The Courtyard Hotel Leixlip IFC final
Raheens finally got over the line and landed the Intermediate Championship title after years of coming so close, eventually overturning a five-point second half deficit to finish with six to spare over a Kilcock side who put everything into this final but ultimately fell just short.
Your heart would have to go out to the north Kildare men who have been the story of this year's championship by upsetting the odds to make it to a final, and while they gave a splendid display of guts and determination on Sunday, they came up just a little bit short.
Coming into this game it was said that Raheens' need for the win was much greater; they've been banging on the door to regain their senior status for a number of years now, and being denied when losing finals in 2012 and 2015 has brought about an unfavourable record in finals. On the other hand, Kilcock were in unexpected territory, with manager Declan Gibbons even admitting that he hadn't expected them to reach this stage of the championship in his first year in charge, and losing former Kildare defender Ciarán Fitzpatrick this year - he transferred clubs to St Jude's in Dublin - was seen as a massive blow to their chances in 2017.
Raheens status as a Division 1 league club over the last number of years bellies the fact that they've been unable to make their way out of the Intermediate Championship since tumbling into it in 2005, but they had shown plenty of encouraging signs in the build up to this game that they could finally get over the line.
The opening passages of this game were extremely sloppy, which was completely understandable as the rain began to spray down in light sheets from just a few minutes before throw-in, meaning the surface became slippery all of a sudden and the ball resembled a bar of soap at times. It was still exciting fare however, with the conditions ensuring that this became a game where every ball was contested with the utmost physicality.
Raheens were the first to draw blood however, and it was their captain, Rory Hannick, who led by example as he knocked over a point from close range after David Malone had rode a couple of tackles to set him up. They doubled their lead a couple of minutes later when Paddy Woodgate struck his first free of the afternoon, but they kicked five wides over the course of the next 22 minutes as they failed to capitalise on a good start, essentially allowing Kilcock to feel their way into the game.
While they didn't score until the 11th minute, the north Kildare side were superb defensively and kept the Raheens attack at bay as the likes of Declan Keane and Eamonn Fitzpatrick were particularly forceful in their challenges. It was their chief marksman, Shane O'Rourke, that eventually stroked over their first point of the game as he curled a 30 metre free straight over the blackspot, while he did so again three minutes later to level matters. The next 10 minutes of the saw chances wasted, sloppy passing and some fine turnovers by both sets of defenders, but there was no score during this relatively forgettable period.
Raheens almost brought an end to the barren spell when they strung together a fine move which saw Tom Early break down the left, kick the ball into Hannick who was now operating at full-forward, take the return and feed an unmarked Mark Waters in the square, but his close range effort was brilliantly blocked by a flying save from Ciaran Heneghan. Kilcock countered up the pitch and in the next move they managed to nudge themselves into the lead for the first time as Daniel Courtney curled over a peach of a point from 40 metres under pressure. Buoyed by taking the lead, Declan Gibbons' side doubled their advantage when O'Rourke landed his first from play with an outstanding effort from distance.
Alan Igoe finally ended a 22-minute spell in which Raheens had failed to score when he nailed a free, but a fine score from Ciarán Murray re-established a two-point cushion for Kilcock as they went into the break with a 0-5 to 0-3 lead.
Kilcock's start to the second half couldn't have been much better as they rattled in the game's opening goal within a minute, with the hulking presence of Ciarán Murray again causing havoc in the square. David Duke was the instigator as he cut in off the left wing to set up the full-forward who turned in the square and rifled a fine shot into the top corner of Declane Campbell's net.
Five points adrift, Raheens really needed to show their mettle now, and they did so superbly. They struck the next five points of the tie as Woodgate got them underway through a pointed free, before Alan Igoe angled over a superb effort from a placed ball on the left wing. Mark Waters then became the first Raheens forward to score from play in the 38th minute, while David Malone's score soon after narrowed the gap to just one point. Woodgate tied things up from another free, but Kilcock responded in kind as a point from substitute Paul O'Brien and another score from O'Rourke pushed them back into the lead.
Woodgate and Fearghal O'Brien then raised white flags at either end, before the game's crucial moment arrived in the 48th minute. It was cruel on full-back Eamonn Fitzpatrick who had been playing brilliantly all day, but his wayward line ball fell to Colm Power who raced in from the left and fired a low shot past Heneghan to catapult Raheens into a lead they would never relinquish.
A brilliant long range point from Jason Earley soon followed, but the Raheens defender was sent off straight after following an off the ball altercation with David Duke, who was also sent to the line. The lengthy stoppage in which referee Brendan Cawley attempted to find out who the aggressors were in the middle of the field resulted in eight minutes of added time, but Raheens never looked likely to loosen their grip on this game. Two splendid points from man of the match Malone either side of a goal from substitute Rory Donnelly stretched their lead, and ultimately Kilcock fell flat on the run in after giving everything they had for the 60 minutes of exhilarating action leading up to the closing stages.
Raheens may have lost to Kilcock in the second round of this year's championship, but they showed up when it mattered most to finally get themselves over the line and land that elusive championship title.
Great scenes as Raheens lift the Hugh Campion Cup! pic.twitter.com/4imSFTAEa5
— Kildare GAA (@KildareGAA) October 8, 2017
Scorers for Raheens: P Woodgate 0-4(3f), C Power and R Donnelly 1-0 each, D Malone 0-3, A Igoe 0-2f, R Hannick, M Waters and J Earley 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilcock: S O'Rourke 0-4(2f), C Murray 1-1, F O'Brien, C Caulfield, D Courtney and P O'Brien 0-1 each.
D Campbell; S Crowley, M Betts-Symonds, J Earley; T Dore, C Earley(C Conlon 62mins), T Early; R Hannick, D Fitzpatrick; D Malone, P Woodgate, A Igoe(R Donnelly 54mins); C Power, L Power, M Waters(G Waters 52mins).
C Heneghan; C Sheridan(M Duke 64mins), E Fitzpatrick, E Powderly(P Kelly 60mins); J Gibbons, M Durkan, D Keane; D Courtney, C Caulfield; D Duke, S Maguire(P O'Brien 38mins), F O'Brien; D Acton(W Bright HT), C Murray, S O'Rourke(E Flanagan 62mins).
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