Croker is turning into a real graveyard for Kilkenny teams

THE big old house offered us such comfort and was a place of great joy over the past decade and more, but in recent times it has become something of a graveyard.

THE big old house offered us such comfort and was a place of great joy over the past decade and more, but in recent times it has become something of a graveyard.

Since the turn of the year the All-Ireland aspirations of John Lockes (Callan) were buried there. The same afternoon Dicksboro hopes were laid to rest too.

And then last week in the biggest of the club hurling championships, O’Loughlin-Gaels, brave and defiant soldiers in Kilkenny and Leinster, saw their hopes and aspirations turn to dust in Croke Park on All-Ireland senior final day.

It was the completion of the hat-trick of the unwanted, following the junior and intermediate defeats by the ’Lockes and the ’Boro last month.

But hold on, the sad tidings didn’t end there.

Sure it was only last September that the ‘Drive for Five’ All-Irelands on-the-trot by Brian Cody’s storm troopers met a sorry death at the hands of tear away Tipperary in Croke Park.

What an All-Ireland four in-a-row! Wow! Such heartache! Let’s hopes the Gods who inhabit Croke Park have had their fill of Kilkenny woes.

Give us a break guys…..please?

The St Patrick’s Day eclipse of O’Loughlin-Gaels by deadly Galway champions, Clarinbridge (2-18 to 0-12) was as comprehensive as the score would suggest. At the extremes the Gaels saw a first half lead of five points (0-8 to 0-3 and 0-9 to 0-4) turned into a deficit of 12 (2-18 to 0-12) – a stunning turn around of 17 points.

What was it that week between Kilkenny and Galway hurling teams? Only four days earlier Galway worked a hard to credit 18 point turn around on their way to beating Kilkenny in the National League (4-14 to 3-13).

Chasing first All-Ireland

This senior club final was a decider between two teams chasing their first All-Ireland club success, and two counties chasing the win that would give them leadership in the Roll of Honour. History abounded.

In clinching their first Tommy Moore Cup win, Clarinbridge claimed Galway’s 11th success in the series. And what of the biggest mischief maker on the day, none other than Alan Kerins?

Five years earlier he won a senior football All-Ireland club title with Salthill-Knocknacarra when they toppled St Gall’s of Antrim. A hurling/football double was nice going.

The Kerins brothers, Alan and Mark, turned this All-Ireland ship right around when it looked to be steaming towards a Kilkenny port. O’Loughlin’s opened full of confidence. Their hurling was sweet, attractive, daring even. They were definitely the better team.

To be honest, they made hurling look easy during the opening 20 to 25 minutes when they were sharper than the opposition in all departments.

Mark Bergin at centre-forward flashed over two points during the opening three minutes. Danny Loughnane turned a nothing ball that came back into play off the right upright at the Hill 16 end into a point before scoring an even better one from an acute angle inside the 20-metre line on the right.

With 13 minutes showing on the clock Clarinbridge looked troubled when 0-1 to 0-5 down. Bergin was THE man of the moment at that stage.

Somewhere beyond the mid-point in the half the winners switched centre-forward Mark Kerins with full-forward Alan Kerins. Slowly the sway of play began to change.

From a deficit of 0-3 to 0-8 in the 25th minute the Tribesmen got level by the break (0-10 to 1-7). Wing-back Jamie Cannon started the surge by bursting up the field to shoot a point. Martin Comerford landed a smashing one in reply from 45 metres distance and in the shadows of the Hogan Stand.

Alan Kerins pointed then. Eoin Forde did likewise. Both were with assists from Mark Kerins. The latter put his name on a goal in the second minute of injury-time and he earned a penalty that was turned over the bar later.

Confidence evaporated

Between the 27th and 32nd minutes O’Loughlin’s were out-scored by 1-3 to 0-1. The moving of the Kerins boys, and that blast of scores, were the game changers.

O’Loughlin’s never blew up a serious gust of hurling afterwards. As their game fell asunder, their confidence evaporated. No one was hurling anywhere near their usual form by the finish.

O’Loughlin’s are better than this, but on this day, no, it just didn’t happen.

In contrast, Clarinbridge were sailing on a sea of belief. The Kerins brothers and corner-forward, Eoin Forde were ripping holes in the opposing defence. Centre-back David Forde, a slow starter, was doing a lot better than holding his ground and the man behind him, Brian Burke was powerful too.

Barry Daly and sub Enda Collins were another pair of stars.

“It is back to the drawing board now,” admitted desperately disappointed O’Loughlin’s manager and chairman, Michael Nolan, who did so much to try and make the All-Ireland dream a reality for one of Kilkenny’s biggest outfits.

“We didn’t see that second half happening. We were played off the field. It was our worst performance in I don’t know how long. I always thought there would be a fight back in us.

“But once the difference went to six or seven points they were getting out of sight. The second goal finished us off. The challenge for us all now is to get over this and bounce back.

“No team, certainly not this O’Loughlin’s team, becomes a bad team over one game, or 35 minutes of one game, which was the case here. The way we played in the second half I just don’t know what happened.

“We thought everything went well in the build up to the game. Maybe the goal before half-time knocked the stuffing out of us. The players will get a few weeks off now before they start working towards the start of the Kilkenny league.

“Getting over this will take time and it will be a test of what we are made of.”

The way things have been going in Croker, maybe all in the county should just avoid the place for a while.