This eagerly awaited clash produced the game of the year in O’Moore Park on Sunday, with the defending champions Clough-Ballacolla shooting the last five scores of a magnificent game to come from behind to defeat Borris-Kilcotton by just three points.
Borris-Kilcotton may have come into the semi-final as outsiders, but they left nothing behind as they pushed the champions to the very limit, and it was only the experience of the Clough-Ballacolla team built up over championship winning campaigns that saw them through in a tight and exciting finish.
They had started in whirlwind fashion and hit four points without reply inside three minutes, and one wondered if the occasion of a first semi-final appearance would get to the young Borris-Kilcotton side. Amazingly not only did they find their feet, but by half time led by a point, 0-9 to 0-8, and within a minute of the restart led by four points.
The champions fought back to grab the lead midway through the second half but again, with five minutes to go, Borris-Kilcotton were in front again and a real shock looked on the cards. It was then that the experience showed and in a pulsating final few minutes, they hit five points to turn defeat into victory.
It may have been a hugely entertaining and thrilling encounter, but the game also proved that there are terrific hurlers in Laois and it is a pity that the new manager and his team has not been appointed. Maybe the next manager was in attendance, and if so then he would have to be encouraged to seek the position having witnessed the standard on show.
It was a game that had everything with some massive long range points from both sides, great individual battles, goals that kept the game alive and a finish that left the supporters on the edge of their seats and breathless at the final whistle.
Willie Hyland enjoyed the latitude he was given in the opening minutes as he started with a brace of points from the stand side, and after Shane Hanlon hit a fine point under pressure and his brother Danny brought off the first of many fine saves, Willie landed a long range free for a 0-4 to 0-0 lead after just three minutes of play, and there was a sense that they might run away with the game.
Neil Foyle opened his sides account in the eighth minute and they hit three scores inside two minutes with delightful points from PJ Scully and a long range free from Matthew Whelan settling the nerves.
Each of Willie Hyland’s next three points were quickly answered with fine points from Neil Foyle, Pat Whelan and Danny Fitzpatrick, but Borris Kilcotton finished the half the stronger side and two magnificent scores from minor winning captain PJ Scully levelled the game by the 20th minute.
Danny Hanlon brought off another splendid save as he denied Martin Coss a certain goal after he was set up by Neil Foyle. Amazingly, after a flurry of points the scores dried up and the only score in the final 12 minutes of the first half came when Joe Campion caught a great ball from the clouds and set up Noel Delaney to give Borris Kilcotton the lead for the first time.
A minute into the second half the park was lit up by a sensational goal as Neil Foyle grabbed a long delivery from Martin Coss, turned his marker and beat two other defenders before rifling past Hanlon for a four point lead.
Picky Maher cut the gap to that goal and then came a period when Willie Hyland ran out of luck. First he caught a great ball in the square but when he was denied room to shoot and went to ground a free out was awarded against him, and he then hit two wides on the trot. The omens were looking good for his opponents.
A superb Joe Campion point gave the challengers a four point lead again after 10 minutes of the half but then Willie Hyland sent a ball from out on the sideline into the square where Eric Abraham and Shane Hyland both pulled in the air, and the ball flashed to the corner of the net.
Willie Hyland levelled and then gave his side the lead only for Neil Foyle to tie up the game again after 17 minutes of the half. Hyland set up Canice Coonan for the lead again, 1-12 to 1-11, but then with six minutes remaining a long clearance from Jim Fitzpatrick found Neil Foyle, and he drew the defence and passed to Enda Kelly who crashed it home for a two point lead.
The last five minutes showed why Clough-Ballacolla are champions as first Willie Hyland landed a 65, Mick McEvoy levelled with a super score and substitute Aidan Doyle gave them the lead and all inside two minutes of frantic hurling.
Borris-Kilcotton were now fighting for a draw but Picky Maher gave them some breathing space with a great score and then Willie Hyland made it three clear in injury time. Borris-Kilcotton threw everything into extending their championship and one last onslaught on the Clough-Ballacolla goal saw Neil Foyle put midfielder Kevin Finlay through but his shot for glory was brilliantly saved by the hero of the year to date Danny Hanlon.
SCORERS - Clough Ballacolla: Willie Hyland 0-10 (four frees), Stephen Maher 0-3, Shane Hyland 1-0, Mick McEvoy, Canice Coonan, Shane Hanlon, Aidan Doyle 0-1 each; Borris-Kilcotton: Neil Foyle 1-3 (0-3 frees) PJ Scully 0-3, Enda Kelly 1-0, Noel Delaney Matthew Whelan (free), Pat Whelan, Danny Fitzpatrick, Joe Campion 0-1 each.
CLOUGH-BALLACOLLA: Danny Hanlon; John A Delaney, Darren Maher, Ronan Broderick; Brendan McEvoy, Mick McEvoy, Canice Coonan; Shane Hanlon, Bill Duggan; Mick Dunphy, Willie Hyland, Stephen Maher; Shane Hyland, Willie Dunphy, Damien Bergin. Subs: Aidan Doyle for Shane Hyland (48 mins)
BORRIS-KILCOTTON: Trevor Moore; Eric Abraham, Owen Bergin, Jim Fitzpatrick, Rob Jones, Matthew Whelan, Brian Stapleton; Kevin Finlay, Danny Fitzpatrick; Pat Whelan, Noel Delaney, Joe Campion, Martin Coss, Neil Foyle, PJ Scully. Subs: Enda Kelly for Coss (35 min)
Referee: Brochan O’Reilly Portlaoise.