Cruelty of sport denies unluckiest of Kilkenny teams

Galway VS 0-12

Galway VS 0-12

Kilkenny VS 0-8

SPORT can be uplifting, but it also has a cruel side. Just ask the Kilkenny Vocational Schools hurlers.

Back in an All-Ireland final for the third year in a row, the Cats ended up on the wrong side of the result for the third time in succession as Galway grabbed the spoils in blustery conditions at Thomastown on Saturday.

Crueller still, Kilkenny may never get the chance to get their hands on the silverware again. With schools amalgamating, as well as the growing number of national competitions, the vocational championship has been suspended for at least two years – maybe for good.

“All the players have loved wearing this jersey,” long-serving mentor Derek Dooley said of the panel, who may have played in the last ever Vocational Schools final. “It’s sad to see the competition end for them.”

It was in the final quarter that Kilkenny finally lost their grip on a game which had been slipping away from them for some time.

With the elements driving them on, Galway grabbed the final scores at vital times to crush the hosts’ spirit. Kilkenny looked to have hung on in there when trailing by one going into the last ten minutes (0-9 to 0-8), but frees in quick succession from Barry Keane lifted the pressure off Galway shoulders.

Goal chance

With no way through the maroon defence, Kilkenny struggled to regain control. Shane Donnelly made a goal chance with a great catch over the head of his marker on 57 minutes, but his shot was stopped at his near post by Galway netminder Peter Whelan.

Worse was to follow, as Willie Brennan’s surging run was ended close to the square a minute later. Trailing by three Conor Martin had no option but to go for goal from the free, but his shot was blocked out for a 65. It was as close as Kilkenny would get to catching their rivals.

Although Galway were first off the mark thanks to a long range Dara Burke free Kilkenny quickly sparked into life. Their best spell of play led to points for captain Conor Martin, Shane Donnelly and Liam Hickey. Donnelly added another, showing excellent pace to turn inside Padraic Kennedy but his searing shot on nine minutes just fizzed over the bar.

At that stage Kilkenny led by three (0-4 to 0-1), but although they had the breeze they couldn’t keep Galway at bay. The Connacht side kept forcing the pressure, gradually clawing their way back into the game thanks to Dara and Brian Dolan, before Barry Keane’s first free of the day levelled the scores after 15 minutes.

Stubborn defence

Galway kept probing for more scores, but Kilkenny proved stubborn in defence. Little by little they ground out the yards, forcing Galway back into their own half long enough for Conor Martin (free, 65) to tack on two points, the latter of which came in the 26th minute after netminder Peter Whelan spilled a long ball from Cats midfielder James Doyle – to his side’s relief, the ’keeper ushered the sliotar to safety.

The two-point gap didn’t survive for long. In the dying embers of the first half Keane halved the deficit with a neat score following a good team move (0-6 to 0-5). Seconds into the new half he converted a free, leaving the sides all square.

Scores proved hard to come by for most of the half, but with Dara Dolan (2) and Barry Keane cancelling out a Conor Martin brace it was Galway who held the upper hand with 50 minutes on the clock.

Spurred on by the accurate Keane, the Tribesmen held off that late Kilkenny rally, defending as if their lives depended on it, before Brian Dolan’s second point of the day confirmed their coronation as champions.

SCORERS: Galway VS – Barry Keane (0-6, 0-5 frees); Dara Dolan (0-3); Brian Dolan (0-2); Dara Burke (0-1, free). Kilkenny VS – Conor Martin (0-5, 0-4 frees, 0-1 65); Shane Donnelly (0-2); Liam Hickey (0-1).

Kilkenny VS – S. Moriarty (Emeralds), J. Meaney (Graignamanagh), T. Moriarty (Emeralds), R. McKenna (Kilmacow), B. Whelan (Thomastown), J. Stanley (Galmoy), D. O’Gorman (Fenians), W. Brennan (Fenians), J. Doyle (Graignamanagh), S. Donnelly (St Lachtain’s), C. Martin (Emeralds), K. Sweeney (Lisdowney), J. Kenny (Emeralds), M. Russell (Ferrybank), L. Hickey (St Lachtain’s). Sub: D. Cooke (Kilmacow) for Russell, 44 mins.

Galway VS – P. Whelan, P. Prendergast, K. Morrissey, T. Broderick, T. Jakeman, D. Burke, P. Kennedy, P. Flanagan, E. Kirwan, S. Burke, D. Dolan, B. Keane, J. Ryan, J. Raftery, G. Kelly. Subs: B. Dolan for Kirwan (inj), 2 mins; R. O Bearra for Kelly, 44 mins; D. Donoghue for Broderick, 46 mins; S. Flynn for Ryan, 60 mins.

Referee – M. Wadding (Waterford).