THE message from Kilkenny intermediate hurling manager Pat O’Grady to each of his players was simple: go out and give your all. It didn’t fall on deaf ears.
“That was a good result considering Wexford Park is a tough place to come,” he said speaking after his side secured their fifth Leinster title in succession. “The conditions didn’t help - the ball was slippery enough and the wind was swirling around the place, but it was a great team effort. Everybody put in a huge effort, including the four subs who came on. I think that was the reason we won - collectively we were very good.”
Good was not the word for it. Kilkenny oozed confidence and composure as they retained their title with minimum fuss at Wexford Park on a weather-beaten Wednesday evening.
The power of the forwards really shone through at the start of the second half, as two lightning quick goals in a matter of minutes left the Cats with one hand on the trophy.
Captain Robbie Walsh grabbed the first, profiting from a surging Joe Lyng run and clever Ger Aylward pass on 34 minutes. Walsh crept in on the left, spun past two Wexford backs and sweetly steered a low shot past goalkeeper Noel Carton.
Two minutes later they raised the green flag again. Once more Lyng played his part, linking up well with Niall Walsh and Rory Hickey to carve Wexford open right down the middle. Lyng drove at goal, pausing only to release the sliotar to Hickey, who couldn’t miss from close range.
That strike, followed by a Niall Walsh point, left Kilkenny with a handsome 11-point lead (3-14 to 1-9). Even with more than 20 minutes to play, the game was gone from Wexford.
After the match, O’Grady was quick to acknowledge something that seems to be in the nature of every Kilkenny hurler - a keen eye for goal.
Best in Ireland
“Goals kill games and Kilkenny are the best in Ireland at scoring them,” he said. “We had great guys who can take goals and when you have that in your team you always have a chance- it gives you an edge in a game, an advantage.”
That edge was tested at the start of the game, however. Although Kilkenny took an early lead through points from Niall Walsh, Paul Murphy and Walter Walsh they fell behind within a matter of minutes. Goalkeeper Richie O’Neill made a stunning save to deny Liam Og McGovern a fifth minute goal, but the netminder was powerless to prevent Padge Doran from scooping in the rebound.
That edged the hosts in front (1-1 to 0-3) and gave the small home crowd reason to raise their voices - but Kilkenny swiftly silenced the rally. Joe Lyng fired over the equaliser within seconds, before towering full-forward Walter Walsh reached up and flicked a booming Pat Hartley free past goalkeeper Noel Carton.
That was the catalyst for Pat O’Grady’s side to kick things up a level. Rory Hickey picked off three frees, blood sub Cathal Kenny marked his cameo appearance with point while Walter Walsh and Paul Murphy also tacked on minor scores as Kilkenny took the game by the scruff of the neck. Tommy Dwyer (two frees) led the Wexford charge but they were left chasing shadows as the Cats speedily worked the sliotar around the field to create scoring chances.
The most impressive part of Kilkenny’s game came from another sector of play. While the forwards were constantly able to find space and a free man the backs also showed grace under pressure. One such move saw Alan Walsh, Pat Hartley, Mark Phelan and Brian Kennedy work the ball away from danger with a series of hand-passes that drew a round of applause from an appreciate audience.
That was the result of a side who have grown together since they started training, O’Grady reckoned.
“We’ve been training since the Jim Farrell Memorial tournament back in February, so the guys have hurled together since then,” he said. “They’re getting to know each other’s playing style. Pat O’Neill is a great trainer and coach, so he has instilled that composure in them. The lads have all the ingredients. Get a bit of enthusiasm and they’ll work hard all day long.”
That enthusiasm and work kept Kilkenny to the fore until half-time, but they also had Richie O’Neill to thank for that. Twice the Kilmacow ‘keeper came to his side’s rescue as Wexford raised their game in the dying minutes of the half. First O’Neill did brilliantly to deny Padge Doran a second goal with a point-blank save before stopping Michael Lillis’s injury-time drive.
“Richie is class,” said O’Grady. “That’s why he’s our Number One.”
Wexford did rattle off some points in the closing stages, Doran grabbing the last of those, but the O’Neill saves meant they trailed at the break by four and didn’t go in on level terms (1-12 to 1-8).
That early brace of second half goals killed off Wexford’s hopes and most of their fight. Kilkenny were content to take their foot off the gas, but continued to pop over points to stay that bit further in front - “You never take your foot off the pedal in Wexford, that’s for sure!” O’Grady said smiling.
Wexford had closed the gap to eight by the three-quarters stage, but Rory Hickey, Ger Aylward (2) and Niall Walsh saw them move back into double figures. Tommy Dwyer raised a small cheer from the home crowd when he booted the sliotar to the net in the closing stages, but it couldn’t prevent Kilkenny from securing their fifth Leinster intermediate title in a row and a meeting with Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final in August.
“Galway will be a tough prospect,” O’Grady added. “This will be their second string side who have been training away with the seniors. Anthony Cunningham (Galway senior hurling manager) has a lot to do with this side, so we know we’ll have to improve on this performance if we are to beat them and get to an All-Ireland final. But we’re there now - we have a chance to do just that.”
Kilkenny - R. O’Neill (Kilmacow), M. Phelan (Glenmore), A. Walsh (Mooncoin), S. Norton (Emeralds), B. Kennedy (St Lachtain’s), P. Hartley (Tullogher-Rosbercon), P. Phelan (Emeralds), P. Murphy (Blacks & Whites), J. Lyng (Rower-Inistioge), N. Walsh (Slieverue), R. Hickey (Lisdowney), J. Brennan (St Patrick’s), R. Walsh (Danesfort), W. Walsh (Tullogher-Rosbercon), G. Aylward (Glenmore). Subs: C. Kenny (Barrow Rangers) for J. Brennan, 31 mins; J. Corcoran (John Lockes) for M. Phelan, 31 mins; B. Staunton (St Patrick’s) for W. Walsh, 37 mins; G. Brennan (St Patrick’s) for P. Murphy, 47 mins.
Wexford - N. Carton, B. McCormack, C. Lawlor, B. Kehoe, J. Tonks, E. Doyle, D. Morton, T. Dwyer, M. Lillis, L. Og McGovern, T. O’Leary, S. Doyle, R. Fox, S. O’Gorman, P. Doran. Subs: J. Breen for Doyle, 38 mins; C. O’Shaughnessy for Morton, 39 mins; E. Quigley for O’Gorman, 40 mins; C. O’Connor for O’Leary, 46 mins; S. O’Hanlon for Fox, 55 mins.
Referee - J. Keenan (Laois).
Roll of honour
Leinster intermediate hurling championship:
Kilkenny (14) - 1967, 1973, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.
Wexford (8) - 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007.
Dublin (4) - 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972.
One each: Carlow (1962), Kildare (1969), Wicklow (1971).
Note: There was no competition between 1974 and 1996.