A game of two halves and two very different performances saw St Kieran’s College march into the Leinster senior hurling colleges semi-finals.
The city side showed different sides to their game - defensive strength in the first half and attacking prowess in the second - as they shouldered a disjointed Castlecomer CS out of the way at a weather-battered Freshford on Saturday.
Kieran’s started against a gale-like wind which swept play down towards the scoreboard end, but while they were under pressure from the elements they never wilted.
Re-siting a member of their full-forward line did the trick for Kieran’s. Niall Walsh started with the number 15 on his back but didn’t play there, slotting in between midfield and his half-back line in order to stifle the ’Comer attack.
It was a frustrating day for the North Kilkenny school, who looked nothing like the team who comprehensively beat Borris VS in the opening round of the championship (’Comer won that one by 5-9 to 2-6).
While they had the advantage of the wind, they weren’t helped by the other elements - driving rain and a biting cold made life (and underfoot conditions) difficult for both sides.
Kevin Blanchfield pushed Kieran’s into the lead with a quick point, but Castlecomer spurned a chance to stamp their authority on the game soon after. Given a free just outside the square Billy Morrissey opted to go for goal from the strike, but the full-forward’s fourth minute effort was blocked and pushed away from danger.
They did get off the mark when Sean Buggy snapped up a loose ball and converted it into a neat point, but with Kieran’s using Walsh as an extra layer to mop up danger Castlecomer couldn’t find much in the way of clear-cut chances.
They weren’t helped by the weather, which battered the players, or the fact that with play being held up in the middle third ’Comer had to drift out in order to win more possession. They did get more ball - the performance of half-back Liam Cass was very impressive - but when they forced play on, all too often their forwards were outnumbered by Kieran’s backs.
The bad weather lifted as the half progressed, but both sides still had trouble finding their scoring touch. A Robbie Donnelly free tipped Kieran’s back in front by the 15th minute, that point coming after some strong running from Liam Blanchfield, but ’Comer were level soon after, Morrissey pointing at the second attempt after another low free was swatted back out.
The stalemate looked set to survive until half-time, but Kieran’s had one final trick up their sleeve.
Driving from midfield, a surging run in injury-time took Kevin Blanchfield past several challenges before he neatly laid the sliotar off to Donnelly. Although fouled as he tried to shake off his marker, Donnelly got his consolation when he pointed the resulting free to edge Kieran’s in front once more (0-3 to 0-2).
With the wind now at their backs there was more of a cutting edge to Kieran’s when they took to the field once more. Centre-back James Maher showed as much, latching on to the loose ball from the throw-in and storming forward before splitting the posts inside the opening minute.
The momentum was clearly with the city side, who had pushed their way into a four-point lead by the 39th minute.
It could, and should, have been greater. Billy Ryan sparked panic in the ’Comer ranks when he flicked a low ball across the goalmouth. When Niall Walsh connected with the ball it seemed as if the net would shake, but his shot cleared the bar.
That was a let-off for Castlecomer, but they couldn’t use it to their advantage. With their attacking game stuck in reverse they failed to threaten their rivals, slipping even further behind when sub Conor Murphy scored a 42nd minute free with his first involvement in the game.
’Comer did lift some of the gloom when Billy Morrissey converted a free with 50 minutes on the clock. It was their first score of the half, proof they had struggled to impose themselves on the game, but it failed to ignite their charge.
Kieran’s moved quickly to shut their rivals down. Sean Morrissey cancelled out the ’Comer point with one of his own, Niall Walsh adding another after battling into a scoring position.
Nail in coffin
The real nail in Castlecomer’s coffin was still to come. Trying to work the ball upfield, their attempts to find space were undone when Kevin Blanchfield robbed possession and dropped a teasing ball over the ’Comer backs and into Liam Blanchfield’s path.
Left unmarked, Blanchfield had nothing but goal on his mind. Netminder Jason Shore saw the danger and raced from his line to stop the 54th minute shot, but he was powerless to prevent Blanchfield from sweeping the rebound home.
The day didn’t get any better for ’Comer. In one of their best attacks Conor Delaney and Ollie Feehan worked the ball around until Feehan found space to let fly with a menacing shot, but Kieran’s netminder Jason Barcoe made a fine save, diving to his right to keep the 57th minute effort out.
SCORERS: St Kieran’s College - Liam Blanchfield (1-0); Robbie Donnelly (0-3, frees); Conor Murphy (0-2, frees); Niall Walsh (0-2); Kevin Blanchfield, James Maher, Sean Morrissey (0-1 each). Castlecomer CS - Billy Morrissey (0-2, 0-1 free), Sean Buggy (0-1).
St Kieran’s College - Jason Barcoe (Clara), Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan), Eoin Walsh (Lisdowney), Jason Cleere (Bennettsbridge), Darren Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks), James Maher (St Lachtain’s), Jack Keoghan (Tullaroan), Kevin Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), Jason Byrne (Clara), Liam Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), Sean Morrissey (Bennettsbridge), Danny O’Connor (O’Loughlin Gaels), Robbie Donnelly (Thomastown), Billy Ryan (Graigue-Ballycallan), Niall Walsh (Windgap). Subs: Conor Murphy (Graigue-Ballycallan) for Donnelly, 42 mins; Brian Cody (Ballyhale Shamrocks) for O’Connor, 44 mins; Bill Carrigan (Clara) for Keoghan, 55 mins; Ray Lahart (James Stephens) for Byrne, 58 mins; Josh Haines (John Lockes) for Ryan, 58 mins.
Castlecomer CS - Jason Shore (St Martin’s), Donal Cass (Conahy Shamrocks), Niall McMahon (Erin’s Own), Shane Feehan (Erin’s Own), Andrew Dowd (Erin’s Own), Philly Cass (Conahy Shamrocks), Liam Cass (Conahy Shamrocks), Stephen Walsh (St Martin’s), Conor Delaney (Erin’s Own), David O’Neill (Erin’s Own), Martin Walsh (Erin’s Own), Ollie Feehan (Conahy Shamrocks), Jamie Holohan (Erin’s Own), Billy Morrissey (St Patrick’s), Sean Buggy (Erin’s Own). Subs: Shane Dowling for O’Neill, 44 mins; David Walsh for M. Walsh, 60 mins.
Referee - Anthony Stapleton (Laois).