WHAT is it about St Kieran’s College and dramatic endings?
Twelve months ago, the Kilkenny school left it late before pipping Ardscoil Ris to the All-Ireland senior hurling colleges title. On Saturday they were at it again – only this time victory really was of the last gasp variety.
Two minutes into injury-time, trailing by two points, the Saints were staring down the barrel of defeat in Thurles. Ardscoil, who had been pipped to the Croke Cup in 2010, looked odds-on to exorcise the ghosts that had haunted them at Semple Stadium a year earlier.
However, the Kieran’s players had other ideas.
Much of the legwork came from midfielder Conor O’Shea. Gathering Cillian Buckley’s low pass towards the bottom right corner of the Town End posts, O’Shea nipped inside his marker and turned goalwards. The Clara man sped along the endline, then drilled a low ball across the small square.
As the sliotar bounced past two or three in-rushing Kieran’s players it looked like Ardscoil Ris would survive – that was until O’Hanrahan latched on to the ball, controlled it and drilled it past netminder P.J. Hall.
It was a high-tempo ending to a game which began at a much slower pace. Starting against the wind Kieran’s looked to the wings to get the better of Ardscoil, stretching play as wide as they could. The trick worked – by the 19th minute they were in front, edging ahead (0-4 to 0-3) with a John Power free after Thomas O’Hanrahan (2) and Michael Brennan had fired over earlier points from impressive angles.
Ardscoil Ris had been impressive in their semi-final win over Castlecomer CS, but looked out of sorts for most of the first half in Thurles on Saturday. Their nerves weren’t helped when Kieran’s went even further in front with the first big strike of the game three minutes from half-time.
Engineered by another teasing ball from Cillian Buckley, Ardscoil were undone when Michael Brennan got in a tangle with corner-back Damien Moloney.
Although both players fell under the challenge Brennan was quicker to his feet, getting up and hand-passing the ball to O’Hanrahan, who drew P.J. Hall from his line before coolly rolling the sliotar inside the ’keeper’s left post.
Although reeling Ardscoil – who had switched their talisman Shane Dowling with the impressive half-back Declan Hannon – did muster a reply. Dowling pointed a free before half-time to end a 16-minute barren spell, but that still left them three down at half-time (1-4 to 0-4).Better side
Kieran’s had been the better side in the opening half – with centre-back Pat O’Carroll shining – but they were rocked within seconds of the restart. The game had just resumed when Kevin O’Brien seized on a Declan Hannon ball, but Kieran’s failed to cut off his run. They paid the price, as the forward teed up colleague Oisin Hickey to hammer the sliotar past Sammy Johnston.
The Kilkenny school may have looked in trouble, as they saw their lead wiped out, but the champions quickly regained their composure. John Power grabbed the resulting puck-out, cut inside and then split the posts. He then turned provider, poking a low ball through for Michael Brennan to bag a point. The damage of that Ardscoil goal was wiped out when two more Power points pushed Kieran’s four clear by the 38th minute.
The Kilkenny side looked comfortable at that stage, but then hit a rut as Ardscoil Ris came roaring into the game. Urged along by Hannon they rattled off four points in ten minutes to level the game – Shane Dowling landed two frees, but the pick of the scores was provided by Alan Dempsey, who intercepted a ball close to his own full-back line then soloed up the right flank before firing over from distance.
That flurry of scores fired up the Ardscoil team and their supporters. They were silenced briefly when Kieran’s captain Willie Phelan converted a 49th minute free from well inside his own half of the field, but a like score from Dowling left the game in the balance with ten minutes to play.
Kieran’s upped the tempo, pushing hard for a match-winner. They almost grabbed it, as Power broke a booming Phelan clearance into Michael Brennan’s path, but the full-forward was denied by a fine save from P.J. Hall, who raced from his line to block the sweeping shot on 53 minutes.
Once more Ardscoil were riled up, moving in front through a Dowling 65 with two minutes of normal time left. Then, in the dying seconds of the 60th minute, it looked like they had one hand on the trophy when Dowling pointed a free from right on half-way.
It was a point good enough to win any game – just not this one. O’Hanrahan’s goal flattened Ardscoil, who then fell even further behind when P.J. Hall’s quick puck-out was snapped up by Kieran’s sub Richie Reid and returned back over his crossbar.
Two points down, Ardscoil did have one last throw of the dice. Awarded a free on the 25m line, Dowling had no option but to go for goal. There were nine Kieran’s men on the line, but the ball never reached them – Dowling fluffed his free then drove his ground shot towards colleague Jamie Shanahan, but his first-time pull was well off target.
Seconds later, it was bedlam. As the entire Kieran’s bench poured on to the field in celebration, the Croke Cup was heading back to Kilkenny.
St Kieran’s College – S. Johnston (O’Loughlin Gaels), L. Hickey (James Stephens), W. Phelan (Dunnamaggin), E. Morrissey (Bennettsbridge), C. O’Neill (Danesfort), P. O’Carroll (Lisdowney), J. McGrath (James Stephens), P. Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels), C. O’Shea (Clara), J. Power (Carrickshock), C. Buckley (Dicksboro), D. Cody (James Stephens), J. Nolan (O’Loughlin Gaels), M. Brennan (St Patrick’s), T. O’Hanrahan (Thomastown). Sub: R. Reid (Shamrocks).
Ardscoil Ris – P.J. Hall, K. Lynch, B. O’Connell, D. Moloney, A. Dempsey, D. Hannon, M. Moroney, M. Ryan, J. Shanahan, M. Carmody, S. Dowling, B. O’Connor, K. O’Brien, O. Hickey, J. Fitzgibbon. Subs: C. Keogh for Moroney, 41 mins; J. Kelliher for O’Brien, 51 mins; C. Lynch for Hickey, 60 mins.
Referee – D. Kirwan (Cork).