BY NIALL SHERRY
Limerick canter to league crown
Allianz Hurling League Final
Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork
Kilkenny 0-15 Limerick 2-20
Limerick cantered to an 11-point win over Kilkenny to claim a 14th National Hurling League title on Easter Sunday in front of just over 17,000 supporters in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Goals in either half from Barry Nash and Aaron Gillane rubber-stamped The Treaty’s superiority over their opponents and the result has again shown the gulf between the All-Ireland champions and the chasing pack.
Derek Lyng will have much to contemplate as he begins championship preparation with his Cats panel, including a 19-minute spell without registering a score during the second half. You simply cannot afford such a hiatus in scoring against the top sides, and Limerick are the very top.
Kilkenny lined out as selected for the game, while The Treaty made two changes to their line-up, Declan Hannon and Kyle Hayes replaced by Mike Casey & Colin Coughlan.
The Noresiders started brightly, hitting the opening three scores of the game. The returning Adrian Mullen fired over the first point in the first 30 seconds, and he also had the first wide just a minute later. Referee Paud O’Dwyer awarded a free to Kilkenny on half-way and this gave Billy Drennan the opportunity to open his account, and the Galmoy man made no mistake.
The third Kilkenny score of the day was the pick of them. Erins Own’s Conor Fogarty played a lovely cross-field ball to captain Eoin Cody. The Shamrocks man passed to clubmate Richie Reid, who dispatched a fine point to put his side 3 points to the good.
Having already registered a few wides, The Treaty eventually got off the mark in the 9th minute, thanks to a well taken free by Patrickswell’s Aaron Gillane from out on the right sideline. Billy Ryan was then blown-up for picking the sliotar straight off the ground and that man Gillane split the posts from around the ‘65 to reduce the Cats lead to the minimum.
Carlow whistler O’Dwyer was not endearing himself to the Kilkenny Gaels in attendance with some dubious calls and they made the feelings clear when he awarded another ‘soft’ free to Limerick on 13 minutes. Again, Aaron Gillane made no mistake and brought the sides level. Diarmaid Byrnes was then penalised for over-carrying and Billy Drennan punished this by slotting his second score of the game.
John Kiely’s team got their first score from play on 16 minutes when full-forward Seamus Flanagan fired over his left shoulder when it seemed that Kilkenny were about to turn him over. O’Loughlin’s Paddy Deegan was then bundled over by a couple of green jerseys and Billy Drennan added to his tally to edge the Cats ahead again.
Then came the first major of the day. Seamus Flanagan had roamed out the field and the big No.14 played a diagonal ball into the danger zone. Aaron Gillane nipped in front of Padraig Walsh collected the ball before batting a pass to the supporting Barry Nash. The South Liberties man out-foxed Mikey Butler before unleashing a fierce shot that crept in at Eoin Murphy’s near post. Limerick now led for the first time, 1-4 to 0-5.
Billy Drennan fired over another free on 21 minutes to leave just one-point between the sides. The U20 All-Ireland winner was clearly the main source of scores for the Cats, a worrying trend. Gillane then picked the pocket of Padraig Walsh again before striking over a nice point from play. Last season’s captain Richie Reid then struck over a monstrous score from play for his second of the day and his sides first from play since the Shamrocks man’s earlier effort some six minutes into the game.
John Donnelly was then adjudged to have fouled Mike Casey and wing back Diarmaid Byrnes split the posts from the resulting free. Byrnes repeated his feat two minutes later, this time from around the ‘65 to leave The Treaty 3 ahead with 27 minutes played. The next score was a beauty. Huw Lawlor popped a pass to Adrian Mullen who struck the sliotar sweetly between the posts from the half-way line. Limerick responded immediately, raiding corner-back Barry Nash finding space on the right side before rifling over a point. 1-1 for the South Liberties man in the first half of the league final.
Thomastown’s Donnelly was then blown-up for a frontal challenge on Cian Lynch, and this resulted in another placed ball being slotted by Diarmaid Byrnes. Limerick were now 4 ahead and beginning to find their groove. Gearoid Hegarty won the ball but uncharacteristically misplaced the pass. The alert Paddy Deegan took advantage and struck over a booming score from inside his own ‘65. A stunning score.
Centre-back Colin Coughlin then fired over a lovely point close to the sideline in front of the dugouts. Captain Eoin Cody the evaded a couple of tackles before firing over from a tight angle out on the right side for his first score of the game. Limerick then tagged on another three scores before the short whistle via Darragh O’Donovan, Cathal O’Neill and a sweet one from Gillane to leave the scoreline at the interval, Kilkenny 0-10, Limerick 1-13. What started out as a difficult task now looked nigh impossible.
Derek Lyng took the opportunity to make one change at the break with The Village’s Cian Kenny replacing John Donnelly.
Like the opening period, Adrian Mullen got the first score of the second half, the third of the game for the returning Shamrocks man. Referee O’Dwyer then adjudged Richie Reid to have fouled his man and Aaron Gillane struck over the placed ball to restore the 6-point lead. The enigmatic Gillane was then stopped in his tracks illegally by Padraig Walsh and he punished the Tullaroan man’s indiscretion by pointing the free.
A four-minute scoring lull was broken when Seamus Flanagan pointed, the gap was now eight. Kilkenny needed scores quickly and they got a fine point from Paddy Deegan. They followed up on this with a free from Billy Drennan after Cian Kenny was fouled. The Cats then made another change with Paddy Mullen replacing Conor Fogarty in the engine room. Huw Lawlor then found himself in a shooting position, only to see his effort blocked by Cathal O’Neill. The big O’Loughlin’s man collected the loose ball and fired his second effort between the sticks. Adrian Mullen was then replaced by Dicksboro’s Timmy Clifford, a solid 50-odd minutes for the talented Shamrocks man.
Not that many had noticed, but Darragh O’Donovan struck over his second point of the game in the 53rd minute, The Treaty side’s first score for some nine minutes. Then came the big moment of the second half. The second major of the league final, the second major for Limerick. Cian Lynch won the ball ahead of Cian Kenny before firing a lovely pass to Seamus Flanagan who got out in front of Tommy Walsh. The Feoghanagh Castlemahon man collected the ball and sprinted away from his marker before hand passing to Aaron Gillane who batted the ball beyond Eoin Murphy. Great move, great skill, stunning finish.
In keeping with the machine that they have become in recent years, Limerick tagged on two more points in quick succession, another for Flanagan and another placed ball effort from Diarmaid Byrnes. The Kilkenny management then made two more changes, Alan Murphy and Gearoid Dunne replacing Billy’s Ryan And Drennan.
After another spell of Limerick possession, the ball was worked back to Byrnes, who despite coming under pressure from Eoin Cody split the posts from just inside his own half. A couple of wides followed for the Cats, Padraig Walsh and Gearoid Dunne the latest to miss the target for the Noresiders. The Treaty County were also guilty of several wides as the game began to peter out. Eoin Murphy was then called into action and his smart save prevented a 3rd major for Limerick as he denied Conor Boylan.
The final score of a disappointing day at the office for Kilkenny came from captain Eoin Cody, who slotted over an injury time free, his side’s first score for almost 20 minutes. Paud O’Dwyer sounded the long whistle and brought proceedings to a close, Limerick Allianz League champions for a third time under manager John Kiely on a scoreline of Kilkenny 0-15, Limerick 2-20.
Scorers – Kilkenny: Billy Drennan 0-5 (5 frees), Adrian Mullen 0-3, Richie Reid and Paddy Deegan and Eoin Cody (1 free) 0-2 each, Huw Lawlor 0-1 each.
Scorers – Limerick: Aaron Gillane 1-7 (5 frees), Diarmaid Byrnes 0-5 (3 frees), Barry Nash 1-1, Seamus Flangan 0-3, Darragh O’Donovan 0-2, Colin Coughlan and Cathal O’Neill 0-1.
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Mikey Butler, Tommy Walsh, Padraig Walsh; Richie Reid, Huw Lawlor, David Blanchfield; Conor Fogarty, Paddy Deegan; John Donnelly, Adrian Mullen, Billy Ryan; Billy Drennan, Martin Keoghan, Eoin Cody.
Subs: Cian Kenny for Donnelly (h-t), Paddy Mullen for Fogarty (47 mins), Timmy Clifford for Mullen (52 mins), Alan Murphy for Ryan (56 mins), Gearóid Dunne for Drennen (56 mins).
LIMERICK: Nickie Quaid; Sean Finn, Mike Casey, Barry Nash; Diarmaid Byrnes, Dan Morrissey, Colin Coughlan; Darragh O’Donovan, Barry Murphy; Gearóid Hegarty, Cian Lynch, Cathal O’Neill; Aaron Gillane, Séamus Flanagan, Peter Casey.
Subs: Tom Morrissey for Murphy (h-t), Richie English for M Casey (47 mins), Conor Boylan for Lynch (58 mins), Donnacha Ó Dálaigh for Flanagan (63 mins), Shane O’Brien for M Casey (67 mins), Mark Quinlan for Byrnes (71 mins).
REFEREE: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)
>> SHERRY SAYS…
And that’s a wrap for this year’s Allianz National Hurling League. Kilkenny well beaten by the Limerick juggernaut at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The Treaty men restricted the Cats to mostly long-range shooting, some of these shots found the target, Adrian Mullen and Paddy Deegan in particular hitting lovely efforts. Again, Billy Drennan kept things ticking over, but Limerick’s defence were careful not to present to many opportunities to the Galmoy man.
Aaron Gillane was a constant thorn in the Kilkenny defence’s side. His constant movement and intelligent runs causing Padraig Walsh and Mikey Butler amongst others real bother. Seamus Flanagan was getting plenty of joy out of Tommy Walsh, and many supporters were heard asking questions in the aftermath of the Cats defeat – “why was Huw Lawlor taken out of the full-back position” A fair question indeed.
Look, there will have been plenty of positives to take from this year’s league, but Limerick are the marker of where a team is, and last Sunday shows that we are still some way off seriously challenging John Kiely’s team.
The return to county colours of Adrian Mullen was a major positive. The Shamrocks man will be key to Kilkenny challenging to get back to Croker and perhaps getting another crack at this Limerick side.
The players will probably have had a little bit of a rest in the past week, and attention will now turn to defending their provincial crown. First-up for the Cats will be the visit to UPMC Nowlan Park of Westmeath. As we say, the league’s for playing… the championship’s for winning.