Walking out of Nowlan Park, kitbag in one hand and the Croke Cup in the other, there was a content look on the face of Kieran’s College manager Liam Smith.
“I’m a very happy man this evening,” he said, his face breaking into a wide smile. “This was the goal at the start of the year and to achieve it is hugely satisfying.
“The lads put in a huge amount of work and for a side who were written off it’s great to see that they expressed themselves and played to their best - we knew they could.
“We had 35 players and I paid tribute to everyone of them who didn’t get games as they were the ones who pushed the other players on,” he added. “They put their own personal disappointment behind them and spurred on the team.”
Given that they had only lost one game all year, it was a surprise that some had written off Kieran’s in the All-Ireland race. The pain of that defeat was a spur to the players.
“We lost the Leinster final badly,” he admitted. “We froze; we just didn’t play - we weren’t allowed to play, which is something you have to give the CBS credit for. Our lads didn’t do themselves justice and we were all a bit annoyed going away from that game.
Seconds from KnockOut
“That’s why the Loughrea game was so important to us,” Smith pointed out. “I keep going back to it, but we were only 20 seconds away from being knocked out of the competition before Conor Murphy hit the equalising point. We pushed on and beat St Brigid’s well in extra-time, but that just shows you how things can progress.
“The CBS were worthy Leinster champions, but we knew we had a game like that in us. It’s hard to beat a team twice in a month and in years gone past when there was no back-door in the championship you’d have been happy to get Kieran’s out of the way, but we’re never far away.
“We have hurlers, genuine hurlers, a lot of them coming through late on,” he said. “Robbie Donnelly never made a panel before this year - there he is, scoring four points in an All-Ireland final.”
Donnelly’s points helped swing the game his side’s way, as did other second half changes made in the game.
“Sean Morrissey was a big addition,” the manager said. “Sean was probably the player of the league, but missed championship action with glandular fever. He wanted to start the final, but that’s just him. He reminds me of Peter Barry (one of Smith’s James Stephens colleagues) - he never gives up, he’s so dogged in his play.”
Despite their strong finish Kieran’s made a slow, almost nervy, start.
“The Leinster final was probably in our minds a little,” Smith said. “When we went five points down we (the selectors) thought surely lightning couldn’t strike twice, but Brian Cody’s goal was huge and we pushed on from there. Tadhg O’Dwyer was immense while Conor Murphy worked really hard. When those lads tired out we had others there waiting to come in.”
The game showed the strength of a panel which will only get stronger.
“We have a lot of young lads on the panel, some of whom are under-age for two more years,” he said. “The six backs are under-age for next year but we have more lads coming through who are strong and will be pushing for places.”