Ferbane 2-13 Rhode 0-14
Two superb second-half goals from county U-20 star Cian Johnson will be forever remembered in Ferbane as they powered the West Offaly club to a 2-13 to 0-14 win over Rhode and their first Dowling Cup triumph in 25 years.
After losing county finals to the same opponents in 2016 and 2018, Ferbane went into this game as clear underdogs against four-in-row chasing Rhode, though their hopes were given a boost when Niall McNamee was deemed unfit to start at the last minute, having taken part in the pre-match parade.
Rhode raced out of the traps and seemed to be untroubled by the absence of their talisman up front, with Anton Sullivan causing huge problems for the Ferbane defence with his energy and pace.
Joe Maher opened the scoring for Ferbane but they had to absorb huge Rhode pressure for the remainder of the opening quarter, with Niall and Brian Darby both on the mark for the reigning champions as they moved into an 0-5 to 0-1 lead.
This year was a little different to previous seasons however as Ferbane had beaten Rhode in a crucial round-robin game to keep their season alive, their first win over "The Village" since the 1990’s, and they never wilted.
Three points in succession from Maher, Cian Johnson and Kevin Nugent left them just one adrift (0-6 to 0-5) with 22 minutes on the clock, though Niall Darby and Ciarán Heavey pointed in reply, helping Rhode to an 0-8 to 0-6 interval lead.
It was a case of simply doing what they could to survive after the interval as Rhode took control of the game, with veteran Alan McNamee winning ball at midfield and distributing it in the same accurate and thoughtful fashion as he has done for two decades.
Ferbane fell 0-11 to 0-6 behind and needed a lifeline, and they got it when a miscued shot for a point dropped into the box and as fielded by Johnson. He turned, stepped inside and rifled a shot into the top corner, and suddenly Ferbane were energised.
Points followed from David Nally and Johnson and within three minutes of being five points down, they were level. A minute later Johnson was at it again as he correctly read a long ball in, cut past his man and hammered the ball into the net to make it 2-8 to 0-11 going into the final quarter.
That lead was extended further but three frees in a row from Niall Darby got it back to a one point game with five minutes to go.
Ferbane, though, weren’t about to be denied and they produced a finish that washed away 25 years of heartache for the club.
Johnson raised a huge cheer from the crowd when he pushed the lead back out to two and then points in injury time from Joe Maher, Oisin Kelly and Cathal Flynn crowned their remarkable journey back to the top of the table in the Faithful County.
FERBANE: Jack Cullinan; Stephen Wren, Conor Lowry, Shane Nally; David Nally (0-01), Leon Fox, Kevin Nugent (0-01); Kyle Higgins, Ciaran Cahill; Cathal Flynn (0-01), Joe Maher (0-06, 0-04 frees), Aidan Keenaghan; Cian Johnson (2-03), Oisin Kelly (0-01), Sean Flynn.
Subs: Jack Clancy for S Flynn (HT), David Kelly for Higgins (40), James Nally for Lowry (44), David Cox for Cahill (60), Kieran McManus for Nugent (60, black card), Paddy Moore for Maher (60).
RHODE: Dean Morris; Brian Darby (0-01), Eoin Rigney, James McPadden; Dylan Kavanagh, Jake Kavanagh, Niall Darby (0-07, 0-06 frees); Alan McNamee, Conor McNamee; Ciaran Heavey (0-01), Ruairi McNamee, Stephen Hannon; Darren Garry (0-01), Anton Sullivan (0-03), Aaron Kellaghan (0-01).
Subs: Shane Sullivan for Heavey (28), Shane Lowry for Kellaghan (45), Niall McNamee for Kavanagh (49).
Referee: Martin Carty.