THEY may be young, but Kilkenny have played like lions in their opening games of this year’s Kennedy Cup.
Gary Maher’s side have been a revelation at the national football tournament, which is being held at the University of Limerick this week. At the time of going to press the Kittens had played two games in the competition and won both, leaving them odds-on to qualify for the quarter-finals of the tournament’s main section.
“The boys have done really, really well,” said their delighted team manager Gary Maher. “They have played some lovely football and deserve to have all six points so far.”
Kilkenny made a great start to the tournament, which is played for between teams representing all of Ireland’s football leagues, by getting better of the North East Counties in their opening game on Monday evening. In a tense encounter the sides were scoreless at half-time, with Kilkenny having an early goal ruled out for offside. It was all change in the second half, as a penalty from captain Dara Keane and strike from Craig Hayes gave them a 2-0 lead but the North East Counties halved the deficit, making for a nervy finish.
“We conceded a sloppy goal which let the North East back into the game,” said Maher. “It meant we were hanging on for a while as the North East went looking for an equaliser, but given the way our lads had played a draw would have been unfair on them.”
Kilkenny made no such mistake in their second Group Three game against the Midlands League yesterday (Tuesday) morning. Eoin McCormack gave them a 1-0 lead by half-time, but it was after the break that everything clicked into gear.
Kilkenny found their form in the second half, hitting the Midlands for six as they won 7-0. A Mark Drennan header after the restart sent them on their way, to which Dara Keane added another. Further goals from McCormack, Hayes, Chris Nolan and Peter Henebry meant that a point in their final game against Drogheda would ensure Kilkenny’s progression to the Kennedy Cup quarter-finals as group winners.
“The lads are very excited, but their hard work has paid off so far,” added Maher. “We have used our squad wisely in the games - I have 20 players who are all good enough to start.”
Should Kilkenny top the group they will feature in the quarter-finals today (Wednesday) at 3pm. Wexford or Roscommon will be the likely opposition, with Maher encouraging more people to get behind the side.
“We have had great support so far,” he said. “A lot of the players’ parents have come down to Limerick for the week, booking into hotels for the tournament, but anyone who wants to come down and cheer us on is more than welcome.”