UP TO the last minute brave Castlecomer Community School were still in with a chance, but then St Kieran’s College produced an extra bit of drive which earned them a pair of points to finally decide this dogged, fiercely contested Leinster colleges senior hurling semi-final, writes John Knox.
The hurling might not always have been pretty in a game in which the marking was so close it almost suffocated at times, and then chances were missed at a high rate, but the effort all round was magnificent from two totally committed sides. Kieran’s wown by 1-8 to 0-6.
Entering the closing 10 minutes in Freshford on Saturday the losers turned the screws on the more fancied opposition when wing-back, Conor Delaney converted a hard won 65 by Ollie Feehan into a point to reduce the arrears to 0-6 to 1-5.
The pressure was intense, and it didn’t subside subsequently.
Missed two chances
Kieran’s missed two chances to get back to what might have been safe territory; ’Comer blasted wide at the other end as the action unfolded frantically, untidily even.
Then on 52 minutes the hugely impressive Chris Bolger worked the ball to full-forward, Vincent Teehan, who created an opening for team captain Eoin Gough to shoot a point. Kieran’s had a bit more breathing room, 1-6 to 0-6.
The winners might have slipped a bit further ahead, but they missed a free minutes later. They missed a second before centre-back, James Maher turned provider and created space for Liam Blanchfield to shoot the insurance point right on the hour mark.
Kieran’s clocked up another wide, their 14 of the match, before James Maher wrapped up proceedings when he landed a great point from 40 metres on the right after making yet another powerful run up the field.
Victory earned a place in the Leinster final against either Kilkenny CBS or Good Counsel (Wexford), who play the second semi-final in Thomastown on Saturday (1pm). The winners and losers in the provincial final will qualify for the All-Ireland series, with the champs in the semis and the losers in the quarter-finals.
“That was a tough match,” said St Kieran’s official, Liam Smith. “Any time you face Castlecomer you expect a dogfight, and the game was exactly that.
“In fairness to the players, they dug out the win and they pushed it up at the finish when they needed to push hard. We are delighted to get through. We are into the All-Ireland series now irrespective of what happens in the Leinster final. The next game, the Leinster final is what we are looking forward to now, nothing else.
“There is a bit more in the team. There were a few of the lads who played okay. We know they can play better. You don’t want to be going into a Leinster final with everything gone already. We will work hard over the next two weeks and get the lads ready.
“They are a nice bunch. There are no real stars, no one who stands out like we had Cillian Buckley and Willie Phelan and these guys in recent years. That is the strength of this group. They work hard. The Leinster final is another day hurling, which is what they love.”
Needed more in attack
Castlecomer team official, Pat Tynan, was magnanimous in defeat, and wished the remaining Kilkenny sides in the competition, St Kieran’s and Kilkenny CBS all the best.
“That was hard going,” he admitted. “We needed more strength in the forward line, and then maybe we could have been there. I don’t know whether Kieran’s were on full throttle or not, but our lads kept battling. We did well.
“We needed to make the best of every chance that came our way. We needed a goal to lift us and we didn’t get it. The team has been absolutely fantastic. We are coming from a small school of 300 boys against a much bigger school.
“We keep saying to the players that Kieran’s set the bar in terms of standard, and that is what you have to reach. We are very proud of the players. We couldn’t have asked from any more from them.”
The action may have opened in dull and misty conditions, but ’Comer were in bright mood. Free taker Shane Kinsella converted back-to-back early frees to help them find their footing.
Kieran’s were already finding it hard to find the range, and they had two wides against them before Vincent Teehan opened their account with a goal, with an assist from Michael Kenny, in the 8th minute. They had the lead. They never surrendered it.
At half-time that Teehan goal was the main score as Kieran’s, who were playing against the elements, led by 1-3 to 0-2. They were having difficulty finishing, and three free takers were tried during the half.
The powerful, driving play of centre-back, James Maher was massive for the winners, and the strong diamond he formed with good hurling midfielders, Chris Bolger and Liam Blanchfield - two very fine competitors – was, to a large degree, the difference between the teams.
Alas, some of the striking was poor, and while the marking was close, too often players took a step too many when in possession which closed off their striking options. The standard of refereeing was, well, average. We won’t add any more.
Champs of big finish
Castlecomer squandered a chance from a free to cut the divide immediately after the turn before Ollie Feehan and Podge Delaney linked up nicely to put Shane Kinsella in the clear to shoot a point. A foul on the same Kinsella in the 37th minute earned a point, and suddenly the divide was back to a bridgeable 1-3 to 0-4.
Alas, that was as close as the losers were to get – they were also two behind in the 50th minute (1-5 to 0-6). They lacked penetration in attack, although sub Gary Dunne added a bit of drive to the sector when introduced.
Kieran’s, champions of the big finish, produced the effort and scores when their backs were to the wall in the dying stages. They have more to give, definitely.
Along with those already mentioned, others who did well were goalie Graham English, who was especially impressive when dashing from his line after making a save, Ciaran Breen, Eoin Gough and Simon Rafter, who looked very capable if given the right delivery of ball.
Stars for the losers were top scorer, Shane Kinsella, Ciaran Wallace, who battled to his last breath, Eoin Brennan, Dean Shortall, Nicholas Feehan and Gary Dunne.
Scorers: St Kieran’s College – Vincent Teehan (1-0); Eoin Gough (0-2, one free); James Maher (0-2); Eoin Walsh (0-1, free); Paddy Mullen (0-1, free); Liam Blanchfield, Simon Rafter (0-1 each). Castlecomer CS – Shane Kinsella (0-4, three frees); Conor Delaney (0-1, 65); Gary Dunne (0-1).
St Kieran’s College – Graham English (Barrow Rangers), Sean Morrissey (Bennettsbridge), James Tyrrell (James Stephens), Ciaran Breen (Barrow Rangers), Eoin Walsh (Lisdowney), James Maher (St Lachtain’s), Michael O’Neill (Danesfort), Liam Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), Christ Bolger (Clara), Stephen Farrell (Dicksboro), Eoin Gough (Dicksboro), Michael Kenny (Lisdowney), Simon Rafter (St Lachtain’s), Vincent Teehan (Graigue-Ballycallan), Paddy Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks). Subs – Luke Tennyson (Rower-Inistioge) for M. O’Neill; James Deasy (Ballyhale Shamraocks) for M. Kenny; Paddy Hickey (Danesfort) for S. Farrell.
Castlecomer CS – Jason Shore (St Martin’s), Paddy Brennan (St Martin’s), Nicholas Feehan (Conahy Shamrocks), Andrew Dowd (Erin’s Own), Conor Delaney (Erin’s Own), Ciaran Wallace (Erin’s Own), Philly Cass (Conahy Shamrocks), Eoin Brennan (Erin’s Own), Dean Shortall (Cloneen), Shane Kinsella (St Martin’s), Podge Delaney (Cloneen), Shane Rice (Erin’s Own), Donal Shore (St Martin’s), Darragh Brennan (Erin’s Own), Ollie Feehan (Conahy Shamrocks). Subs – Gary Dunne (Conahy Shamrocks) for D. Brennan; Liam Cass (Conahy Shamrocks) for A. Dowd; Niall McMahon (Erin’s Own) for O. Feehan.