KILKENNY champions O’Loughlin Gaels are the kings of Feile-na-nGael 2011. The St John’s Park outfit became the fifth Kilkenny club to win juvenile hurling’s most prestigious event, following in the footsteps of fellow city teams James Stephens (1989, 1994, 1996, 2003 and 2008), Tullaroan (1997), Ballyhale Shamrocks (1998), and Dicksboro (2009) when they beat all before them at the finals in Galway at the weekend.
O’Loughlin’s success was the ninth time in the history of the competition that a Kilkenny team has tasted Feile glory at Division I level.
This year was the 40th anniversary of Feile, which began back in 1971. O’Loughlin’s travelled west of the Shannon under the management team of Niall Bergin (manager) and selectors Mark Bergin, Maurice Nolan and Seanie Cleere in the knowledge they were involved in a tough group with Galway teams Gort and St Thomas and Cork’s mighty Blackrock.
The big adventure began on Friday morning when the city team played their group games, all in Castledaly. They romped to victory in their opening match blitzing their host club, St Thomas by a massive 6-16 to 0-1. At the same time Blackrock destroying Gort, 6-10 to 0-2.
O’Loughlin’s and Blackrock were shaping up for a clash in the group decider. After O’Loughlin’s (4-13 to 1-1) and the Cork crew (4-6 to 0-3) both registered four goals each in their next outings, the showdown between the two sides was on. The added bonus for the winners was a place in the semi-finals.
In a pulsating encounter, O’Loughlin’s emerged victorious by 1-10 to 1-8 after trailing by 1-6 to 1-2 at the interval. The match was played in horrendous weather conditions.
However, a flawless display of free-taking from Robbie Buckley, who scored all of O’Loughlin’s eight points (7 frees) during the second-half, turned the game on its head. The Cats eventually ran out two-point winners.
The O’Loughlin’s youngsters travelled to Athenry for their semi-final encounter. They didn’t mess about. They took total command early and destroyed Taghmon/Camross of Wexford, winning by 2-12 to 0-1.
Last year’s finalists Na Piarsaigh (cork) easily brushed aside the challenge of Craughwell (3-12 to 0-3) in the second semi. It was on to the final which was held in Pearse Stadium, Salthill.
Played in a very strong breeze, O’Loughlin’s worked hard and put together a led of 1-3 to 0-3 by the interval. Again Robbie Buckley was in top form, banging home 1-2 during one dazzling spell.
The swirling breeze made conditions difficult, but O’Loughlin’s simply powered on. They added second-half goals through Cian Loy and Sean Kiely to seal victory by a whopping 11 points, 3-6 to 0-4.
GAA President Christy Cooney presented the Christy Ring cup to team captain, Robie Buckley, who invited the injured captain Robbie O’Driscoll to accept the famous trophy with him.
There was a massive party in the St John’s Park clubhouse when the conquering heroes returned home and a lone piper led the youngsters from the gates of the grounds.
These youngsters are far from finished. They will go in search of a Feile double this weekend when they travel to the Leeside (Cork) to compete in the Feile Peil-na-nOg.
Heartbreak for Thomastown
There was heartbreak for the Thomastown camogie girls whose Feile adventure took an unusual twist.
They were drawn in a tough group with Athenry and Ardrahan of Galway as well as Courcey Rovers of Cork.
Thomastown’s first game against Athenry ended in a 2-3 to 1-3 defeat on Friday afternoon before victories over Ardrahan (4-8 to 3-0) and Courcey Rovers (1-1 to 0-1) meant that Thomastown along with Courcey Rovers and Athenry were involved in a three-way tie at the top of the group.
Thomastown had topped the group on scoring difference. However, an unusual situation occurred in that because the three teams finished level on points, they would all play each other in a round robin section with matches lasting five minutes a side.
Following a draw against Courcey Rovers, Thomastown needed to defeat Athenry by at least two clear goals to keep their Feile hopes alive.
Now scoring difference was becoming an issue when many people were dazzled by the confusion of teams finishing level in the first place.
How and ever, Thomastown lived up to their promise. They gained revenge for their earlier defeat by Athenry at the start of the competition when they ran out out eight point winners.
A semi-final clash with St Martin’s of Wexford beckoned. Thomastown were at the disadvantage of playing those extra games and that proved decisive.
Despite their best attempts, their Feile adventure was ended when they lost 0-4 to 0-2. Cahir who were very impressive en route to the final easily won the decider by 4-10 to 1-7.
There was Feile success for the Clogh 40x20 handballers who defeated St Canice’s in the Division II section.