It was a case of sweet sixteen for Wolfe Tones on Saturday last in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park as they captured the JJ Duignan Cup for the 16th occasion since 1992 with a comprehensive dismantling of Longford Slashers.
Incredibly, a solitary point separated the teams after 25 minutes of this Longford Senior Hurling Championship final, 1-2 to 0-4, however, over the concluding 35 plus minutes, experienced Wolfe Tones were rampant and they outscored their hapless opponents by 3-9 to 0-6 afterwards.
Appearing in their first final since 2007 and bidding to win their first title since 2001, Slashers were prevented from building up any sort of decent momentum and their 0-2 return from play simply wasn’t good enough to win a final.
Wolfe Tones, in comparison, racked up 4-7 from play and five of their forwards also managed to get on the scoresheet from play.
John Mulhern ended the clash with an individual tally of 1-5 and this brought his championship total to 3-18. His goal, just before half-time when he pounced on a poor Colm Leonard puckout, proved a very sickening blow for Slashers to endure. Sean Noonan and Paddy Cullen also took their goals with aplomb.
None of the Slashers forwards scored from play and that is testament to the tigerish defending of the three in-a-row champions.
Man of the Match John Gaffney laid down an early marker by executing some fine block downs on Slashers danger man Cian Kavanagh and this set the tone for the remainder of the contest.
Thomas Stakem and Brendan Stakem were also dominant pillars in the heart of the Wolfe Tones rearguard, while Daire Duggan also contributed handsomely.
Martin Coyle’s 38th minute point that made it 2-6 to 0-4 best summed up the difference between the teams. He cleanly gathered aerial possession from an Andrew Kelly puckout, turned smartly and directed a strike from 70m out straight between the posts. It was a top drawer score and the efficiency and economy was in stark contrast to Slashers more laborious approach.
Slashers got a tonic start as within 32 seconds Johnny Casey curled over a beautiful score from distance. Wolfe Tones tied matters with a 3rd minute Jack Lynn free and ten scoreless minutes followed before Mulhern (free) made it 0-2 to 0-1.
During this spell, Slashers were left cursing their luck twice as Cian Kavanagh thumped a powerful strike off the crossbar and Simon Davis kicked the sliotar wide following a solo run. At the opposite end, Slashers ‘keeper Colm Leonard did well to deny Mulhern.
Leonard saved bravely again as Sean Browne, who now has 16 SHC medals, came raiding in the 17th minute but the warning signs were there for Slashers and when Lynn’s ‘65 dropped in, Sean Noonan connected perfectly to rattle the onion bag. Wolfe Tones netted a very similar goal when the clubs met in the group stage of the championship, so dealing with high probing deliveries is something Slashers have struggled badly to do.
Slashers got back to within a point by the 25th minute, 0-4 to 1-2, after Eoin Donnellan converted three frees in succession. He missed a chance to equalise before Wolfe Tones opened up a gap prior to the break. Paddy Cullen slotted over a nice point and from a misdirected puckout, Mulhern soloed a couple of yards and rifled home a goal. 2-3 to 0-4 and all of sudden Wolfe Tones had put daylight between themselves and Slashers.
Slashers introduced two subs and rejigged their hand for the second half but it was to no avail as the Wolfe Tones machine kept ticking along nicely. Mulhern (3), Coyle and Micheal Hussey raised white flags making it 2-8 to 0-4 after 40 minutes.
Kavanagh and Donnellan pointed frees for Slashers, with Mulhern replying at the other end and Wolfe Tones piled on the misery for their opponents as Cullen netted from close range, 3-9 to 0-6. Donnellan (converted free) hit back however a second Noonan goal and a Lynn point made it 4-10 to 0-7 to strengthen Wolfe Tones grip on proceedings.
Slashers had the consolation of outscoring their opponents by 0-3 to 0-1 in the closing six minutes but there was no denying Wolfe Tones superiority.
WOLFE TONES: Andrew Kelly; Aidan Sheridan, Thomas Stakem, John Gaffney; Daire Duggan, Brendan Stakem, Ciaran Fahy; Luke Kelly (capt.), Martin Coyle (0-2); Micheal Hussey (0-1), Jack Lynn (0-2, 0-1 free), Sean Noonan (2-0); Paddy Cullen (1-1), Sean Browne, John Mulhern (1-5, 0-3 frees).
Subs.: Cian McLoughlin for S Browne (54 mins), Cian Farrell for C Fahy (57 mins), Daniel Connell for M Hussey (58 mins), Alan Wade for J Lynn (59 mins).
LONGFORD SLASHERS: Colm Leonard; Stephen Farrell, Eoghan Kavanagh, Paul Leonard; Daire Regan, Karl Murray (capt.), Shane Connaughton (0-1); John Balfe, Johnny Casey (0-1); George Balfe, Simon Davis, Eoin Donnellan (0-7, all frees); Cian Kavanagh (0-1 free), Shane Ward, Reuben Murray.
Subs.: Liam Duffy for S Ward (half time), Coilín Regan for P Leonard (half time), Conor Gallagher for G Balfe (46 mins).
REFEREE: Mick Murtagh, Westmeath.