Tullaroan had the business of securing a place in the final already seen to, but they drove on with commendable enthusiasm and craft.
There was an odd question about their focus when beating last year’s championship final losers, St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) in the intermediate hurling league, but little else.
The immaculate Johnstown pitch glistened on what was a perfect day for hurling on Saturday, and two eager teams produced fare that was fast and open, skilful and entertaining, if lacking the cutting edge of do-or-die competition.
Tullaroan didn’t mind. They maintained their unbeaten run and reached the final, as they did this time last season.
“We lost that final, and then lost to Bennettsbridge in the championship afterwards,” reminded manager, Jimmy Coogan. “We are only as far as we got last season, really. It is good to be back in the final, but because our team is relatively young, we are a work in progress.”
Most of their squad sampled adult hurling for the first time last season. They did well, and 12 months on, there is a decent look about them. The league final against more experienced Carrickshock this weekend should be an informative affair.
St Patrick’s? They were without star attacker Kevin Kelly, who broke a finger in the All-Ireland final against Tipperary, which obviously hurt them. So too did the shooting of 15 wides, eight in the second half when they enjoyed the majority of possession.
The game turned at a time Pat’s shooting was at its worst. Five times the scores were level during the opening quarter as both sides enjoyed moments in front.
During the next 10 minutes Tullaroan’s fortunes soared. When Padraig Walsh’s hurley was held, the fine shooting Shane Walsh pointed the free from 25 metres to edge them back in front, 0-6 to 0-5. Within a minute the county star scrambled a ball to Peter Walsh, and the latter finished to the net from 15 metres.
The experienced Tommy Walsh threw in a point to shoot Tullaroan 1-7 to 0-5 clear, but Pat’s efforts to hang on were downright unlucky. Three times the breeze assisted losers got in shots at goal. All were missed.
Tullaroan added to their gains through Shane Walsh, with a fine assist by Mark Walsh, before Peter Walsh bagged his second goal. This time the Pat’s defence made a mess of dealing with a high ball pumping into the square by Padraig Walsh, and the scorer prodded home from close range.
By the time Bill Staunton posted St Pat’s sixth point, they found themselves 2-8 to 0-6 down. And that was after shooting five wides in-a-row!
That Staunton point didn’t bring instant relief, however. Within 90 seconds Padraig Walsh picked up a ball on the ‘25’, put his head down and ploughed through the defence for Tullaroan’s third goal.
That score helped the winners into a handy interval lead of 3-8 to 0-9.
The losers opened the new half with a point from a 65 by Robbie Healy, and in the 34th minute free taker Michael Brennan went for a goal from a 20 metre free in front of the posts. The effort was saved, but the message was clear - they weren’t going to lie down.
Tullaroan lost their way a bit, their focus waning as they departed from the fast, direct ball game that had served them so well earlier.
Ken Coogan (T) and Bill Staunton traded minors before Michael Brennan converted a free for St Pat’s to leave the score 3-10 to 0-12 as play entered the final quarter. Brennan added another point from a free following a foul on Robbie Healy in the 47th minute as the opposition tried to wrest back control.
A point from Shane Walsh, hard earned, hindered the progress of the losers momentum and signalled that Tullaroan were getting the message that they needed to pick up the pace of things. They did!
They out-scored St Pat’s 0-4 to 0-1 during the closing stages to close out a decent effort, one that was full of promise thanks to the wholehearted and good hurling of Padraig, Martin, Shane and Peter Walsh and company.
St Pat’s relied a lot on Michael Brennan and Bill Staunton for scores, and a decent supply provided for them by James Gannon, Geoff Morrissey and Seoirse Kenny, whose best form was shown early on.
SCORERS: Tullaroan - Shane Walsh (0-8, four frees, one 65); Peter Walsh (2-0); Padraig Walsh (1-0); Ken Coogan (0-2); Mark Walsh, Tommy Walsh (M), Martin Walsh, Martin Keoghan, Bill Gaffney (0-1 each). St Patrick’s - Michael Brennan (0-7, frees); Bill Staunton (0-4); Robbie Healy (0-1, 65); Seoirse Kenny, Barry Staunton (0-1 each).
Tullaroan - Richie Butler; Jack Keoghan, Eddie Campion, Richie Maher; Stephen Maher, Martin Walsh, Josh Moore; John Walton, Paul Buggy; Mark Walsh, Padraig Walsh, Tommy Walsh (M); Peter Walsh, Ken Coogan, Shane Walsh. Subs: Martin Keoghan, Tommy Walsh (V), Jim Moore, Bill Gaffney.
St Patrick’s - Ger Staunton; John Mooney, James Gannon, Stephen Staunton; Sean Mooney, Geoff Morrissey, Geoff Brennan; Robbie Healy, Mark Staunton; Barry Staunton, Seoirse Kenny, Bill Staunton; Joe Brennan, Michael Brennan, Eon Bergin. Subs: Kieran Delaney, Oisin Brennan, Brian ‘Brook’ Phelan, Conor Delaney.
Referee - Eugene Ryan (Fenians).