A solid performance in front of goal helped the Kilkenny & District League youths get their inter-league campaign off to a winning start.
The Cats were too good for their opponents Tipperary, handing the Premier County a solid beating at a bitterly cold Derdimus on Saturday.
Victory wasn’t without its nervy moments, but Kilkenny’s overall composure saw them rise above anything the visitors could throw at them.
Having weathered an early storm to take the lead, Kilkenny were rocked when Tipp struck on a the counter-attack in the 22nd minute. Unlocked by Marius Bultins’s great ball from the centre-circle, Kilkenny were caught cold when the delivery skimmed off the foot off defender Dylan Drennan.
The looping ball fell at the feet of Sean Browne, who found himself with space on the left side of the box. The striker took one look at the target and made no mistake, driving a thumping shot into the top left corner of the net, the ball flying in via the underside of the crossbar.
Kilkenny heads could have dropped after that - they fought hard to take the lead and then lost it after just two minutes - but they stayed positive in the face of growing Tipp pressure.
The visitors could have bagged a second goal when Jamie Carey latched on to Browne’s throw-in and squared the ball to Michael Nugent, but he lashed his shot wide with the Kilkenny defence in disarray.
That scare was a mirror of the early pressure Tipp put on the hosts. They did well down the wings, the likes of Sean Browne and Michael Nugent, keeping Kilkenny pegged back in their own half.
Browne had the first real chance, taking a fourth minute pass from Adam Garrett, but his deflected shot was well held by Aidan Hynes.
The same duo were also at the heart of Tipp’s next chance. This time Browne was the provider, firing a throw-in over the defence and into Garrett’s path, but although he did well to cut in from the left he dragged his shot wide of the far post.
Kilkenny, who had been under pressure but still saw good performances from Mark Slater and Adam Butler in the centre of the field, soaked up all the pressure from the visitors and hit back with a slick move. Slater and Butler did the damage from midfield, trading passes before Butler sent Jamie Conway racing away down the left, but the ball was deflected wide.
The corner, when it came, caught Tipp cold. Bobby Joe Walsh’s cross was a peach, the ball spinning off the hand of netminder Michael O’Reilly. Tipp failed to clear their lines, and were punished when Sean Murphy pounced to steer home the loose ball, O’Reilly powerless to stop it from spinning inside his right hand post.
Parity was restored when Browne landed that thunderbolt goal just two minutes later. Although Tipp followed that up with a good chance soon after, Kilkenny regained their composure and, with two goals in five minutes, took the game by the scruff of the neck.
They had a chance to go back in front when Slater floated a lovely ball across the box. The pass fell into the path of Bobby Joe Walsh, who stepped inside his marker and let fly from the left corner of the six-yard box, but Michael O’Reilly stayed big to make the point-blank save.
O’Reilly wasn’t as lucky when, just 60 seconds later, the Cats went in front again - and in some style.
There seemed to be very little on when full-back Danny Monks picked up play inside the Tipp half.
Driving forward, Monks found space opening up in front of him as Tipp stood off. He took on the challenge, skipping past four would-be tacklers before moving into the centre of the box.
Evading one last defender, Monks stayed cool long enough to pick his spot, giving O’Reilly no chance with a confident shot tucked away inside the bottom left corner.
Kilkenny were in flying form now, and could have stretched their lead within a matter of minutes. Shane Bowe had a great chance when he rolled his man and unleashed a searing shot, but O’Reilly did well to finger-tip the ball over.
They went closer again from the corner, Walsh getting up well to power Ben Hickey’s corner back across goal. The ball took a nick off defender Darren Maguire, going through his legs, but spun just outside the post.
The Cats stayed on the attack, taking just three minutes more to make it 3-1. Sparked by Ben Hickey’s low pass, Murphy created room to attack with a clever turn that left his marker flat-footed.
Murphy followed that neat trick with a fierce shot, one that beat O’Reilly all ends up, but the ball cannoned back off the crossbar. The danger wasn’t over though, as Bobby Joe Walsh stole in from the left to slam home the rebound.
Kilkenny were full value for their two-goal lead, but almost saw it get halved in the last seconds of first half normal time. Stephen Joy’s flick-on fell just right for Adam Garrett, who beat the offside trap and sped into the box, but although he slid his shot past Aidan Hynes the ball flashed wide of the far post.
That was a close call, but there was still time for Kilkenny to try and stretch their lead again when Murphy was brought down in the box by O’Reilly in injury-time. The striker took the penalty himself, giving the ’keeper no chance with a powerful shot, but the ball crashed back off the crossbar.
As it happened, Kilkenny didn’t have to wait too much longer for goal number four. In a move started at the back Aidan Tuohy ran at Tipp from deep in his own half, surging through until he reached the edge of the box. A quick lay-off to Bowe was turned into a threaded pass for Ben Hickey, who stole into the box and smashed a low shot home.
Kilkenny did had more chances after that, going close through Bowe, Murphy and sub Darragh Carroll, but they couldn’t add to their lead. With Tipp heads dropping, the hosts could afford to step off the gas and cruise to a result which pleased manager Paul Butler.
“That was a good performance,” he said. “We were a little apprehensive in the first 20 minutes but we gelled well and drove on. They are a good bunch of young lads and while it took a little time to get them used to each other they’ve done well so far.”
Kilkenny & DL: Aidan Hynes, Danny Monks (Kieran Banville, 72 mins), Jamie Conway, Aidan Tuohy, Dylan Drennan (Darragh Carroll, 80 mins), Adam Butler, Ben Hickey, Mark Slater, Sean Murphy, Shane Bowe, Bobby Joe Walsh (Tim Cummins, 61 mins).
TSDL: Michael O’Reilly, Stephen Joy, Darren McGuire (Michael Morrissey, 80 mins), Stephen Kelly, Alex Ryan, Rory Maher, Michael Nugent, Marius Bultins (Anthony Walker, 61 mins), Sean Browne, Adam Garrett, Jamie Carey (Darren McGrath, 46 mins).
Referee: Nicky Marnell. Linesmen: Jim Nolan, Derek Campion.