One thing is already guaranteed for season 2014! The trophy cabinet won’t be empty come the end of the year. Actually, it rarely is, but.......
The Walsh Cup may not be the most sought after or glittering trophy in the GAA galaxy, but victory in it has kick started the season for the Kilkenny senior hurlers. And in a most positive fashion too, it must be said.
Victory over defending champions and Leinster kingpins, Dublin, in the final in Croke Park on Saturday wasn’t at the end of a torrid, blood and guts affair. Heck, it was only February 1.
The real value in this winning effort was in the performance, seeing that it was a team of relative newcomers. The only ‘regulars’ involved were Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, in a new role at centre-back, Colin Fennelly, again in a new role, this time at centre-forward, and the elegant Eoin Larkin.
While the latter, Larkin, was in a class of his own, sometimes foraging deep in defence - it was his ‘hook’ on Colm Cronin on the edge of the square in the 60th minute that prevented a Dublin goal - sometimes laying off beautifully weighted hand-passes with the ease of a man out walking his dog, he was all the time hugely effective. If the preview is anything to go by, a huge season awaits the James Stephens man.
Anyway, the new guys! Michael Walsh did nicely defending the square. He is making decent progress. Brian Kennedy is a sweet hurler, and he understands the importance of accurate deliveries out of defence. Joe Brennan showed good shooting skills, and grafted to get into positions to be available for off-loads.
Thomas Breen understands the varying angles Kilkenny like to employ when playing the ball out of defence, and he took up some great positions in open spaces. His take of two points could easily have been doubled.
Mark Kelly’s general movement, running off the square, and his patience when on the ball were good. Like his inside line colleague Jonjo Farrell, who was held scoreless for the first match in three, he emptied the tank for the good of the team. The sideline assessors will appreciate that.
Tommy Walsh looked lively at centre-back, and much more with the pace of things than against DIT, while Colin Fennelly did many nice things again at centre-forward. He appears to like the responsibility of the role, and he is having a right good ‘go’.
Oh yes, one cannot forget goalie David Herity. His save from Paul Ryan in the 26th minute had the WOW factor about it. A quick build up involving Mark Schutte and David O’Callaghan freed Ryan near the right edge of the square. It was do or conceded for the goalie. Herity sprinted off his line to make a class body block.
Even for the role between the posts the competition is hot!
Dublin, who opened backed by the wind that varied in strength from strong to faint, attacked the Hill 16 end. Their best player, Mark Schutte flashed over a pair of points within as many minutes of the start. After a foul on Farrell earned Larkin the first of his 11 scores, the former forced the goalie into a good save, which was made at the expense of a 65.
Larkin popped over the free shot before Joe Brennan landed the lead score in the eight minute (0-3 to 0-2). Kilkenny showed the way home from there.
The divide was at it biggest in this half the 16th and 21st minutes (0-7 to 0-2; 0-8 to 0-3), the latter after Thomas Breen darted from the left corner to the right wing before shooting a lovely point.
The Dubs pulled back minors through David O’Callaghan and Paul Ryan (free) before Herity enjoyed his outstanding moment. After it the ever dangerous Mark Schutte pointed before Colin Fennelly, with a direct line run through the home defence, landed a point that might easily have been a goal.
By the time the break was reached Kilkenny were 0-12 to 0-8 ahead. Larkin had five scores in the bag, and Breen and Brennan two each. Half the losers total was claimed by Schutte, all from play.
The Dubs shipped a fair bit of damage in the early minutes after the turn. Larkin (2) and Colin Fennelly, the end result of another direct line run after fielding a poor Dublin puck-out, scored to give us the biggest divide of the match, 0-15 to 0-8.
After Danny Sutcliffe pulled back a point for the losers, Kilkenny had the ball in the net via Farrell, who tipped home a dropping ball from Larkin. The score was scrubbed. Square ball the ref ruled.
There was more urgency to the Dubs play from there to the finish. On the hour Colm Cronin would have goaled but for Larkin’s timely ‘hook’, made at the expense of a 65, which was pointed by Joseph Boland. Additional minors from Schutte and Martin Quilty left it at 0-22 to 1-16 before the Cats enjoyed a bit of a break.
Conal Keaney was fouled dangerously close to the square as he tried to burrow through the defence. A penalty? The ref said no, a 20-metre free. Goalie Alan Nolan went for a goal. His shot was high. The Dubs last chance.
Scorers: Kilkenny - Eoin Larkin (0-11, nine frees, one 65); Colin Fennelly (0-4); Joe Brennan (0-3); Thomas Breen, Aidan Fogarty (0-2 each); Padraig Walsh, Mark Kelly (0-1 each). Dublin - Paul Ryan (1-4, 1-3 frees); Mark Schutte (0-6); David O’Callaghan (0-2); Danny Sutcliffe, Martin Quilty (0-1 each); Alan Nolan (0-1, free); Eamon Dillon (0-1, free); Joey Boland (0-1, 65).
Kilkenny - David Herity; Tomas Keogh, Michael Walsh, Jackie Tyrrell; Brian Kennedy, Tommy Walsh, David Langton; Conor Fogarty, Padraig Walsh; Joe Brennan, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin; Jonjo Farrell, Mark Kelly, Thomas Breen. Subs - Aidan Fogarty for P. Walsh 47th min; Paul Murphy for D. Langton 56th min; Liam Ryan for T. Breen 66th min.
Dublin - Alan Nolan; Cian O’Callaghan, Peter Kelly, Jack Dougan; Stephen Hiney, Conor McCormack, Joey Boland; Shane Durkin, John McCaffrey (capt); Conal Keaney, Ryan O’Dwyer, Colm Cronin; Paul Ryan, David O’Callaghan, Mark Schutte. Subs - Danny Sutcliffe for McCaffrey ht; Simon Timlin for Dougan ht; Martin Quilty for Durkin 51st min; Eamon Dillon for P. Ryan 51st min; Paul Winters for R. O’Dwyer 63rd min.
Referee - David Hughes (Carlow).