Harriers bridge 18-year gap in memorable Wexford People Minor hurling Premier final
Game for the ages as 18-year gap is bridged in style
FAYTHE HARRIERS 4-18 RAPPAREES 3-16
FAYTHE HARRIERS and Rapparees have a proud shared tradition of serving up dramatic contests in under-age championship finals, and this one was probably the best of the lot.
Saturday’s Wexford People Premier Minor decider in O’Kennedy Park, New Ross, was a truly magnificent contest, one of the finest exhibitions of hurling that it has been my pleasure to witness in a long, long time.
While I was against the decision to alter the age grade at this level from Under-18 to Under-17, I won’t be complaining for too long if games of this standard become the norm.
Both sides, and their mentors, deserve nothing but credit for contributing so richly to an outand-out classic, with the Harriers outscoring the Rapps by 1-5 to 0-1 from the 54th minute onwards to capture this coveted title for the first time since 2000.
It was entirely fitting that the new Hughie Foley Memorial Cup was the prize for the winners, because that much-loved and missed gentleman from Rathnure would have been enthused by the high quality of hurling served up.
Some of the score-taking and individual displays were simply sensational from teenagers in such a pressure cooker atmosphere, and the overall standard augurs well for the future of the game in the county.
There was just one negative, and it was quite a serious one, because the all-in row that started deep into added time and took a full five minutes to bring under control was extremely ugly and not in keeping with what had gone before.
John O’Loughlin, refereeing his third successive final in this grade, would have needed eyes in the back of his head to collar all of the wrong-doers, especially those who raced on from the sideline and unfortunately got away with their antics.
When order was finally restored, he showed straight red cards to Rapparees trio Floyd Murphy, Seán Breen and Matthew Balfe in that order. Seconds after re-starting the action with a throw-in, he wisely blew for full-time, sparking wild celebrations from the Harriers who will have a number of their All-Ireland winning Féile na nGael team of 2016 available again next year.
There was real bite to the action from the off, with county Minor Jack ‘Sharky’ Kirwan grabbing the first of his eight pointed frees for the Rapps before the impressive Oisín Pepper doubled their lead in the third minute.
The Harriers goaled for the first time less than 60 seconds later when Glen Murphy-Butler got a slight touch on Richard Lawlor’s long line ball from the left to beat Anthony Larkin from close range.
It was the start of a huge contribution from the talented corner-forward who went on to add a superb five points from play, not bad going for somebody who has happily recovered from a cruciate injury.
The Harriers led by 1-3 to 0-5 by the end of the first quarter, with Josh Shiel (play and free) plus Murphy-Butler adding points while Matthew Balfe, Oisín Pepper and Jack Kirwan (free) replied for the Rapps.
The Enniscorthy club had won the last meeting of the long-time rivals in a final by two points in 2011, and they went on to lead by 0-12 to 1-7 at the end of a very entertaining and full-blooded first-half.
The Harriers had the player of the match in my view in excellent right half-forward Jason Gordon whose ball-winning capability from his own puck-out was immense.
He may have only scored one point, but his real contribution was in creating chance after chance for colleagues as a result of his prowess under the dropping ball.
Still, Gordon and his colleagues knew they had a lot to do at the break, after five more Jack Kirwan frees, plus efforts from play by Pepper and Evan Murphy, had pushed the Rapps in front despite replies from Glen Murphy-Butler (two), Josh Shiel (free) and Conor Kehoe.
If the opening half was good, the second period was even better, with the tone set when four goals were shared in the first eight minutes.
Richard Lawlor, now at full-for- ward, won a 50-50 ball on the ground and shook off a defender before edging the Harriers into a 2-7 to 0-12 lead after 90 seconds.
After Jack Kirwan (free) and Jason Gordon swapped points, Kalem Dobbs drilled the rebound to the net for the Rapps following a super Josh Walsh save from an Oran Carty piledriver.
Thirty seconds later, Anthony Larkin made an equally good stop from Conor Kehoe at the other end, but the latter was credited with scrambling the ball over the line, with Richard Lawlor also close to the scene (3-8 to 1-13).
Incredibly, the lead changed hands again with yet another goal. Oran Carty lost his hurl in the left corner but still managed to use his boot to set up Cian Hanley, and it was impossible to take one’s gaze off the field for fear of missing out on another big moment.
Although Glen Murphy-Butler converted a free, the initiative was firmly with the Rapps entering the last quarter after Oisín Pepper flicked a Kalem Dobbs delivery to the net in the 44th minute for a 3-13 to 3-9 lead.
The Harriers produced a stunning response, as four points in less than four minutes from Josh Shiel (two frees), plus Murphy-Butler and Shiel from play, restored parity once more.
Rapps netminder Anthony Larkin came upfield to split the posts from a free and a ’65, with Eoin Kavanagh making a vital hook on Jack Kirwan in between (3-15 to 3-13).
A Conor Kehoe flick was cleared off the line before Richard Lawlor sent a line ball wide, but the puckout that followed had a huge bearing on the outcome.
It was caught by the talented Jason Gordon whose delivery was grabbed in turn by Lawlor, and his 54th-minute goal gave the Harriers a lead they were determined to keep (4-13 to 3-15).
Shiel (’65) and Murphy-Butler continued their point-scoring exploits, but Oisín Pepper brought his tally to 1-4 to leave just two between them with 90 seconds to go.
In the end, three late pointed frees from Shiel, the last two in added time, finally made sure of the Hughie Foley Memorial Cup after a game for the ages.
The exceptional standard of hurling will be remembered by all those lucky enough to be present, long after that late flare-up is forgotten.
Faythe Harriers: Josh Walsh; Seán Byrne, Cillian Boggan, Josh Murphy; Liam Cassin, Kyle Scallan, Lee Nolan; Emmett Nolan (capt.), Ben Hynes; Jason Gordon (0-1), Richard Lawlor (2-0), Eoin Kavanagh; Glen Murphy-Butler (1-6, 0-1 free), Conor Kehoe (1-1), Josh Shiel (0-10, 7 frees, 1 ’65). Subs. - Paul Deeny for L. Nolan (41), Josh McMahon for Murphy (48), also Jack Finucane, Mark Henebery, Daniel Browne, Cian Twomey, Eoin Foley, James Ryan, Harry Kehoe, Cian Carty, Billy Hillis.
Rapparees: Anthony Larkin (02, 1 free, 1 ’65); Michael Delaney, Marcus McCarthy, Michael McGrath; Matthew Kinnaird, Seán Breen (capt.), Ronan Kervick; Evan Murphy (0-1), Matthew Balfe (0-1); Floyd Murphy, Jack Kirwan (0-8 frees), Cian Hanley (1-0); Oisín Pepper (1-4), Oran Carty, Kalem Dobbs (1-0). Subs. - Aaron Browne, Regan Treacy, Adam Sheridan, Mikey McVeigh, Jack Walsh, Tommy McVeigh.
Referee: John O’Loughlin (Monageer-Boolavogue).
The Faythe Harriers players celebrate with mentors Francis Byrne, Peter Cassin, Brian Walsh, Tommy Hynes and Nicky Lawlor after victory in Saturday’s epic Wexford People MHC Premier final.
The new Hughie Foley Memorial Cup is presented to Emmett Nolan, the Faythe Harriers captain, by Anne Foley, with Alan Aherne (Group Sports Editor, People Newspapers) and Coiste na nOg officers Angela McCormack and Bobby Goff looking on.
Jason Gordon of Faythe Harriers makes one of his spectacular catches during Saturday’s epic Minor final in New Ross.
Kyle Scallan preparing to clear.