AIB Leinster Club SHC Final: O’Loughlin Gaels edge out Na Fianna:
AIB Leinster Club SHC Final
O’Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny) 0-22 Na Fianna (Dublin) 1-18
By Paul Keane
This time last year, the O’Loughlin Gaels players were licking their wounds after a dismal Kilkenny SHC campaign that ended with a Round 1 defeat.
Former club and county star Brian Hogan was drafted in as manager and has presided over a remarkable turnaround since.
The Kilkenny city side won back the county title with a landmark final win over All-Ireland holders Ballyhale Shamrocks and are now Leinster champions, the club’s third provincial title.
It took a monumental effort to get over the winning line though and they had veteran forward Mark Bergin to thank for shooting the 60th minute winning point from a free.
Bergin blasted 11 points in total and, 12 years on from featuring in their 2011 All-Ireland final defeat to Clarinbridge, national redemption could yet be on the cards.
Paddy Deegan weighed in with five points also and the Kilkenny star was named Man of the Match as O’Loughlin Gaels secured an All-Ireland semi-final against the Ulster champions, Slaughtneil or Cushendall.
First-time Dublin champions Na Fianna will have nightmares about coming so close to provincial glory and missing out.
But the club from just a couple of kilometres away from Croke Park on the Mobhi Road lost no face in defeat as they turned in another huge performance despite the continued absence of star attacker Donal Burke with a hamstring injury.
The sides were level six times in a thrilling second-half with Sean Currie’s 38th minute goal for Na Fianna giving them real hope but they were eventually caught by that late Bergin winner.
A terrific season for O’Loughlin Gaels has the potential to run and run as they will be big favourites for that pre-Christmas All-Ireland semi-final.
Truth be told, their supporters probably would have been happy enough with just winning a county title this year given the dominance of six-in-a-row chasing Ballyhale Shamrocks in recent seasons.
But after scoring a landmark county final win over the All-Ireland title holders they pushed on impressively with big provincial wins over Mount Leinster Rangers and then Kilcormac-Killoughey.
They entered this final with an enviable record of 10 wins from the 12 games they’d contested in the province, a run that dates back to their first provincial game in 2001.
All eyes were on how Gaels boss Hogan would arrange his chess pieces with star defenders Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler and Deegan all given key roles at the back.
Lawlor picked up Na Fianna sharp-shooter AJ Murphy, Butler tracked Ciaran Stacey, a goal-scorer for Na Fianna in their semi-final win over Naas, while Deegan was stationed at the centre of the Gaels defence.
Experienced Kilkenny man Deegan had much more than just a defensive role though and picked off two first-half points before adding three more after the break.
Free-taker Bergin helped himself to seven points in the opening 30 minutes or so.
Owen Wall troubled the Na Fianna defence with his pace too.
O’Loughlin Gaels led by 0-11 to 0-9 at the interval but it was far from one-way traffic. Two-time Dublin All-Star Liam Rushe performed a similar role to Deegan, at the centre of Na Fianna’s defence.
Brian Ryan, an All-Ireland medallist with Limerick who transferred to the Dublin club this year, drilled two terrific first-half points, one of those a sumptuous volleyed effort after some slick control.
Colin Currie drilled five points from frees in that period as the side from just a couple of kilometres away on the Mobhi Road in Glasnevin gave as good as they got for long stretches of an enjoyable encounter.
The second-half was even better and back to back Colin Currie points after the restart levelled the game up at 0-11 apiece.
Na Fianna conjured the only goal of the game in the 38th minute. Colin Currie was the provider this time for his brother Sean who burst in from the right, cut inside Lawlor and fired a rasper to the Gaels net.
From there on, it was virtually score for score, point for point, and they were level on another five occasions as the race for the provincial title went all the way.
The impressive David Fogarty drilled a couple of titanic scores for Gaels who just hung on despite a remarkable effort from Na Fianna.
O’Loughlin Gaels scorers: Mark Bergin 0-11 (0-9f), Paddy Deegan 0-5, David Fogarty 0-2, Cian Loy 0-1, Jack Nolan 0-1, Conor Heary 0-1, Luke Hogan 0-1.
Na Fianna scorers: Colin Currie 0-11 (0-9f), Sean Currie 1-1, Brian Ryan 0-3, AJ Murphy 0-2, John Tierney 0-1.
O’Loughlin Gaels: Stephen Murphy; Tony Forristal, Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler; David Fogarty, Paddy Deegan, Jordan Molloy; Jack Nolan, Cian Loy; Conor Heary, Mark Bergin, Eoin O’Shea; Paddy Butler, Owen Wall, Sean Bolger.
Subs: Luke Hogan for Paddy Butler 26, Conor Kelly for Loy 49, Jamie Ryan for Nolan 54.
Na Fianna: Jonathan Treacy; Sean Burke, Conor McHugh, Diarmuid Clerkin; Paul O’Dea, Liam Rushe, Kevin Burke; Brian Ryan, Peter Feeney; John Tierney, Micheal Murphy, Sean Currie; Ciaran Stacey, AJ Murphy, Colin Currie.
Subs: Donal Ryan for O’Dea 13, Shane Barrett for Feeney 46, Sean Baxter for Stacey 53, Gavin King for Tierney 60.
Referee: Caymon Flynn (Westmeath).