Trailing to Adare of Limerick by 0-9 to 0-2 with 20 minutes remaining, De La Salle appeared to be chasing a lost cause, however, in one of the great turnarounds in Munster club history they surged through to victory by 1-9 to 0-10.
For the winners’ captain, John Mullane, the frustration of September’s All Ireland final defeat by Kilkenny was washed away amid scenes of joyous celebration. “That’s what makes the GAA so special – that the underdog can go on and achieve what they want to,” said Mullane. “Any other team would’ve thrown in the towel, but we didn’t. People said we were bottlers, but we didn’t bottle it out there.”
Plagued by wides, success looked a long way off when Mullane took center stage to score the goal that changed the game. Adare’s ‘keeper, Timmy Houlihan, lost control of the ball, and when the De La Salle captain was fed by Seamus Richardson, he made no mistake with a stinging shot.
That made it 0-9 to 1-3, and within a few minutes a totally rejuvenated De La Salle had drawn level. Even when Donncha Sheehan gave Adare the lead once more, the winners were on a roll and a couple of frees by James Quirke and Mullane’s second point from play finished off an amazing recovery.
Mullane and his teammates are now likely to meet either Portumna or Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny, who defeated Offaly’s Birr by 2-13 to 1-11 in the Leinster championship, in the All Ireland club decider on St Patrick’s Day.
The Leinster final at Nowlan Park was probably just a step too far for this Birr side which has given so much over the past couple of decades. Brian Whelahan’s brilliance, despite being hindered by an injured knee, was emblematic of the losers’ defiance.
They were in trouble early on when defensive lapses allowed the Reid brothers, TJ and Eoin, to plunder goals and Ballyhale were comfortably in front by 2-8 to 0-6 at the interval. “I couldn’t believe our first-half performance was so bad,” admitted long-serving manager, Pad Joe Whelahan.
Like De La Salle in Munster, Birr picked themselves off the floor and began to chase the game, however, they still had the likes of Henry Shefflin, who fired over seven points including three from play, to contend with.
Brian Whelahan’s well-taken goal and a string of frees by his brother Simon closed the gap, but Ballyhale had more than enough composure and confidence to hold on during the closing minutes.
“We always knew Birr would come back at us,” said Ballyhale’s coach, Maurice Aylward. “They were never going to come here and lose by 10 or 12 points. We won a Leinster final by five points. Anyone would be happy with that.”
Meanwhile, the comeback theme was alive and well in Ulster football as well as Derry’s Ballinderry forced a 1-10 apiece draw at the death with holders Crossmaglen Rangers of Armagh in a fiercely-contested provincial decider at Brewster Park.
Against a backdrop of three dismissals – Crossmaglen’s John McEntee and Michael McNamee as well as Conor Wilkinson of Ballinderry received their marching orders from referee Martin Sludden – and a host of yellow cards, Cross looked to have another title in the bag when they led by five points with seven minutes remaining following Oisin McConville’s goal.
But a couple of Colin Devlin frees brought Ballinderry within three points and then with time almost up, Niall McCusker stole in to drive home the equalising goal after Enda Muldoon’s shot had been superbly saved by Paul Hearty.
With the replay scheduled for Sunday at the same venue, Crossmaglen have appealed the sending-off of McEntee, who was shown a straight red card after a clash with Darren Conway – in an effort to ensure his availability.
“Bad referees make bad decisions,” said a frustrated McEntee in an outburst which might not help his case. “There was no intent in any of the dismissals. If you make a slight error of judgement under floodlights and on slippy ground, you’re going to make a hash of the tackle. At the end of the day, there was no malice.”
The headlines in the Kerry final replay in Killarney were stolen by Aidan O’Shea, son of Kingdom great Jack, who converted an injury-time penalty to give Mid Kerry a narrow 1-7 to 0-9 victory over Kerins O’Rahillys.
Mid Kerry’s hopes of a first county title since 1992 looked to be disappearing fast when they trailed by two points with the final whistle imminent, but when sub Ian Twiss was fouled in the square at the end of a last-ditch attack, O’Shea stepped forward to calmly dispatch the penalty.