BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX: DANNY LAHART
Five majors in Mullingar win
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship 2022
TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar
Westmeath 1-19 Kilkenny 5-23
The final score line was perhaps a little harsh on a gallant Westmeath, as they eventually succumbed to a Kilkenny team that came alive in the second half in Mullingar.
The Lake County will take plenty from this game, their first against Kilkenny in championship hurling since 2006 and despite the defeat, they will be hopeful of building on a first half that promised much. In fact, Joe Fortune’s charges, probably didn’t deserve to trail at the interval, having more than matched their illustrious opponents during the opening period.
Indeed, I for one didn’t expect to see TJ Reid back in the black & amber this month, let alone gracing the turf at TEG Cusack Park. To his credit, the Shamrocks man went on to hit 1-4 following his half-time introduction, and it was clear to see that his return lifted and drove his team on in the second period.
Before the action got under way, Westmeath made two changes to the team sheet, with Kevin Regan replacing Aonghus Clarke and Niall O’Brien coming in for Jack Gillen. Kilkenny lined out as selected.
The home side got off to a fast start, with their placed ball specialist, Killian Doyle getting the first score of the game in the opening minute. The Cats responded in good fashion, and drew level, thanks to a nice point from Tullaroan’s Padraig Walsh. Shortly after, there was a possible goal chance for the hosts, but lively forward Joey Boyle opted to pop the ball over the bar.
Raharney’s Doyle then slotted over two more free’s to leave the Maroon’s 3 points ahead after just five minutes of action in front of the near 2,500 spectators in attendance. The visitors pegged their hosts back with two points in succession, one from a free from Glenmore’s Alan Murphy, the other from the returning Adrian Mullen, who had been restored to the Cats starting line-up.
As predicted, any Kilkenny indiscretions were being punished by the accurate Killian Doyle, and the sharpshooter notched another on eight minutes. Cody’s men were level by the 12th minute, with thanks to Walter Walsh who fired over a lovely point, before Alan Murphy pointed from the placed ball, as Westmeath’s Cormac Boyle picked up an early yellow card for the home side. The maroon’s number 15 slotted over another free before Padraig Walsh fired over a lovely point from long range to level matters as the first quarter came to an end.
The Noresiders almost raised a green flag and were only denied following a fine save by Conor Bracken, as the Lake County’s net minder managed to stop Padraig Walsh’s goal bound effort. The home side immediately broke forward and scored a peach of a point from play thanks to a fine finish from Killian Doyle. That man Doyle then struck his seventh score of the day, before hitting a monster point from distance as the home crowd dared to dream. Niall O’Brien, a late inclusion on Joe Fortune’s starting XV, then rifled over a point to leave the hosts four points to the good after 22 minutes of play.
Then came the moment when the home sides momentum has halted. Westmeath centre-back, Tommy Doyle, who had been having a good game, attempted to halt the run of Mossy Keoghan. Doyle managed to get a partial block on the Tullaroan man’s shot, but Clare whistler Rory McGann played advantage and the supporting Mikey Carey rifled his shot beyond Bracken in the Westmeath goal, to raise the first green flag of the day. This goal appeared to be the catalyst for Brian Cody’s men to go through the gears, as the visitors accounted for six of the next eight points in Cusack Park.
A couple of further free’s from the reliable Alan Murphy put the Cats ahead, before Padraig Walsh got his third score of the afternoon. Cian Kenny, making his championship debit also notched a point before the short whistle, in what was to be his last action of the day as Westmeath kept in touch via Killian Doyle. The half-time score line read Westmeath 0-12, Kilkenny 1-12.
The legendary Cats manager clearly wasn’t best pleased with what he had witnesses in the opening period and no doubt a few harsh words were spoken in the changing room. Both Cian Kenny and Mossy Keoghan didn’t appear for the second half, replaced by John Donnelly and TJ Reid respectively.
Just like the opening period, it would be Killian Doyle that registered the first score of the half. Substitute TJ Reid then hit his first score of the day, before Alan Murphy added on a couple of frees to push Kilkenny’s lead to 5 points. The Lake County’s main man Doyle then fired over another free, but Adrian Mullen replied with a score from play to keep the Cats in pole position.
Former Galway All-Ireland winner Davy Glennon then pointed for his adopted county, before corner-back Darragh Egerton hit one of the best scores of the day, to reduce the deficit to 3 points. A ‘65 from TJ followed by Padraig Walsh’s 4th point of the day put the black and amber men five ahead, as Westmeath’s legs started to wane a little. Walter Walsh then fired over a fine point, before the defining score of the day. Westmeath’s keeper Conor Bracken then somehow managed to initially prevent Walter from goaling, but the alert Billy Ryan was on hand to fire an unstoppable rebound bast the unlucky net minder. The Cats lead was now an unassailable 9 points.
The maroon’s manager, Joe Fortune, must have been fearing a right mauling at this point of the game, and his fears weren’t helped when midfielder Cormac Boyle was shown a second yellow, following a wild swipe across the legs of Padraig Walsh just before the hour mark. Down to 14 men, it was somewhat inevitable that Kilkenny would pull further ahead in the last quarter of the game.
Killian Doyle then hit his 13th point of the day via the placed ball, before Walter set-up substitute James Maher who drilled a fine low shot past the unfortunate Bracken. Eoin Cody, who was having a very quiet game by his standards, then hit his first point of the day, before he turned provider and set up the impressive Walter Walsh to hit Kilkenny’s 4th major of the day. TJ then popped over a free, his side’s 23rd point of the game to leave Kilkenny sixteen ahead in injury time. Three minutes into added time, two Shamrocks men combined to raise a 5th green flag for the Noresiders. Eoin Cody’s shot was blocked, but TJ was on hand to bundle the bar over the line.
Before referee McGann blew for full-time, Westmeath got a goal of their own, and one their performance for the opening 55 minutes deserved. Sub Owen McCabe blasted past Eoin Murphy to leave the gap at the long whistle, 16 points. Full time score, Westmeath 1-19, Kilkenny 5-23.
Westmeath: C Bracken; D Egerton (0-01), C Shaw, J Galvin; A Craig, T Doyle, K Regan; C Boyle, R Greville; J Boyle (0-02), D McNicholas, D Glennon (0-01); N O’Brien (0-01), N Mitchell, K Doyle (0-14, 0-11fs).
Subs: E Keyes for O’Brien (50), C Doyle for McNicholas (55), T Gallagher for Craig (62), O McCabe (1-00) for J Boyle (68), A Cox for Regan (70).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, T Walsh; M Carey (1-00), P Deegan, D Blanchfield; C Kenny (0-01), A Mullen (0-02); W Walsh (1-02), P Walsh (0-04), E Cody (0-01); B Ryan (1-01), M Keoghan, A Murphy (0-07, 0-06 frees).
Subs: J Donnelly for Keoghan (34), TJ Reid (1-04, 0-02 frees, 0-01 ‘65) for Kenny (h-t), J Maher (1-01) for Murphy (46), C Browne for Blanchfield (59), S Walsh for Ryan (66).
Referee: R McGann (Clare).
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
We’re up and running. Sixteen points the winning margin in Mullingar. A below par opening half of hurling, was followed by a more Kilkenny-like display after the interval.
There was me, penciling in TJ’s return for the Galway game next month. Oh no… Brian Cody had other ideas. TJ was sprung from the bench at half time and definitely made a difference, he also finished with 1-4 to his name. James Maher hit 1-1 from the bench also. As you get deeper into championship action, return from the bench becomes more crucial.
Mikey Carey took his goal with all the accuracy of his father. Walter Walsh notched 1-2 and like most in black and amber, was much better after the interval. Graigue Ballycallan’s Billy Ryan continued his fine league form and raised another green flag. Alan Murphy’s free taking saw him finish with 0-7, all but one from the placed ball.
So, first group game done and dusted. Laois up next. Cheddar’s men fairly put it up to the Dub’s last weekend and lost narrowly, by just two points. Cody will know what to expect from the O’Moore County, he will drum it into his squad this week – let’s start fast, get the job done and move on.
Wexford produced a stunning comeback to claim a share of the spoils in an exciting tussle with Henry’s Galway boys.
Plenty of decent games to look forward to, but let’s sort Laois first.