The tide turned in their favour, for once. And, when Lady Luck smiled, St Patrick's Athletic refused to be bashful and grabbed what was offered - a deflected goal, 10 minutes from time, initially struck by the cultured left boot of Eddie Gormley, steered the Dublin side to the Premier Division crown.
When referee John Feighery deemed that two minutes of stoppage time was sufficient and blew his whistle for the last time, all the jagged nerves and fear that had gripped St Patrick's in a nervy conclusion to a great journey evaporated in the Buckley Park air and exploded into emotional scenes. It was no more than they deserved. Their football last night may not have been its flamboyant best, but there are times when commitment and grit mean just as much. This was one of them.
Yet Kilkenny City, relegated and resigned to playing their football against lesser lights next season, put up tremendous resistance. Up front, Michael Reddy, plucked from his Leaving Cert schoolbooks, was a menace to the visitors' defence, and elsewhere Kilkenny players fought and battled for every ball as if the title was in their own grasp.
However, when all is said and done, St Patrick's refused to die. As news of the Dundalk-Shelbourne match filtered through, the pressure mounted, and Gormley, Thomas Morgan and Paul Osam in the overworked St Patrick's midfield responded to the task manfully. The goal when it came wasn't the stuff of schoolboy dreams, but it won the title. On another night, Leon Braithwaite might have expected a penalty when he was bundled over in the Kilkenny area with 80 minutes gone on the referee's watch.
The whistle stayed silent, and the ball broke to Gormley. His left foot fired, the ball brushed Reddy's knee and Kilkenny goalkeeper John Connolly was left clutching at air as the ball nestled in the back of the net. Of course, chaos ensued as the St Patrick's masses invaded the pitch. When it was cleared, the cultured football of the Dubliners was replaced by desperation and the ball was hacked away as far away from their end of the pitch as was possible.
Yet, no-one would have imagined such desperate actions just five minutes into the game when Colin Hawkins fired home from close range to give St Patrick's the lead. Gormley had floated the ball in from a free kick on the right, Ian Gilzean and Braithwaite caused havoc in the Kilkenny defence as their big frames lurched for the ball and, when it fell to Hawkins, he obliged by firing home.
St Patrick's had a couple of other half-chances, before being brought to a sudden halt in the 38th minute. Kilkenny had hardly threatened Trevor Wood and the home side's Trevor Vaughan was in a defensive cul-de-sac when, more by accident than design, he laid the ball back to veteran Reid. He first-timed the ball low and hard into the corner for the equaliser.
The second half was fraught with tension and anxiety, and Kilkenny played adventurously and with no little skill. Reddy was very much to the fore and, twice, could have put the home side in front. In the 57th minute, he robbed Hawkins and was only denied by a magnificent save from Wood; and, three minutes later, in almost a replica move, he intercepted a pass from Mick Moody, raced clear and shot over the bar.
The best chance for St Patrick's, prior to their second goal, came from substitute Martin Reilly in the 62nd minute. He fired across the goal and watched, almost in agony, as the ball refused to swing right and flashed wide instead.
However, all St Patrick's angst vanished in the 80th minute with that Gormley goal that ensured they leapfrogged over Shelbourne, thanks to the huge favour from Dundalk. It was the signal for a night of fireworks and songs from the massed St Patrick's supporters. Loyal supporters rewarded by a determined team.
© Irish Times