In their first few years of participating in the senior grade Gowran found the going tough. The first year of 1993 saw them fight relegation. They beat Graigue Ballycallan in the relegation semi final. The previous week the club had been shattered by the sudden and untimely death of clubman James Byrne. Truly that victory was for him.
The following year saw another relegation battle. The ‘drop’ was avoided with a victory over Callan.
A good league campaign in 1995 saw the team safely through to the quarter final stages. However a championship victory continued to elude them when Johnstown beat them.
In 1996 after all the turmoil and trauma of the previous seasons the hard work proved worthwhile when Young Irelands finally landed the much prized trophy - the Tom Walsh amd became County Senior Champions.
Drawing Glenmore in the first round was a daunting first hurdle to climb. However it was the game that gave the team their first senior championship win since attaining senior status in 1992. Playing superbly they grew in stature from the game and seemed to play with a new found confidence. That was an evening to remember. A streaker added to the entertainment in Ballyhale and maybe even provided the turning point. After a tight first half the half time whistle saw Glenmore ahead by just one point (2 – 6 to 2 – 5). Midway through the second half they were still ahead by one point. Enter the distraction of the afore mentioned streaker and next thing DJ Carey had the ball in the back of the net. Young Irelands took off from there and went on to win the game 3 – 10 to 3 – 13.
With mentors Kevin Fennelly, Dick O’Neill and Charlie Carter opting for the tactic of playing a two man full forward line the team was to forge ahead and go from strength to strength. They seemed to be playing with renewed vigour and purpose. While giving their supporters some anxious moments they went on to defeat Graigue Ballycallan in the quarter final. At half time the teams were level with Ballycallan at 0 – 8 to Gowran’s 1 – 5, their goal coming from David O’Neill. Midway through the second half in this game Ballycallan were looking good and with less than fifteen minutes to go scored a goal that put them four points ahead. However a mistake in the losers defence left Charlie Carter with a gifted goal. But Ballycallan piled on the pressure again and maintained their lead. A nailbiting finish was to follow. Hitting in to injury time with Ballycallan a point to the good the Gowran following were praying for an equaliser to draw the game. It came in the form of a magnificent point from a 30-yard sideline cut by Alan O’Neill. This was, to the delight of all Gowran followers not the end. That dynamic duo of Carey and Carter teamed up in the dying minutes to score 1 – 2 between them and leave Gowran ahead at the final whistle 3 – 11 to 1 – 14.
Scorers: DJ Carey 1 – 4 (three frees), C Carter 1 – 2, D O’Neill 1 – 1, P.O’Neill 0 – 2 (65’s), A O’Neill ( 0 – 2).
If that was nailbiting the semi-final against Dunamaggin was of similar fare. As described in the Kilkenny People of the following week Young Ireland’s won the game “courtesy of a skinning finale”. The game was very much a tactical one no doubt influenced by the fact that it pitted the two Fennelly brothers, Kevin and Brendan, against one another, as they managed Gowran and Dunamaggin, respectively. The opening half saw the backs of both sides hold their respective markers very tightly. The only big break came for Gowran when Brian Farrell won a super ball on the half back line and fielded a magnificent clearance, which found Dick Carroll at the other end. Dick lost his marker and goaled from an acute angle. At half time the sides were level 1 – 4 to 0 – 7. The second half was a close affair and it wasn’t until the final minutes that DJ Carey came to midfield and as the Kilkenny People reported “ grabbed the game by the scruff of the net, so to speak”. This started with point from a 65 in the 58th minute. Then at the end of normal time he landed a mighty free from 85 yards out to send the whole of Gowran wild with delight. James McDermott followed up with another point and DJ finished off the game with a last point from a free after being fouled while taking the ball from the Dunamaggin half of the field. The final score Dunamaggin 0 – 11 Gowran 1 – 12.
Scorers: DJ Carey 0 – 8 (five frees, one 65), D. Carroll 1 – 0, T. Farrell, Carter, J McDermott, J Fitzgerald 0 – 1 each.
Then came the big day. Excitement was feverpitch. Before the start of the game stalwart Pat O’Neill underwent a fitness test watched anxiously by the Gowran supporters. There was a tangible sigh of relief when it was announced that Pat had been deemed fit to play. What was not known until after the game however, was the agony that the Gowran full back had endured both on and off the field to play in that game. Young Irelands got off to a terrific start and within five minutes of the start had notched up 1 – 2 to no score courtesy of points from DJ Carey and Charlie Carter and a goal from the latter after a good clearance from Ciarán Phelan. The Village boys did not intend that to be the story of the day though and fought back well. Not to be outdone DJ took a terrific pass from Charlie, wrongfooted the defence and rifled an unstoppable shot to the back of the net. With each and every player putting their shoulders to the wheel Gowran were really putting it up to the Stephens. However some positional changes steadied the Village men and some fine scoring from Richie Manogue helped leave them just two points behind at half time with a score of 0 – 9 to 2 – 5. In order to curb DJ Carey’s influence on the game Philip Larkin was moved to full back with the onerous task of marking him and Shane Doyle to centre back where he put in a very effective second half. Things did not then look so rosy for Gowran. It was tit for tat from there on with both sets of supporters being kept on the edge of their seats. Points were exchanged with each side in turn edging ahead by the minimum only to be drawn back. At the end of the day after what all in attendance agreed was one of the best county finals in years the teams finished level 0 – 16 to 2 – 10.
How were we going to sit through it all again. And of course there were honeymoon plans to be re-arranged as Brian Farrell was due to be married on Oct 17th and fly out on honey moon on the 19th. How could he miss the replay on the 20th? Alternative plans were duly organised!
The replay attracted a huge attendance of 18,000 to Nowlan Park and they did not go home disappointed. It looked for a while as if Gowran were going to have it easy when they went through the first half scoring 2 – 7 to James Stephen’s 0 – 4. However the Village made some changes and scored a goal in the early minutes of the second half. They continued to fight back and with five minutes to go scored another goal courtesy of Brian McEvoy leaving them 2 points ahead. Gowran kept their heads and with little or no time left the ball was worked up the field to substitute Ollie Carter who found Charlie. Jack Carey read the situation to perfection and took a pass from Charlie to score the vital goal. The stands errupted. The Village tried for the equaliser but it was not to be and Gowran had won their first Senior title. The scenes that followed will never be forgotten.
As previously mentioned it took an immense team effort to win this title and this was obvious in each game. While the fantastic scores of the forward lines are often recalled, the tenacious defending of Cathal Fitzgerald , Pat O’Neill and Pat Farrell was what kept the opposition at bay. Martin Carey behind them brought off many a fine save. The half backs of Brian Farrell, Pat Drea and Eoghan Farrell was a hard to line to pass. Midfielders Ciarán Phelan and James McDermott did trojan work throughout. Alongside DJ and Charlie, James Fitzgerald, Toss Farrell, Jack Carey and Dick Carroll worked hard to provide the breaks and the scores. They say that “a team is as strong as its subs” - the subs who played such a crucial part like that of Alan O’Neill, Ollie Carter and David O’Neill et al in this particular campaign. In Gowran heroes one and all.
Having celebrated the winning of their first senior title the Gowran boys were hoping to retain their crown in 1997. It was to prove a frustrating year. They were to lose only one of the ten competitive matches they played that year. Unfortunately that was the championship final.
The defence of the title began in April with a victorious outing against Tullaroan. Young Irelands went on to finish the league unbeaten with victories over Glenmore, Dicksboro, and Fenians, and drawing with Graigue Ballycallan. This successful league run ensured a safe passage to the championship quarter finals. Despite being understrength due to injuries to Cathal Fitzgerald and Toss Farrell Glenmore were accounted for on a scoreline of 3 – 8 to 1 – 10. The semi final turned out to be a replay of the county final of the previous year with James Stephen’s hoping to gain revenge. However Young Ireland’s held firm to qualify for a second successive county final. Dreams of consecutive titles however were dashed as Dunamaggin emerged winners to claim their first senior crown.
There was some small consolation when the league title was won two weeks later. The league semi-final had been played in August against Dunamaggin who, that day, had no answer to a super Gowran display. The final scoreline was Young Irelands 3 – 20 Dunamaggin 0 – 15. The league final was not played until after the County Final. It must have been difficult for the team to lift themselves out of the doldrums but somehow they did. Once again the James Stephens provided the opposition. Gowran won the title 3 – 10 to 2 – 6.
1998 was not a good year being beaten by The Village in the first round and thus ending up in a relegation play off. Amazingly this was a rematch of the county final of the previous year with the Dunamaggin boys being in the same situation. Gowran won the game and retained their senior status.
A new backroom team of Michael Hayes (trainer), Philip Twomey and Tom Hunt came together for the 1999 campaign. Young Irelands, as two years previous, had an unbeaten run in the league. They beat the 1998 double champions Graigue Ballycallan and also accounted for the eventual County Champions Glenmore, James Stephens, Ballyhale Shamrocks, O’Loughlins and Clara. In the semi-final they saw off the challenge of Erins Own (Castlecomer). Gowran won the final against Glenmore the hard way. At the start they allowed the southern boys put five unanswered points on the scoreboard. However by half time the arrears had been reduced and Young Irelands went in only one point behind (1 – 9 to 1 – 8). In a close second half the teams were level on four occasions, the last time being in the 54th minute. An injury time goal by Jack Carey sealed victory for the Gowran boys on a score of 3 – 16 to Glenmore’s 1 – 18. This was to be their only reward of the season as they were later beaten by Graigue Ballycallan in the championship semi final.
The decade was without doubt a memorable one for Young Irelands. As we enter this new millennium we look forward to many more great days on our hurling fields.