KILKENNY CBS are within 60 minutes of atoning for the painful memory of last year’s All-Ireland colleges senior hurling final defeat.
The CBS, beaten by Nenagh CBS in last year’s decider, proved much craftier and skilful than a battling Mercy Colleges outfit in a keenly fought All-Ireland semi-final clash at a blustery and bitterly cold St Rynagh’s Park, Banagher on Saturday.
Mercy Colleges - an amalgamation of St Raphael’s, Loughrea and Mercy College, Woodford - led by 0-7 to 0-4 at the interval. However the CBS, inspired by their brilliant centre-forward Kevin Kenny, produced a powerful second half performance during which they outscored their opponents by a comprehensive 1-8 to 0-3.
Kenny contributed 1-4 and was unstoppable during CBS’s decisive burst from the 43rd to 50th minutes. They had trailed 0-6 to 0-8 but crucially they refused to panic and when CBS plundered 1-3 without reply it was effectively game over and a few Mercy Colleges heads began to drop.
In the tricky conditions, CBS notched up 1-11 from play which was a pretty impressive return. Mercy Colleges, first-time Connacht champions after beating Presentation College Athenry by 0-14 to 0-9 in the provincial final, were very reliant on placed balls - of their 0-10 tally, 0-6 came from frees and 65s.
The sides were level on three occasions during a frantic opening quarter where Westmeath whistler James McGrath let things flow in a game where both sides gave their all. Kenny and Matthew McWey put CBS ahead with well-taken points, Galway senior panellist Jason Flynn replying each time at the opposite end.
The CBS survived a scare as early as the seventh minute when Mercy Colleges full-forward Martin O’Brien had a goal chance but whipped a ground stroke wide. The combined side forged ahead for the first time four minutes later, a Flynn pass picking out Kevin McHugo, who had time to bisect the uprights.
Paul Delahunty hoisted over the leveller to make it 0-3 apiece, following a strong solo run by Kenny. With CBS struggling to find their rhythm Mercy Colleges, who beat Ulster Colleges by 2-12 to 1-14 in the All-Ireland quarter-final, took advantage. Flynn converted a brace of frees while the lively McHugo was on target from play again, making it double scores (0-6 to 0-3) with 25 minutes on the clock.
The Kilkenny side were extremely unlucky not to have rattled the net when Paddy Cahill’s deft flick beat Mercy Colleges ’keeper Cathal Tuohy, but the sliotar went over the bar. Mercy Colleges heeded that narrow escape, Eoin Morrissey landing a magnificent point from close to the sideline on the stand side to give the Connacht men a three-point cushion (0-7 to 0-4) at half-time.
Undaunted, the CBS started the second half with purpose. Points by Gary Kelly and Niall Mullins gave them an injection of confidence.
A 36th minute successful Flynn ’65 made it 0-8 to 0-6 in Mercy Colleges’ favour but they had to wait another 17 minutes before raising a flag again as Cathal McGrath, team captain Robbie Fitzpatrick and Evan Cody pulled down the CBS defensive shutters and held firm.
The CBS began to press for scores, full-forward Shane Cuddihy blazing a shot across goal. With Mercy playing second fiddle in aerial exchanges and struggling to win possession around the centre, it seemed like only a matter of time before CBS would put to them to the sword.
So it transpired.
The CBS hit an unanswered 1-3 between the 43rd and 50th minutes. This decisive blitz put them 1-9 to 0-8 up and they were cruising.
Cahill (free), Mullins and Kenny notched points before Kenny rattled the net after intelligent build-up play by Luke Scanlon and Cuddihy. Flynn (free) pulled a point back but Kenny was in full flow at this stage, clipping over two more points (1-11 to 0-9), much to the delight of the CBS supporters. Caulfield (65) and Scanlon traded points before the final whistle, pushing the CBS into their second successive final.
Having succumbed to Nenagh CBS by 2-11 to 3-10 last year, the CBS and their management team of Niall Tyrrell, Gerard Morrissey and Matthew Ruth will be determined to complete unfinished business and claim a first All-Ireland title since 1981.
SCORERS: Kilkenny CBS - Kevin Kenny (1-4); Niall Mullins (0-2); Paddy Cahill (0-2, 0-1 free); Gary Kelly, Luke Scanlon, Paul Delahunty, Matthew McWey (0-1 each). Mercy Colleges - Jason Flynn (0-6, 0-3 frees, 0-2 65s); Kevin McHugo (0-2); Shane Caulfield (0-1, 65); Eoin Morrissey (0-1).
Kilkenny CBS - D. Holohan, C. McGrath, E. Cody, D. Scott, C. Cahill, R. Fitzpatrick, P. Deegan, L. Scanlon, N. Mullins, G. Kelly, K. Kenny, M. McWey, P. Delahunty, S. Cuddihy, P. Cahill. Subs: C. Doheny for McWey, 46 mins; G. Bryan for C. Cahill, 56 mins, R. O’Driscoll for P. Cahill, 57 mins.
Mercy Colleges - C. Tuohy, S. Pierce, C. Nevin, L. Uniacke, C. Kelly, S. Caulfield, P. English, O. Coyle, J. Flynn, C. Dillon, D. Sweeney, E. Morrissey, K. McHugo, M. O’Brien, G. Loughnane. Subs: C. Gardiner for Loughnane, 47 mins, R. Fahy for Dillon, 60 mins.
Referee - J. McGrath (Westmeath).