What a way to bounce back from a Leinster final defeat!
St Kieran’s College marched into the semi-finals of the post primary schools All-Ireland championship, but boy did they have to work hard for that berth in the final four.
The Saints showed boundless reserves of energy, strong hearts and a teak-tough mentality as they battled against Loughrea’s St Brigid’s College in an absorbing 80-minute contest in Birr.
Six days after the body-blow of losing the Leinster final to their local rivals Kilkenny CBS, the Saints showed they weren’t a beaten docket when it came to the race for the Croke Cup.
They proved it at several stages during the game, not least in the dying seconds of normal time.
Trailing by three points (1-16 to 1-13) it looked like curtains for Kieran’s but when Conor Murphy drove a low ball in towards a packed square somehow Conor O’Carroll found room to bundle it over the line.
Matters weren’t level for long though, as Loughrea took the lead again in injury-time. It looked like there would be a sting in the tail when Brian Molloy fired over an inspired point, but Conor Murphy showed nerves of steel to convert a pressure free three minutes into additional time to send the game to extra-time (2-14 to 1-14).
Getting the chance to play for another 20 minutes looked a distant possibility for a Kieran’s side who trailed their Galway opponents after a third of the game.
Spurred on by the powerful play of Brian Molloy (0-4) and Eanna Burke, Brigid’s stormed into a lead that swelled when Johnny Conroy gathered Conor Jenning’s 21st minute crossfield pass and dashed inside his marker before rattling the sliotar past Jason Barcoe.
Within a matter of seconds, the goal was followed by another Molloy free. All of a sudden, Kieran’s were staring at a seven-point gap (1-8 to 0-4) and seemingly in trouble.
Unlike last week, where they allowed their opponents to build up a full head of steam and stay in front, this time Kieran’s fought back.
They were helped along the way by Tadhg O’Dwyer’s vital 26th minute goal. The corner-forward was in the right place at the right time to pick off a loose ball and lash it to the net after Eanna Burke had blocked Robbie Donnelly’s 26th minute close range free.
Burke did reply with a pointed free of his own for Loughrea, but with Kevin Blanchfield posting an impressive reply, pointing after making a quick dash from his own half, Kieran’s were back in the game having played against the breeze (1-9 to 1-5).
It was in the second half that the Saints really opened up. Bringing Conor O’Carroll and Conor Murphy into the fray helped, Murphy shooting two early points before Brian Cody seared the top of the Brigid’s crossbar with a stinging drive.
First Kieran’s lead
Cody may have been hoping for a goal, but his point was enough to give Kieran’s a 41st minute lead - their first.
It wasn’t an advantage they enjoyed for long. With Brian Molloy in inspired form Brigid’s stormed back into the lead by the closing stages, but Kieran’s resolve (coupled with O’Carroll’s goal and Murphy’s late free) saw them live to fight on in extra-time (SKC 2-14, SB 1-17).
It took little more than 60 seconds of extra-time for Kieran’s to get a boost, but it didn’t come from a score. St Brigid’s were reduced to 14 men after David Mangan earned a red card for a dangerous off the ball challenge on Brian Cody.
Although they had the man advantage Kieran’s couldn’t ease off the throttle. In fact, they trailed the hard-working Loughrea side by a point up to the 69th minute, getting a rub of the green when goalkeeper Darragh Gilligan misjudged the flight of James Maher’s shot and let the sliotar crash into his net.
With Kieran’s adding a swift point through sub Billy Ryan the Kilkenny side were in the ascension with 10 minutes to play (3-17 to 1-20).
The second half began in great fashion for Kieran’s, as Conor O’Carroll gathered Kevin Blanchfield’s diagonal ball and blasted it to the net, but they couldn’t shake off Loughrea that easily. Eanna Burke proved as much, cancelling out O’Carroll’s goal when he picked off Brian Molloy’s free and drilled it into the top right corner.
A place in the semi-finals was there for both sides, never more so than when Molloy struck his 14th point of the game to leave the bare minimum between the teams (4-17 to 2-22) with five to play.
Could Kieran’s hold on? Their response was emphatic. Conor Murphy led the charge with a great point, but they didn’t let up - Richie Leahy, James Maher, Liam Blanchfield and Brian Cody all raising white flags to drive their side into the final four.
Templemore is the venue on Saturday for the Croke Cup semi-finals. Kieran’s play Ardscoil Ris at 12 noon, with Kilkenny CBS and Doon facing off at 1.45pm.
SCORERS: St Kieran’s College - Conor O’Carroll (2-1); James Maher (1-4); Conor Murphy (0-6, 0-3 frees, 0-1 65); Tadhg O’Dwyer (1-1); Brian Cody (0-3); Kevin Blanchfield (0-2); Billy Ryan, Richie Leahy (0-1 each). St Brigid’s College - Brian Molloy (0-14, 0-8 frees), Eanna Burke (1-4, 0-1 free), Johnny Conroy (1-0), Jarlath Mannion (0-3), Liam Kelly (0-1).
St Kieran’s College - Jason Barcoe (Clara), Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan), Jason Cleere (Bennettsbridge), Jack Keoghan (Tullaroan), Michael Cody (Dunnamaggin), Darren Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Eoin Walsh (Lisdowney), Kevin Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), Jason Byrne (Clara), Liam Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), James Maher (St Lachtain’s), Niall Walsh (Slieverue), Robbie Donnelly (Thomastown), Brian Cody (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Tadhg O’Dwyer (James Stephens). Subs: Josh Haines (John Lockes) for N. Walsh, 24 mins; Conor Murphy (Graigue-Ballycallan) for Donnelly, 31 mins; Conor O’Carroll (Lisdowney) for Byrne, 31 mins; Billy Ryan (Graigue-Ballycallan) for O’Dwyer, 57 mins; Richie Leahy (Rower-Inistioge) for Haines, 71 mins.
St Brigid’s College - Ronan Brennan, Cathal Gibbons, Joseph Mooney, Garry McHugo, Conor Jennings, Declan Cronin, Fintan Burke, Stephen Roche, Daniel Nevin, David Mangan, Eanna Burke, Johnny Conroy, Jarlath Mannion, Brian Molloy, Tony Molloy. Subs: Michael Lynch for Conroy, 57 mins; Liam Kelly for Roche, 68 mins.
Referee - Cathal McAllister (Cork).