THERE would have been few dissenting voices had this thrilling county junior hurling semi final at Milford last Sunday evening finished in stalemate.
It almost did, with Kilbrin being denied a second bite of the cherry after Liam Daly's well-struck effort from a close-in-free failed to beat a wall of Kildorrery players standing on the goal-line just seconds before the final whistle. It meant that the Duhallow kingpins' bid to complete a remarkable recovery fell tantalisingly short, allowing Kildorrery to advance to the county final for the first time since 1972.
Needless to say, the Avondhu standard-bearers were very relieved to hold out, although there was little to indicate they would be so hard pressed to prevail after they went in at half time ten points to the good.
Kilbrin made the better start, with Liam Daly and Kieran Sheahan to the fore in attack as they forged 0-4 to 0-1 ahead inside seven minutes. They could have been further ahead at that juncture had not outstanding Kildorrery 'keeper James McEniry proved equal to a goal attempt by Eoin Sheahan two minutes earlier, but the trend of the play changed dramatically midway through the first half.
A brace of quick goals from Peter O' Brien and Finbarr Stapleton propelled Kildorrery into a 2-3 to 0-4 lead after 23 minutes, and they proceeded to hurl up a storm in the second quarter. Their defence put up the shutters to such an extent that Kilbrin were limited to just one more point from play before the break, and that came from centre back William Egan. Niall Kelly, Shane Fitzgerald and commanding centre back Michael Walsh were particularly unyielding in the Kildorrery rearguard, while Gerry McCarthy gave them an edge at midfield, ensuring a generous service to a sweet-moving attack in which Peter O'Brien was in inspirational form on the '40.
Finbarr Stapleton and Dave Kelly were others to make their presence felt up front as Kildorrery, aided by a third goal from the rampant O'Brien, built up an intimidating 3-8 to 0-7 lead before the interval. O'Brien converted a free to stretch the gap to eleven points on the turnover, but Kilbrin became a transformed side after Liam Daly and Eoin Sheahan shared two goals in the 33rd minute.
The decision to switch Daniel Sheahan from wing back to the edge of the square brought greater stability to their last line of defence, while Michael O'Riordan thundered into the game on moving from the No 3 slot to the left wing. William Egan was regularly seen to good effect too at centre back, but, crucially, he never managed to completely eclipse the threat from the powerful Peter O'Brien, who, along with ' keeper McEniry, was instrumental in ensuring Kildorrery's survival in the second half.
With Daniel O'Sullivan, switched from wing forward, and Patrick Egan impacting tellingly at midfield, Kilbrin applied the bulk of the pressure, and. primarily due to the efforts of Liam Daly, substitute Thomas O'Reilly and especially Noel O'Callaghan up front, they began to carve out regular openings. Fortunately for Kildorrery, James McEniry produced a number of fine saves to keep them on course, one of which, from Kilbrin's Stephen O'Reilly, was really out of the top drawer.
As it was, Kilbrin had reduced the deficit to two points, 3-10 to 2-11, at the three-quarter stage, but, Kildorrery, with Peter O'Brien chipping in a couple of vital scores from play, had moved four ahead approaching the last five minutes. In a nail-biting finale, Kilbrin brought the margin down to two again before man-of-the-match O'Brien won a free which he converted himself to ease Kildorrery's anxiety in the final minute of regulation time.
Never-say-die Kilbrin mounted a last-gasp raid, but, after William Egan - moved to attack late on - was fouled at the edge of the square, Michael Walsh got a stick to Liam Daly's shot from the resultant free to ensure victory for Kildorrery in a truly memorable encounter.