Allianz NHL Div 3A Final
By Larry Cooney
At St. Loman’s Park, Trim
Warwickshire will be playing Division 2B hurling next year after a hard-fought three-point victory over Louth.
The Exiles were pushed all the way by a stubborn and plucky Louth team who gave it everything in a tense competitive encounter that ebbed and flowed before three late points finally took the silverware across the Irish Sea.
Warwickshire never quite reached the heights they achieved in their impressive unbeaten campaign to date, but finals are there to be won when form sometimes has little bearing on the outcome.
Instead it is the character of the team that can be the decisive factor and in man-of-the-match Paul Hoban Warwickshire had the game’s inspirational figure.
His composure in defence along with his accuracy from frees along with a crucial save by goalkeeper Conor Robbins midway through the second-half were ultimately the reason why the Exiles are celebrating their second title success inside nine months, and first since their glorious Lory Meagher Cup final victory over Leitrim in Croke Park last June.
Playing against a slight breeze and facing the sun while defending the town end goal, the winners were given a very uneasy opening half at the end of which they trailed by 1-6 to 0-7.
The Wee County came with a game-plan to disrupt Warwickshire’s fluency and it was their display that was the main talking-point at half-time when they could consider themselves unlucky to be only two points ahead.
A Gerard Smyth goal after twelve minutes provided Louth with the momentum but their domination was not reflected on the scoreboard after hitting six wides in an even opening half.
A well and truly rattled, Warwickshire had no alternative other than to re-focus and bring more intensity to their game and to their credit they were a more energised force in the second half.
Nevertheless the Exiles still found it difficult to shake off the robust challenge of Louth, who still had their noses in front as the game entered the final quarter.
But three late points from placed balls – two from Niall McKenna and a glorious ’65 from Paul Hoban – saw Warwickshire over the line.
Louth had the benefit of a slight crosswind in the opening half as Warwickshire defended the town end and faced the sun. Scores were also at a premium in the opening quarter after a Niall McKenna free opened the scoring in the sixth minute.
But Louth were also enjoying a lot of early possession and it was no surprise when wing back Andrew McCrave tied the scores two minutes later.
However, the Exiles were rocked by a Gerard Smyth goal after twelve minutes. But quite surprisingly Louth dangerman Niall Arthur was having a very quiet opening half.
However, after a Niall Kennedy point cut the deficit to the minimum in the seventeenth minute Niall Arthur was on target for the first of his eight successful placed balls four minutes later.
Although Warwickshire responded with a Garry Lennon point from a Kelvin Magee assist, a foul on Gerry Arthur gave Niall Arthur another point-scoring opportunity a minute later.
After Warwickshire midfielder Shane Caulfield hit the Exiles’ fifth point just before the half-hour mark Niall Arthur responded with two points from placed balls to open up a three-point lead for the Wee County.
A foul on Ian Dwyer presented Paul Hoban with the opportunity to hit a long range free and the centre back made no mistake as half-time beckoned.
From the puc-out Paul Uniacke was immediately on the offensive and finished well to leave the minimum between the sides before a foul on wing back Stephen Kettle gave Niall Arthur another scoring opportunity to leave the half-time score: Louth 1-6 Warwickshire 0-7.
The Exiles needed a good start on the resumption and within three minutes they were ahead thanks to a point from Kelvin Magee and two pointed frees from Niall McKenna following a fouls on Magee and Garry Lennon.
But within a minute a foul on Niall Arthur led to an equaliser from the same player’s resultant free.
Louth were then back in front by the forty-first minute from another Niall Arthur free and were two points ahead when midfielder Mark Molloy was fouled three minutes later. The Exiles knew they were now in a serious battle and were grateful to see a Niall Kennedy point cut the deficit in the forty-sixth minute.
But Warwickshire were also living dangerously in defence with goalkeeper Conor Robbins making a stunning save from Niall Arthur to prevent a second Louth goal a minute later. But two pointed frees from a composed Paul Hoban had the Exiles back in front approaching the end of the third quarter.
However, a determined Louth team battled all the way and gave as good as they got as the teams traded score for score with five minutes of normal time remaining. It was the Exiles, though, who provided the stronger finish with Louth now looking completely ‘out on their feet’ and conceding crucial late frees.
With the scores tied at 1-14 to 0-17 a foul on Domhnall Nugent gave Niall McKenna an opportunity for Warwickshire to take the lead for the final time in the sixty-seventh minute.
A minute later Paul Uniacke was fouled to make it a two-point lead and with Louth now chasing the game a defence-splitting pass found Niall Kennedy with a late opportunity to seal a sweet victory with a goal before a point-blank save from Stephen Hackett resulted in a late ’65.
Paul Hoban made no mistake to open up a three-point lead as Warwickshire held out for a memorable three-point victory, and promotion to Division 2B.
Scorers: Warwickshire – Niall McKenna 0-6(0-6)f, Paul Hoban 0-5(0-4)f(0-1)65, Niall Kennedy 0-3, Paul Uniake and Shane Caulfield 0-2 each, Garry Lennon and Kelvin Magee 0-1 each. Louth – Niall Arthur 0-9(0-8)f, Gerard Smyth 1-0, Ronan Byrne (0-1)f, Andrew McCrave, Mark Molloy, Gerry Arthur and Donal Ryan 0-1 each.
Warwickshire: Conor Robbins; Dean Bruen, Adrian Downey, Michael O’Regan; John Collins, Paul Hoban, Donncha Kennedy; Paul Unicake, Shane Caulfield; Niall McKenna, Ian Dwyer, Garry Lennon; Kelvin Magee, Domhnall Nugent, Niall Kennedy. Subs: Colm McBride for Garry Lennon 50, Padraic Crehan for Ian Dwyer 62.
Louth: Stephen Hackett; Mark Wallace, Mike Lyons, Conor Mathews; Stephen Kettle, Ronan Byrne, Andrew McCrave; Donal Ryan, Mark Molloy; Gerard Smyth, Gerry Arthur, Shane Callan; Seaghan Connelly, Niall Arthur, Paddy Lynch. Subs: Diarmuid Murphy for Conor Mathews 33, Paul Mathews for Paddy Lynch 40, Paddy McCormack for Gerard Smyth 58, John Martin for Seaghan Connelly 57.
Referee: Shane Hynes (Galway).