Nature tells you that it’s never good to tackle a wounded Cat - and the same can be said for soccer!
The North East Counties learned that harsh lesson when they gave second best to the sharp Cats at a blustery Scanlon Park on Sunday.
On a day when the performances from Rory Monks, Jordan Molloy and Eoin Wall lit up a gloomy afternoon Kilkenny were full value for this Leinster inter-league victory.
Keen to make a good start against the wind, Kilkenny were almost up and running inside 60 seconds. Jordan Molloy unlocked the NEC defence with a clever ball to Ben Maher, but his shot looped over the bar via a deflection off a defender.
The NEC were no slouches either when it came to making a fast start. They thought they had won a third minute penalty after Jack O’Keeffe’s searing run was ended by a late challenge, but the foul was committed outside the box. Dylan Hand stepped up to take the free, but blasted his shot well over the bar.
Kilkenny kept on the front foot in that opening period, stringing together some great moves as they pressed for the opening goal. Eoin Keneally sent Eoin Wall free down the left but despite his neat dash along the end line he couldn’t squeeze the ball past NEC netminder Liam Kiernan.
Molloy was next to try his luck, putting together a slick move with Rory Monks before letting fly from close range, but somehow Kiernan made a point-blank save when a goal seemed certain.
North East Counties weren’t out of the game by any stretch, and gave the Cats a timely reminder when a ball broke in front of Oisin Martyn. The striker saw his chance and took it, but his 24th minute snapshot flashed wide of the left post.
The M&M combination of Monks and Molloy teamed up once more with another sweet move that almost cut the NEC open. With Monks providing the pass, Molloy broke through - despite a shirt tug from his marker - but he could only direct his 28th minute shot straight at Kiernan.
Kilkenny were becoming frustrated with the growing number of missed chances, even more so as the NEC were still snapping at their heels. Jack O’Keeffe had an opportunity to push the visitors ahead when David Grangel’s throw broke at his feet, but although he made a neat turn his 30th minute shot lacked power to trouble netminder Calvin Brophy.
The visitors came back to life in the final 10 minutes of the half, but try as they might they couldn’t turn possession into goals. Their last chance of the half fell to the impressive Martyn, who skipped a tackle and tried his luck from long range, but Brophy got down well to stop the daisy-cutter.
The last (and possibly best) chance to break the stalemate before half-time fell to Kilkenny. Making a mess of a back-pass, the NEC were almost undone when Kiernan’s kick-out went straight to Rory Monks.
The striker did the hard part, controlling the ball and rounding the netminder, but his celebrations were cut short as NEC skipper Dylan Hand hacked the ball off the line.
Kilkenny had the breeze at their backs for the second half, but the NEC could so easily have taken the wind out of their sails quickly after the restart. Picking up a crossfield ball Shane Duffy slipped Jack O’Keeffe through for what seemed a certain goal, but somehow he scuffed the ball wide from just six yards out.
Much to Kilkenny’s relief, the deadlock was finally broken with 49 minutes on the clock. The goal was worth waiting for, Sam Hickey splitting the NEC defence with a peach of a cross from the right for Monks to sweep home.
Having waited almost 50 minutes for one goal, it took the Cats just four minutes more to add a second.
Midfielder Eoin Wall was a key component, driving through the centre before trying for goal from long range. His shot was blocked by the NEC defence, but the ball spun loose to Monks. Showing great skill, Monks shifted his balance and worked the ball into space before hammering an unstoppable shot inside the far left post.
It was a great strike, but the visitors hit back in perfect fashion, halving the deficit when Shane Duffy’s 64th minute cross was blasted home by Martyn.
The game was back in the melting pot, but Kilkenny weren’t about to let it slip from their hands. They were able to contain their rivals, snuffing them out of the game before making the spoils safe in the dying moments when Ronan Buckley came up from the back to stab home Ben Maher’s swirling free.
Kilkenny & DL: Calvin Brophy, Daithi Barnes, Sean Ryan, Sam Hickey, Ronan Buckley, Eoin Wall, Ben Maher, Conor O’Keeffe, Rory Monks, Jordan Molloy, Eoin Keneally. Subs: Steven Wemyss, Cillian O’Boyle, Michael Murphy, Ryan Poyntz, Eoin Neary, Sam Dwyer.
North East Counties: Liam Kiernan, Dave Grangel, Luke McNamara, Dylan Hand, Evan Buckley, Shane Duffy, Stefan Dineen, Sean Hughes, Jack O’Keeffe, Oisin Martyn, Francis Cullen. Subs: Sean Raftery, Conor Francis, Karl Hannigan, Karl Brennan, Jody Mahony, Mark Dorcan.
Referee: Eoin Walsh. Linesmen: Derek Campion, Eugene Coyne.