BY NIALL SHERRY
Allianz Hurling League Semi-Final
UPMC Nowlan Park
Kilkenny set-up an Allianz National League Final clash with current All-Ireland champions Limerick next week, following a well-deserved victory over Cork at UPMC Nowlan Park. The cliché, ‘goals win games’ was never truer and thanks to majors from Mossy Keoghan and rising star Billy Drennan, Derek Lyng will now prepare his charges for a crack at John Kiely’s Limerick machine as he aims to bring down the curtain on an encouraging first Allianz league campaign as Cats manager.
The final will be staged at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Easter Sunday, April 9.
Cork rolled into UPMC Nowlan Park with an unbeaten run to date in their league campaign, and many fancied the Leesiders to make the decider against The Treaty in early April, but those in black and amber clearly hadn’t read that script.
The Cats came out of the traps quickly and opened the scoring with in the first minute, Danesfort’s Richie Hogan splitting the posts, much to the delight of the home crowd. This was the former All-star’s first start for his beloved county in almost 3 years. Galmoy’s Billy Drennan who you’d think has been playing senior hurling for the last decade, then registered his first two points of the day, in a deadly opening period that would see him strike 0-8.
The visitors opened their account with a lovely point from Blarney’s Shane Barrett, who split the posts from over 50 metres, out on the left side. Drennan and Shane Kingston shared the next five points, with the young Galmoy attacker hitting three lovely placed balls to the Douglas man’s two, leaving the home side 6-3 ahead after fourteen minutes of action.
Another of the Blarney contingent, Padraig Power sent over a fine score from play, before Drennan punished further indiscretions from the Rebels by notching the next two scores from frees to make it a double score lead for the home side before a brace of score from play via Shane Kingston and Conor Cahalane saw Pat Ryan’s side get within 2 points of their hosts as the game reached the 20 minute marker.
The Norsiders response to Cork’s cutting of their lead was emphatic. As an attacking move broke down, Billy Drennan picked up possession and played a lovely pass out to the left to Paddy Deegan. The O’Loughlin’s man surged straight through the middle of the Cork defence, throwing a lovely dummy hand-pass before picking out Martin Keoghan, who had cleverly moved away from his marker, Damien Cahalane. Mossy collected the ball before firing an unstoppable shot past Ballinhassig’s Patrick Collins in the Cork goal to stretch the Cats lead to 5-points.
Typically, The Rebels struck back. They notched the next two scores with points from play via Conor Cahalane and Jack O’Connor, but the Cats hit back with scores of their own from Glenmore’s Alan Murphy and the deadly Drennan. Padraig Power then got his second point for the day, and this was swiftly followed by another Shane Kingston free. Thomastown’s John Donnelly, who has been in great form recently, then tagged on 2 nice points from play, but again, the stubborn Leesiders responded with another pair of free’s from Kingston. Wicklow referee John Keenan then blew the short whistle, and the teams made their way to the changing rooms on a scoreline of Kilkenny 1-12, Cork 0-12.
When play resumed, it would be the home side that got the scoreboard moving again, this time another fine effort from Alan Murphy. As in the first half, Shane Barrett got the first score for the Munster men, but this score was cancelled out straight away when Dicksboro’s Timmy Clifford rifled over a cracking point. Shane Kingston then pointed from another placed ball to reduce the Kilkenny lead to just 3 points, but the next score would prove crucial in breaking the Leesiders resistance.
The ever-dangerous Billy Drennan was fouled by Damien Cahalane, who was yellow carded for the foul on the Galmoy man. Billy dusted himself down and like a week earlier, made no mistake with the penalty, sending the Cork keeper the wrong way as the home faithful celebrated a key moment in the tussle. Derek Lyng’s men were now six clear, daylight.
Shortly after the penalty had been converted, a fracas developed with lots of pushing and shoving between players from both teams. The game was held up for around 5 minutes as the jersey quality of both sides was tested! When the dust settled, Referee John Keenan brandished several yellow cards, but for Cork’s full-back, Eoin Downey, it would be the colour red, which saw the Glen Rovers man exit proceedings.
When play resumed, it took a wonderful save from Cork keeper Collins to deny the impressive Paddy Deegan a chance to raise a third green flag of the day for the home side. Richie Hogan made was for The Village’s Cian Kenny and the James Stephens man pointed with almost his first touch of the Sliotar. Billy Drennan also sent over a placed ball to leave the black and amber up by 8 points at the midway point of the second period.
Robert Downey, brother of the red-carded Eoin, then hit a nice point from play before Drennan added to his collection from distance. A second change of the day from Kilkenny saw Tullaroan’s Gearoid Dunne replace Timmy Clifford, as another member of the successful U20 All-Ireland winning side got some minutes. Patrick Horgan then fired a quick brace to make it a 6-point game with about 10 minutes of play remaining.
A tenth score of the game from Billy Drennan restored order, while Shane Barrett notched another score from play as Pat Ryan’s men tried to claw-back the Cats lead. Erin’s Own clubman, Conor Fogarty then hit a lovely score from the engine room, before three Rebel scores on the bounce from Tim O’Mahony, Shane Kingston and Patrick Horgan made it an interesting closing period. Drennan then picked a good time to tag on another score, this one a sweet effort from play.
Shane Kingston then fired over another effort from the placed ball before substitute Gearoid Dunne got on the scoresheet with a finely taken point. Fittingly, it would be the majestic Billy Drennan that wrapped up the scoring in the 6th additional minute of play to see the Cats home by 6 points and set up a league final encounter with Limerick. Full-time score from UPMC Nowlan Park, Kilkenny 2-22, Cork 0-22.
Kilkenny: E. Murphy; M. Butler, T. Walsh, P. Walsh; D. Corcoran, H. Lawlor, D. Blanchfield; C. Fogarty (0-1), A. Murphy (0-2); T. Clifford (0-01), J. Donnelly (0-02), P. Deegan; B. Drennan (1-13, goal penalty, 0-8 frees, four 65s), M. Keoghan (1-0), R. Hogan (0-1).
Subs: C. Kenny (0-01) for Hogan 56th min; G. Dunne (0-01) for Clifford 58th min; N. Brennan for A. Murphy 67th min; C. Delaney for D. Corcoran 69th min; E. Cody for Butler 71st min.
Cork: P. Collins; N. O’Leary, E. Downey, D. Cahalane; T. O’Connell, C. Joyce, R. Downey (0-1); B. Roche, E. Twomey; C. Cahalane (0-2), C. Lehane, S. Barrett (0-3); S. Kingston (0-9, 0-8 frees), P. Power (0-2), J. O’Connor (0-1).
Subs: T. O’Mahony (0-1) for Twomey 50th min; P. Horgan (0-3, frees) for J. O’Connor 50th min; G. Millerick for C. Cahalane 52nd min; B. Hayes for P. Power 66th min.
Referee: J. Keenan (Wicklow).
>> SHERRY SAYS…
Billy Drennan. That’s all I was going to say this week. Billy bloomin’ Drennan. The Galmoy youngster is certainly blooming into a fine senior hurler. Yes, there’s still a long way to go, but the fact that the lively attacker is looking so comfortable in the senior ranks speaks volumes for the player and his manager.
Another impressive tally of 1-13 for Drennan, his placed-ball accuracy most be worrying not only the opposition, but even the great TJ Reid, who is nearing an inter-county return.
Things are looking up for Derek Lyng’s charges! Taking the scalp of Cork, albeit in a league semi-final is another building block for the Emeralds clubman as he seeks to further assert his stamp on the Cats, in this his first season in charge of the Senior team.
The players stuck to their task against the Leesiders, and stood firm, even when the going got tough. The fracas just after we scored the second goal of the game, while not pretty, showed the crowd and those watching at home that these players are in this together and will stand shoulder to shoulder for each other. When David Blanchfield was pulled to the ground, I loved the way Paddy Deegan came steaming in and helped his teammate.
Perhaps the panel has been having an ‘easier’ week to date, given that the league final is scheduled for Easter Sunday. The manager hinted that TJ Reid and Adrian Mullen could be in contention, along with Richie Reid, but the league decider might come a week too soon for both Billy Ryan and captain Eoin Cody.
It was great to see a few of the ‘black and amber’ make the GAA editorial staff’s ‘Team of the Week’.
Limerick are there to be played in the League final, not feared. It’s all in preparation for championship hurling.