IT IS that time of the season when it is all about seeking the right balance! The Kilkenny minor hurlers, about whom there is always hope and expectations, got the Leinster hurling campaign off to a promising start, writes John Knox.
And now, before the next outing against Wexford on Sunday, May 5 there will be two rounds of action at minor level locally, plus a round of adult competitions. Throw in the consideration about lads preparing for the Leaving Certificate, and team management have little option but to adopt a sort of softly, softly approach.
“We haven’t had the squad together as such, but a lot of these lads know each other,” team manager, Pat Hoban, enlightened after an interesting looking team effort sent Laois packing in this opening game at Nowlan Park on Saturday.
“We are delighted to get the win,” Mr Hoban continued. “The team played well. They played some good hurling, and I was delighted with their work rate. They worked, worked, worked.
“We got a few lucky breaks that helped us too. We scored a lucky goal at the start of the second half and with the breeze in our backs were drove on. When you get a few points ahead it is always easier to do what you are trying to do.”
No squad session
And so to the immediate future! There will be no time for a squad session this week because of club commitments. There will be, most likely, two collective sessions before the Wexford clash.
Mr Hoban knows and understands the restrictions, and he has no problem with them.
“Look, this could work in our favour,” he said of Saturday’s game that inched Kilkenny into a quarter-final. “When you win it is a plus. I think there are some good, good players.
“If we can get these lads playing to their best you never know what might happen. With minors you never know until you are a fair bit along the road. I know that often you find your team as your go, players for positions and so on.
“I don’t know much about Wexford. We can expect a huge challenge for them. We were nervous coming in, but we always believe we can win these matches.”
Yes, it was an interesting showing against a Laois team that looked decent but which lost its confidence and shape after conceded two goals within as many minutes early in the second half.
One liked the movement and neat link play of the winners. One swallow never made a summer, as they say, but the team looked to have a good spattering of good hurlers.
Jason Stanley at centre-back looked extremely capable. The same must be said of James Maher on his right. Robbie Fitzpatrick looked good too in a defence that conceded a mere four scores form play.
In front of them Ciaran Ryan turned in a good hour at midfield.
Scoring forwards get noticed
Of course, when forwards are going well and scoring, they tend to get noticed. The striking of Alan Murphy was superb; a 100% strike rate from frees. One liked full-forward, Liam Hennessy, his movement and ability to create space in a dangerous area in front of goal. John Walsh looked a good finisher too. The trio on the ‘40’ did well against their opponents’ best line.
Laois opened backed by the stiff, cool breeze blowing towards the country end. The opening six points were equally shared, although Kilkenny did lead 0-3 to 0-1 at one stage thanks to snappy early points from Murphy, Kevin Kenny and a beauty from Liam Hennessy that might have been a goal after lovely approach play by Ciaran Ryan and John Walsh ripped open the visitors defence.
There was an exchange of points before Murphy converted a free from 55 metres to earn Kilkenny a lead of 0-5 to 0-4 in the 12th minute. They led all the way home from there.
At half time Laois were 0-7 to 1-9 behind although they had played fairly well, with accurate striker Colm Stapleton, Leigh Bergin, Joe Campion and Gavin Dunne their best players. The real difference between the teams at that stage was John Walsh’s 23rd minute goal. He smacked home the ball which ran loose after Eoin Kenny had been hooked as he looked set to score.
Attacked with spirit
The losers thundered into the new half, attacking with fire and spirit. They threatened, but they didn’t breach the home defence. At the other end Alan Murphy brought a great save from goalie Enda Rowland. Back at the Kilkenny end Ciaran Collier unlocked the defence, but with the goal at his mercy and from near the edge of the square, Conor Ryan dropped the ball.
Then disaster struck the losers in the 36th minute. Alan Murphy stood up to a free on his own ‘55’ yard line. He arrowed the ball towards the target! Two defenders appeared to get the call wrong on the edge of the square and the ball sailed, untouched into the net.
Barely a minute further on the ball was in the Laois net again. This time Kevin Kenny picked the sliotar off the ground when in full stride. He sprinted in from the right, and hung the ball up in the far corner. Lovely hurling!
The score jumped to 3-9 to 0-7. Kilkenny, now relaxed and at their ease, played some lovely stuff afterwards. Laois pulled back a goal from a long range free by Aidan Corby in the 58th minute. The concession made no difference to the outcome.
A good start by Kilkenny, definitely!
Scorers: Kilkenny - Alan Murphy (1-7, 1-6 frees); John Walsh (1-4, 0-2 frees); Liam Hennessy (0-4); Kevin Kenny (1-1); Ciaran Ryan (0-2); Stephen Farrell, Eoin Kenny (0-1 each). Laois - Mark Kavanagh (0-3, frees); Aidan Corby (1-0, free); Colm Stapleton, Joe Campion (0-2 each); Leigh Bergin (0-1, free); Liam O’Connell (0-1). Kilkenny - Darragh Holohan (Dicksboro), James Tyrrell (James Stephens), Evan Cody (Dicksboro), Robbie Fitzpatrick (Dicksboro), James Maher (St Lachtain’s), Jason Stanley (Galmoy), Darragh Joyce (Rower-Inistioge), Ciaran Ryan (Rower-Inistioge), Stephen Farrell (Dicksboro), Kevin Kenny (Dicksboro), Niall Mullins (James Stephens), Eoin Kenny (Slieverue), Alan Murphy (Glenmore), Liam Hennessy (Glenmore), John Walsh (Mullinavat).
Subs - Liam Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge) for Mullins 46th min; Michael Kenny (Lisdowney) for Farrell 46th min; Philly Cass (Conahy Shamrocks) for Tyrrell 50th min; Eoin Brennan (Erin’s Own) for A. Murphy 53rd min; Ciaran Wallace (Erin’s Own) for Joyce 54th min.
Other listed subs – Conor Delaney (Erin’s Own), Vinny Teehan (Graigue-Ballycallan), Luke Scanlon (James Stephens), Cathal Bolger (Rower-Inistioge), Adrian Burke (Thomastown), Paul Kirwan (Dunnamaggin), Gary Kelly (O’Loughlin Gaels).
Management – Pat Hoban (manager), Sean Kelly and James Meagher (selectors. Laois - E. Rowland; R. Mullaney, C. McEvoy, R. Broderick; D. Palmer, L. Bergin, G. Dunne; C. Collier, L. O’Connell; C. Stapleton, J. Campion, A. Corby; M. Kavanagh, C. Ryan, J. Lennon. Subs: E. Cuddy for G Dunne 41st min; D. Cripps for L. Bergin 46th min. Referee - P. O’Dwyer (Carlow).