Minor Cats show major improvement

In the warm-up before Saturday’s Leinster minor hurling semi-final the Kilkenny lads were focusing on their first touch and getting ready to blast into action, writes Nickey Brennan.

In the warm-up before Saturday’s Leinster minor hurling semi-final the Kilkenny lads were focusing on their first touch and getting ready to blast into action, writes Nickey Brennan.

At the other end of the pitch the Laois players were engaging in a series of sprints with far less ball contact. The contrast in preparation was interesting. It was clear after five minutes which team was the quickest into their stride.

During that period Kilkenny had three points on the ’board from midfielders Luke Scanlon (2) and Conor Browne. Scanlon, in particular, looked sharp with his incisive runs causing problems.

Laois needed a good start but looked nervous early on. They slowly edged into the game, helped by some carelessly conceded frees by Kilkenny. Mark Kavanagh was an able marksman from every placed ball.

At the other end of the field Glenmore’s Alan Murphy kept the Kilkenny scores ticking over with well taken points from frees from all distances as Laois matched Kilkenny in needlessly conceding frees.

With Kilkenny’s midfield on top and a solid display from the half backs the young Cats took a grip on the game. At one stage it looked as if they might pull away for a comfortable win.

In the closing 10 minutes of the half Laois picked up the momentum and for the first time seriously threatened the Kilkenny dominance. The O’Moore boys got on top in key central positions and by the interval the margin was down to four points.

With Kilkenny facing a stiffening breeze in the second half the tie was far from over. What happened at the start of the second half was comical.

A Kilkenny attack immediately after the throw-in ended with a wide but it could so easily have been a score. When the umpire waved the ball wide it was only then discovered that the Laois goalie was not on the pitch.

The referee, realising his error, restarted the second half.

I wonder what would have happened had Kilkenny scored? Kilkenny’s comfortable win in the end meant that the incident was quickly forgotten, but imagine if a score had been disallowed and it affected the result?

Two incidents in this half were key to Kilkenny’s success. The first was a splendidly worked goal in the 36th minute which saw some lovely inter-play between Liam Blanchfield and Alan Murphy, with the Glenmore lad shooting a precious goal.

The other incident was equally important and came three minutes later. With Kilkenny on top, Laois needed a goal and they almost got one but for a point-blank save by Kilkenny goalie Darren Brennan. That save had a profound impact on both teams.

Kilkenny, grateful for the let-off, moved swiftly to score another point. The miss hurt Laois. A goal at that stage would have been a huge lift for the home side. Instead one could sense the confidence draining from the players.

The scores were coming that little bit easier to Kilkenny as the gap between the teams widened. Laois were heavily dependent on Mark Kavanagh from frees, but what they really needed was a goal.

What was particularly pleasing from a Kilkenny perspective in the closing quarter was the willingness of the players to harry and chase opponents. While the Kilkenny defence was on top –with full-back Conor Delaney particularly impressive - Laois surrendered possession far too easily.

Credit, though, to Kilkenny who kept up the momentum to the final whistle. The eight point winning margin may have been a little harsh on Laois but Kilkenny had a decisive edge in key areas.

This current Kilkenny team is still a work in progress. The selectors used a full complement of substitutes, with most of the changes necessary. Eoin Kenny made a big impression when introduced and will have laid down a marker for a starting place in the Leinster final.