It’s a sporting cliché, but goals really do win games!
St Kieran’s College proved as much, rattling off four big second half strikes as they blasted Ardscoil Ris out of the way and moved into the senior hurling All-Ireland final.
“We knew we had a game like that in us,” said the beaming Kieran’s manager Liam Smith. “We let ourselves down a few weeks ago (in the Leinster final) but recovered well against St Brigid’s.
We just simply hurled,” he said. “The lads are able to do that. We knew Ardscoil were a fantastic team but we knew we could beat them.”
According to their manager, it was a performance the team had strived to put in.
“We had won every game this year, then had one poor match in the Leinster final. We wanted to win that game, but we knew we had a chance to regroup and did that.
“We didn’t play for 25 minutes against Loughrea but the lads showed who they were in the second half of that game,” he added. “They have oodles of character and they got their reward today.”
That character shone through when the Saints snatched two goals in little over 60 seconds and turned the game on its head.
Racing on to Mullen’s booming 41st minute clearance, sub Robbie Donnelly showed his strength to retain possession before Jason Byrne’s clever flick picked out Conor O’Carroll. Storming in from the right, the full-forward gave Paraic O’Loughlin no chance with an unstoppable strike.
Ardscoil were still trying to shrug off the damage caused by that goal when they conceded another. Donnelly was in the right place at the right time, connecting at the second attempt to flick the sliotar into the bottom left corner after Liam Blanchfield’s long range shot dropped into the square.
Within a minute, Kieran’s had gone from one point down to five in front (2-5 to 0-6). It was a lead they wouldn’t lose.
There was very little in the game in the first half, but much of that was down to the composure Kieran’s showed in defence.
Starting against the breeze they silenced the Ardscoil offensive lines, Darren Mullen and Tommy Walsh leading the charge with solid performances at half and full-back respectively as they nullified Ardscoil’s short, swift diagonal passes.
The sides slugged it out in the opening half, but the Limerick side managed to edge a tight half. While Ronan Lynch led the way, converting three frees - the last one in the final seconds - to give his team a slender lead at the interval (0-4 to 0-3).
Turning into the wind Ardscoil managed to maintain their narrow advantage, cancelling out fine points from Conor Murphy (free) and the influential Kevin Blanchfield.
Confidence was shaken
However, once that two-goal salvo went in the Limerick side’s confidence was shaken. Conor Fitzgerald and Ronan Lynch (free) tried to muster a reply but Robbie Donnelly’s free checked their stride before the Saints struck another hammer blow.
With confidence surging through the Kieran’s ranks, they caught Ardscoil cold with another sweeping move. Started by Mullen, who skipped past his man and pushed the ball forward, Liam Blanchfield’s pass picked out Tadhg O’Dwyer, but Paraic O’Loughlin diverted his 48th minute to safety.
The danger wasn’t over though, as O’Dwyer proved. Watching Robbie Donnelly’s 65 come towards the square, O’Dwyer showed swift reactions to reach in and flick the sliotar past the static Limerick defence.
In real danger of slipping out of the game, Ardscoil set about mounting a challenge. They enjoyed a bright spell when Fitzgerald, Lynch (free) and sub Charlie McCarthy picked off three points in as many minutes, but Donnelly (who was set up by a super catch and pass from Brian Cody) and O’Dwyer managed to keep the Saints out of reach as the game moved into the final 10 minutes.
Even though they still had a comfortable lead, Kieran’s couldn’t relax too much. With Charlie McCarthy tacking on another point Ardscoil pressed on, but found Kieran’s a tough nut to crack.
Showing strength at the back, the Kilkenny side were able to play their way out of trouble.
While James Maher dropped back to help with defensive duties, they showed they still possessed a lively attack. Eoin Walsh proved as much, moving from the half-back line to gather Jason Byrne’s crossfield ball and split the posts.
There was a brief moment of worry when Ardscoil breached the College goal in injury-time. Given room to move forward, McCarthy ended a weaving solo with a fine lofted pass which Ronan Lynch batted to the net.
However, any hopes of an Ardscoil revival were swiftly quashed. Driving downfield, Mullen’s long ball caused panic in the Limerick defence. Goalkeeper O’Loughlin tried to gather the sliotar but he snatched at the ball, sending it crashing into his own net - and Kieran’s into the final.
SCORERS: St Kieran’s College - Robbie Donnelly (1-3, 0-1 free); Tadhg O’Dwyer (1-2); Conor O’Carroll, own goal (1-0); Conor Murphy (0-2, frees); Liam Blanchfield, Kevin Blanchfield, Eoin Walsh (0-1 each). Ardscoil Ris - Ronan Lynch (1-6, 0-5 frees), Conor Fitzgerald (0-3), Charlie McCarthy (0-2), Ian Galvin (0-1).
St Kieran’s College - Jason Barcoe (Clara), Michael Cody (Dunnamaggin), Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan), Jack Keoghan (Tullaroan), Jason Cleere (Bennettsbridge), Darren Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Eoin Walsh (Lisdowney), Kevin Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), James Maher (St Lachtain’s), Jason Byrne (Clara), Liam Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), Brian Cody (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Conor Murphy (Graigue-Ballycallan), Conor O’Carroll (Lisdowney), Tadhg O’Dwyer (James Stephens). Subs: Robbie Donnelly (Thomastown) for Murphy, 37 mins; Billy Ryan (Graigue-Ballycallan) for O’Dwyer, 58 mins.
Ardscoil Ris - Paraic O’Loughlin, Eoghan Costelloe, Barry Fitzpatrick, Josh O’Halloran, Gordon Browne, Michael Casey, Jack English, Cian O’Brien, Ronan Lynch, Alex Morey, Cian Lynch, Ian Galvin, Colin Crehan, Conor Fitzgerald, Micheál O’Loughlin. Subs: Charlie McCarthy for O’Brien, 31 mins; Thomas Grimes for English, 48 mins; Peter Casey for O’Loughlin, 50 mins; Aaron Gillane for Ryan, 55 mins.
Referee - Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).