There was a long line of well-wishers waiting to congratulate Liam Smith after Monday’s All-Ireland win, but the Kieran’s manager was quick to deflect the praise towards the young side who gave everything in search of that 21st Croke Cup title.
“Every single player gave their all,” he said. “For the 18 lads who played today there was 18 more who pushed them the whole way. All you can say is fair play to them; they were brilliant.”
While finals are never an easy thing, Kieran’s really tried to give their manager a heart scare in those closing stages!
“We have been getting better all year, but I thought the number of frees we were giving away would kill us,” he said.
“Since the first round against Borris, something like 80% of the scores we’ve conceded have come from frees,” he said.
“When we gave a number away in the first half I thought ‘here we go again’ but fair play to the lads they were brilliant.
Getting Better and Better
“As I said they’ve been getting better and better as the championship has gone on. They got their rewards today.
“It might not be the ideal way to win a final – the ending certainly wasn’t good for the heart or the voice! – but they were awesome at the end.”
The Kieran’s game-plan was effective throughout. From the off they shut down many of Ardscoil’s big threats, never letting the likes of Peter Casey get a hold on the game. However, as Smith said, it was all about keeping things simple.
“I don’t think we complicate things,” he said. “I don’t think we ever have - that’s probably a Kilkenny thing.
“Everyone of the players can hurl their position, everyone of them can win their ball. Some of the lads were saying before the game that it was their last time together as a group and it is – most are doing the Leaving Cert and will be gone from the school in a short while – but as they were saying that, we knew and trusted them to deliver a performance to mark their last game together.
“And how they did just that,” said Smith. “Players like Colum Prendiville were brilliant in the second half, Adrian Mullen was almost out on his feet but he still played on and arguably could have been given a few more frees in the second half.
“As for Joe Cuddihy, he produced the goods with a goal at the right time.
“He could have had a second goal too,” Smith said, talking about the build-up to the penalty appeal late in the second half.
“Joe is a predator in front of goal; he gets the type of score and he can do things others can’t. It’s even scary for the rest of Kilkenny as Ballyhale have another forward!”
Cuddihy’s goal came at the right time for Kieran’s, but they were quick to admit that the early second half Ardscoil goal rattled their confidence a little.
“That goal was a real sucker punch,” said Smith. “While we were in control at half-time that goal was a blow as it pulled us back to a one-point lead straight away.
“Joe Connolly’s point straight after was vital as it put us back up into a two-point lead again,” he added. “To be honest I didn’t realise how quick it was before we were back up into a four-point lead.”
The manager laid the praise for that quick recovery squarely on the shoulders of the players.
“They readjusted to conceding that goal,” he said. “They’re innate hurlers who know what to do and they did it.
“Having conceded the goal you were left thinking ‘what’s going to happen now?’ because Ardscoil are a super team,” continued Smith. “They have the forwards who can do damage - we all know that - but while we were worried what might happen the lads kept going and kept plugging away. When one fell down someone else stepped in to the breach.”
Kieran’s had plenty of heroes on the day – midfielders Martin Keoghan and Edmond Delaney were often seen helping out back in defence while Adrian Mullen dropped into the centre to win vital possession at times and turn it into precious scores. They were just some of the components for what proved to be a massive team performance.
“That’s what they do,” their proud manager beamed. “They all fight for each other and work for each other non-stop.
“That’s the thing about Kieran’s. To wear that jersey is a massive honour and these players know that – they only have to look at the hurlers who have gone before them.
Piece of History
“This game is about them making their piece of history and I’m delighted they’ve done it,” he said. “Please God a number of them will be able to go on and play for Kilkenny and achieve even more.
“They have the potential and ability,” he said. “This group really, really has.”
Mention of history brought the conversation neatly to the not-so-small matter of three Croke Cups in a row.
“It was in the back of our minds coming into the game,” Smith admitted. “When people keep saying it to you it can’t be any other way. I remember Kieran’s doing it when I was in school (1988, 1989 and 1990) and it’s special.
“It’s great for the school and it’s a credit to the school management. People like John Curtis and Adrian Finan have been a huge help since over the years and have given the lads massive support.
“It’s been a huge commitment from the players too,” he added. “A lot of them are in their Leaving Cert year and they’ve been balancing training with study – by God did they do it well!”