BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX: DANNY LAHART
Cats hang on to claim Leinster title in Carlow cracker
O’Neills.com Leinster GAA U20 Hurling Championship Final
Netwatch Cullen Park, Monday 9th May
With the clock having reached 64 minutes, a sideline cut was sent in and around the house by Wexford centre–back Cian Molloy. The ball was won and passed to Jack Redmond, who appeared to be in acres of space. Redmond took the pass and as the Kilkenny defence rushed to him, he struck what was surely to be the equalising point and send the game into extra-time. Somehow the Rathnure St. Anne’s forwards shot shaved the right-hand post and went behind and wide.
Dublin whistler, Chris Mooney then brought proceedings to a close. Kilkenny were provincial champions at this grade for the 27th time. And breath.
It was a pulsating finish at Netwatch Cullen Park, as those in attendance on an unusually wet and windy May evening were treated to a swashbuckling encounter that ebbed and flowed and reached a frantic conclusion, thanks in no small way to a battling Wexford side.
Derek Lyng’s side got off to a fast start, when they were awarded a free for a grab on captain Padraic Moylan’s helmet seconds after the throw-in. Galmoy’s Billy Drennan made no mistake from the placed ball as the Cats drew first blood.
With 5 minutes on the clock, midfielder Denis Walsh took a fantastic catch and split the posts with a lovely score. Less than a minute later, some great harrying by the Kilkenny attack saw Timmy Clifford take possession out on the right-hand side. The talented Dicksboro player cut inside and pointed from a tight angle with ease to give his team an early 3-point lead.
Some holding by the Wexford defence was spotted by referee Mooney, and Billy Drennan punished the indiscretion by popping over the free. Keith Rossiter’s side looked nervous and were making lots of unforced errors. They badly needed a score and corner-forward Cian Byrne obliged in the 11th minute from the placed ball.
The game then got a little scrappy, especially in the middle third. This lull was broken in the 16th minute when Dunnamaggin forward Andy Hickey rifled over a stunning point on almost half-way, out on the left flank. A Timmy Clifford run was then halted by a hurl in the face from St. Martin’s wing-back, Joe Barrett, and the deadly Billy Drennan continued his excellent free-taking by pointing from the resulting free.
The Kilkenny players were hunting in packs and seeking turnovers, and this approach was rewarded when they bottled up a Yellowbellies player and took possession. The ball was moved quickly to Denis Walsh whose shot sailed over the black spot. The young Cats now led 0-7 to 0-1 with almost 20 minutes played.
Wexford then broke up a Kilkenny attack and moved the ball to the on-running Cian Molloy. The Naomh Eanna man powered forward before striking a sublime effort from distance that got the Model County supporters excited. Wexford then added two free’s to their total, courtesy of St. Mogue’s Cian Byrne, after the Cats were harshly blown up for infringements. The gap was now reduced to 3 points as referee Chris Mooney blew for half-time with the score board reading Kilkenny 0-7, Wexford 0-4.
Kilkenny were good value for their lead, but given their dominance over the first 20 minutes, they will probably feel that they should have had a more handsome advantage on the short whistle. Conditions underfoot were tricky and had caught several players out throughout the opening period. Worryingly for Cats boss Derek Lyng would have been the fact that his side failed to register a score from the 19th minute of the first half. However, Wexford can take some credit for this statistic, as their defence certainly tightened up during that period of the game.
The Noresiders made a couple of changes during the interval, with Ian Byrne and Jack Doyle replacing Peter McDonald and Ted Dunne, both of whom struggled to make any impact in the first half.
The first score of the second half came from Wexford, a well taken point from No.14 Jack Redmond. Windgap’s Jack Doyle was then halted illegally as he tried to make headway, and the deadly Drennan duly slotted over the free awarded. Another well engineered turnover saw Denis Walsh notch his 3rd point of the day to cement the influence that he was having all over the Carlow turf.
Dunnamaggin’s Walsh then turned provider for the game’s most crucial score. Kilkenny’s ‘action man’ picked up possession and powered towards the Wexford goal. Denis had both the presence of mind and skill to release a beautifully weighted hand-pass to Jack Doyle. The substitute fought off the close attentions of his marker, before unleashing a lovely batted finish to beat the ‘other’ Cian Byrne in the Yellowbellies goal. The Cats lead was now seven.
Placed ball specialist, and the other Cian Byrne struck over a trio of quick-fire frees to reduce the black and amber lead to four points. The Kilkenny lead was further reduced when Faythe Harriers Richie Lawlor fired over a lovely score to the delight of the Wexford faithful in attendance. Keith Rossiter’s charges appeared rejuvenated. They were winning all the 50/50 clashes and were playing with a greater desire and belief than they had done in the first half. This was highlighted when Joe Barrett took a nice catch from a sideline cut before off-loading to the supporting Jack Redmond who popped the ball over the bar to leave just 2 points between the sides.
It was roles reversed. It was now Kilkenny who needed a score. Step forward Paddy Langton. The Young Irelands defender rifled over an excellent point from near the sideline on 47 minutes. Some sloppy play at the other end resulted in referee Mooney awarding a free to Wexford, after Cats netminder Aidan Tallis was penalised for a trip on his opponent, after he had lost possession of the ball. Cian Byrne did the rest to reduce the deficit to just 2 points again after 49 minutes of play.
Galmoy’s Drennan then notched two more points via the placed ball. His first effort came after Glenmore’s Ian Byrne was cynically wrestled to the ground by Wexford’s AJ Redmond. A yellow card was show for the foul. AJ Redmond, a lucky boy. Drennan’s second point in this spell arrived when substitute James Walsh took a great catch and was impeded as he tried to move forward.
Richie Lawlor then won a free for the Model County, which Cian Byrne nailed, before his nemesis, Drennan did likewise for the Cats. Kilkenny now led by four, with 58 minutes on the clock. Byrne then hit his first point from play as Wexford looked to engineer a goal. Four minutes of additional time were then declared. A goal between the sides. Surely Derek Lyng’s lads were home and hosed? Not when you are facing the Yellowbellies.
Tomas Kinsella then fired over a fine point for Wexford. The Kilkenny nail-biting got a little worse when Richie Lawlor was fouled, after the Cats defence had shut down the goal opportunity that Rossiter’s men were trying to manufacture. Cian Byrne slotted the free.
Just one between these two great rivals. Noreside nerves jangling. With the 4 minutes of additional time played, Wexford won a sideline cut. Molloy’s ball struck into the danger zone. Jack Redmond has the ball, strikes it high and….wide. Millimeters. Just a lick of paint in it. Game over. Final score, Kilkenny 1-13, Wexford 0-15.
>> SHERRY SAYS…..
What a pulsating encounter at Netwatch Cullen Park! Both sides gave their absolute all in this provincial decider, a match that could have gone the way of either county.
When the ball was shipped to Jack Redmond deep, deep into additional time, I for one was preparing for extra-time. Redmond’s effort somehow went the wrong side of the upright, from a Wexford point of view.
With the senior team’s managers in attendance, both Cody & Eagan were treated to an exhibition of free taking from Wexford’s Cian Byrne & Kilkenny’s Billy Drennan.
MOTM, Dunnamaggin’s Denis Walsh was in inspirational form throughout the contest. Three wonderful points, a goal assist and non-stop working up and down the pitch from the midfielder.
The Kilkenny players and supporters celebrated as Dicksboro’s Padraic Moylan lifted the cup and return home to Noreside. You got the sense that the players and management have a bigger prize in mind. In order to achieve that, they will need to take care of Limerick. But that’s for another day.
Manager Derek Lyng spoke of a huge sense of relief at the final whistle, and was honest enough to admit that plenty of work remains to be done if the Cats are to secure the All-Ireland prize.
Enjoy the provincial success, but knuckle down and prepare for the national prize. We go again.