Roll back another layer of talent and another good team emerges

Kilkenny 1-22

Kilkenny 1-22

Westmeath 1-16

Scorers: Kilkenny – John Power (1-8, five points frees, one 65); Mark Bergin (0-4); Ger Aylward (0-3); Mark Aylward, Cillian Buckley, Paul O’Flynn (0-2 each); Padraig Walsh, Luke Harney (0-1 each). Westmeath – Brendan Murtagh (1-10, 1-7 frees, point 65); Andrew Mitchell (0-3, one free); David Fennell, Cormac Boyle, Dan Carty (0-1 each).

IT WAS amusing to think about what might, or could be! Here were had the Cats performing like a well oiled machine after folding back another layer of talent before cobbling together a team for the day.

It was all slightly amusing, to be honest. Not one player from the All-Ireland winning panel of 2011 was involved in this Walsh Cup senior hurling semi-final in Castlecomer on Sunday.

Yet the Cats, tagged as a Senior Development Squad selection, won a decent contest with a team I would reckon would comfortably hold its own outside Division I of the National League, if the county decided to field a second string.

To last week’s young, largely under-21 selection, were added players like Mark Bergin, Eamon Walsh, Paul O’Flynn, David McCormack and Mark Aylward from the Kilkenny Teachers team that will contest the All-Ireland inter-firms final at the weekend. Boy, did they go out to offer a lesson in hurling.

During the opening half the winners were slick, smart in their movement of the ball, and deadly in front of goal. For the most part it was hurling right out of the top drawer with the defence absolutely solid and the attack sure firing, converting 14 of 19 chances created.

Afterwards Kilkenny were reduced to 14-men when a defender was dismissed for a second yellow card offence. They lost their bearings. Westmeath saw an opportunity and went for broke, at last believing they could take something from the contest.

Westmeath whittled down a one time second half deficit of 11 points to a mere two with seven minutes remaining. The wind was in their sails. They were shooting along.

Cats off again

Ah, but then they made an error. A push in the back on match star, John Power, earned him and Kilkenny a free about 45 metres out at the town end goal. The ball was arrowed between the posts by Power. The Cats were off again.

The brakes were applied to Westmeath’s charge. Kilkenny, with three more scores from Power and another from Ger Aylward, produced big when the pressure was greatest. They won looking back.

“That was a very good performance,” was the summary from Kilkenny manager, Richie Mulhall, who also happens to be the under-21 team boss. “We had a few lads from the Teachers team who strengthened us up a bit.

“They have all played at some level with Kilkenny. We finished very strongly. We worked very hard after we lost a man. When Westmeath got to within two points of us we looked in trouble, but we produced a terrific closing 10 minutes. We opened brilliantly. Our hurling for 15 minutes or so was tremendous.”

A batch of players marched off the field with 5-stars behind their names, including John Power, Padraig Walsh, who was super during the first half, Cillian Buckley, Eamon Walsh, Willie Phelan, Luke Harney and Ger Aylward, who worked so hard he nearly had to be carried off the field.

During their dazzling open Kilkenny produced textbook hurling. The ball was moved fast, with thought and accuracy. The points flowed. Paul O’Flynn, John Power (3), Mark Bergin, Ger Aylward and Cillian Buckley all hit the target, without reply.

The latter score was tremendous, with possession worked smartly down the field by Brian Kennedy and Padraig Walsh. Westmeath interrupted the flow in the 16th minute when Brendan Murtagh punished a foul on Andrew Mitchell.

Top class point

Kilkenny’s 8th point, taken by Ger Aylward, was also a sizzler after the ball was worked from deep in the right corner of defence by Eamon Walsh through Mark Bergin to the scorer. A 20th minute score from 45-metres range on the right sideline by Luke Harney was another top class point.

Half-time was reached with Westmeath trailing by 0-6 to 0-14. The losers paid a price for being too slow of thought and movement; there was also the important consideration of Kilkenny playing very well.

The new half was barely 40 seconds old when Kilkenny bagged a lovely goal. John Power nearly ripped a hole in the top right corner of the net when he rifled home an angled shot from near the left edge of the square. A Westmeath defender had been caught in possession. He was robbed by Ger Aylward. Power inflicted maximum punishment.

The difference shot up to 1-15 to 0-7 by the 38th minute. The losers pulled back a brace of points through Brendan Murtagh and Andrew Mitchell before Kilkenny’s Eamon Walsh was dismissed for a second yellow card offence.

The Cats reorganised, sending Willie Phelan to full-back and withdrawing Luke Harney to defence and into the No. 6 role.

It took the new combination a while to find their bearings.

Scoring run flowed

Meanwhile, the Westmeath scoring run flowed on. They added four more points before John Power interrupted the flow by converting a free (1-16 to 0-13). Power boosted Kilkenny’s lot with two more, one from play, after that.

During the following 13 minutes Westmeath dominated the scoring, and drew right up on their opponents shoulder with the help of a smashing goal from a 20-metre free by Murtagh, who almost burst the net with a whistling shot (1-18 to 1-16).

Kilkenny were working hard, but they needed a break, something to lift them. Then Westmeath conceded a free. Power obliged with a point after being fouled. That was it, the signal for a Kilkenny take over.

The Cats finished on a high, and booked a place in the final against Galway on Sunday.

Along with those already mentioned, others who did well were Mark Bergin, David McCormack and Mark Aylward.

Brendan Murtagh did most to make things happen for the losers, and he received great support from Eoin Price, Adam Price, Andrew Mitchell, Conor Jordan and Paddy Dowdall.

Kilkenny – Dylan Walsh (Thomastown), Jason Corcoran (John Lockes), Eamon Walsh (Shamrocks), Brian Kennedy (St Lachtain’s), Padraig Walsh (Tullaroan), Willie Phelan (Dunnamaggin), Joe Holden (Shamrocks), Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro), David McCormack (James Stephens), Paul O’Flynn (Dicksboro), Luke Harney (Kilmacow), Mark Bergin (O’Loughlin-Gaels), Mark Aylward (Shamrocks), John Power (Carrickshock), Ger Aylward (Glenmore). Subs – Martin Gaffney (Dicksboro) for O’Flynn ht; Conor Tobin (Fenians) for McCormack 46th min; Sean Phelan (Lisdowney) for Holden 46th min; Richie Reid (Shamrocks) for M. Aylward.

Westmeath – C. Scally, P. Fennelly, A. Price, C. Jordan, D. Fennell, E. Price, P. Gilseain, P. Dowdall, C. Boyle, A. Mitchell, F. Boyle, P. Greville, D. Higgins, B. Murtagh, J. Shaw. Subs – A. Dermody for D. Higgins 22nd min; D. Carty for C. Boyle 55th min; J. Gilligan for A. Dermody 55th min; D. McCormack for Gilseain 57th min.

Referee – P. Murphy (Carlow).