It was a very open contest in the first half. I thought it would be a close, dogged affair with only a score or two in it but it didn't turn out like that," said Dowling.
His set-up worked very well, especially in terms of minimising the impact of Eoin Larkin and Jackie Tyrrell, neither of whom exerted as much influence as would have been expected.
Robbie Fitzpatrick did a good marking job on Larkin while the pace of the Dicksboro attackers presented Tyrrell with some tricky times.
Sheehan, Gough, Martin Gaffney and Shane Stapleton (0-5 from placed balls) scored 4-9 between them; Fitzpatrick and captain Ollie Walsh were consistently effective at midfield while Conor Doheny, Evan Cody and Cillian Buckley were impressive in defence.
Buckley hurled a lot of ball from around centre-back, where his reading of the play was hugely important when James Stephens powered up their revival effort in the second half.
Derrick Brennan, Donnacha Cody, Shane Donohue, Luke Scanlon, Matthew Ruth, David Walton and Tadhg Dwyer got in good work for James Stephens but as a unit, Dicksboro were more efficient. It enabled them to make the most of their periods of superiority, while restricting the damage when they were under heavy pressure.
That combination was crucial in steering them to a fifth county title and now the attention turns to the Leinster campaign where they play All-Ireland champions Cuala next Sunday.
"It's a quick turnaround but it's a good problem to have. We'll take it on as best we can," said Dowling.
Scorers - Dicksboro: B Sheehan 1-3; O Gough 2-0; S Stapleton 0-5 (4f, 1'65'); M Gaffney 1-1; O Walsh 0-2; R Fitzpatrick, T Kenny, A Nolan and P O'Flynn 0-1 each. James Stephens: D Walton 1-5 (5f); T Dwyer, M Ruth, L Scanlon 1-1 each; M Drennan 0-2.
Dicksboro - D Holohan; C Doheny, E Cody, M Fagan; T Kenny, C Buckley, A Nolan; O Walsh, R Fitzpatrick; E Gough, R Murphy, S Stapleton; M Gaffney, O Gough, B Sheehan. Subs: S Farrell for E Gough (46), K Kenny for Murphy (52), P O'Flynn for Gaffney (58), E O'Donoghue for O Gough (61).
James Stephens - D Brennan; N Delaney, D Cody, T Keogh; S Donohue, D Hennessy, J Tyrrell; C Browne, E Larkin; L Scanlon, N Mullins, M Drennan; T Dwyer, L Scanlon, D Walton. Subs: J McGrath for Hennessy (h-t), M McWey for Drennan (48).
REF - M Sullivan (Ballyhale Shamrocks).