BY NIALL SHERRY
Plenty to work on ahead of Tipp visit
Allianz Hurling League Division 1B
Corrigan Park, Belfast
Kilkenny had to work hard to leave Belfast with maximum points after a real titanic tussle with Antrim in very challenging conditions. While the margin at the long whistle was 6 points, it took the Cats almost 65 minutes to begin shaking off the stubborn Saffron challenge.
Sunday’s opponents Tipperary cruised to victory over Willie Maher’s Laois at FBD Semple Stadium and will bring a different puzzle for Derek Lyng & Co to solve when they roll into UPMC Nowlan Park.
With a strong wind blowing at the foot of Black Mountain, Antrim won the toss and opted to play with the wind. This decision was backed by the home side registering the first score of the day through the hard-working James McNaughton. Kilkenny drew level shortly after when young goalkeeper Aidan Tallis struck over a lovely long-range free from his own half.
Antrim edged ahead when Dublin whistler Chris Mooney adjudged Billy Ryan to have over-carried and Dunloy’s Conal Cunning made no mistake from the placed ball. The referee was keen to blow, especially on any handpass that even vaguely gave the appearance of being illegal! The visitors then took a lovely point when Walter Walsh popped a nice pass to O’Loughlin’s Paddy Deegan, who made no mistake from out on the right side of the park.
The next score on the board in Belfast came from Clara’s Paul Cody after 7 minutes but fresh from his side’s All-Ireland club final defeat to Shamrocks Ballyhale, Conal Cunning stepped up and slotted over another free to tie things up again. Another of the Dunloy contingent, goalkeeper Ryan Elliott was then blown-up for lying on the ball and Galmoy’s Billy Drennan opened his account for the day from his second opportunity.
From the restart; Kilkenny intercepted Antrim’s attempt to play out of defence and the ball was worked to Cian Kenny whose goal-bound effort who superbly saved by young Elliott. The sliotar was then recycled and worked out the pitch to Thomastown’s John Donnelly who fired over from distance to leave two points between the sides.
Then came what was to be the game’s most decisive moment. Padraig Walsh won the ball deep in the Cats defence before passing to Paddy Deegan. The O’Loughlin’s man struck a lovely searching ball into Billy Drennan who cut inside his marker before unleashing a fine shot beyond the dive of Ryan Elliott to the Antrim net. That finish encapsulated exactly the reason manager Derek Lyng has brought the young attacker into the senior panel this season.
The accurate Cunning then popped over another free before goal-scorer Drennan did the same at the other end. The Noresiders then gifted the ball to Darren Gleeson’s side and wing-back Conal Bohill reduced the Cats lead to four points with almost twenty minutes played. Conal Cunning added to his tally just 3 minutes later from another placed ball. A long ball out of the Kilkenny defence was beautifully plucked out of the air by Billy Drennan who fed the supporting Paul Cody and he duly obliged and split the posts.
Galmoy’s Drennan then nailed another free to bring his total for the day to 1-3 and extend the visitors lead to five points. Derek Lyng’s men were then caught sleeping when a quickly taken sideline cut by Joe Maskey to the alert veteran Neil McManus who struck a quality score from near the sideline. The Saffrons followed that score with another well taken point, this time from Niall McKenna after a wonderful catch by James McNaughton.
You could sense some frustration from the Kilkenny bench, those taking on the shots were struggling to judge the wind that was blowing and swirling all over Corrigan Park. Despite this, the Cats almost swooped for a second major. A misplaced pass across the Antrim defence by Niall O’Connor was pounced upon by Cian Kenny who struck his shot across the Saffrons goal and wide. Kilkenny wanted to kill the game and pull away from their hosts, but perhaps a point may have been the better option.
Captain for the day, Cillian Buckley then picked out Walter Walsh with a lovely pass and the Tullougher-Rosbercon man struck over a fine score. The sides swapped scores in first half injury time, first up was Antrim’s Niall McKenna then Tullaroan’s Mossy Keoghan rifled over after good work from Bennettbridge’s David Blanchfield to leave the score at the interval, Antrim 0-9, Kilkenny 1-10.
When the sides emerged from the Corrigan Park changing rooms, Derek Lyng had replaced Clara’s Paul Cody with Glenmore’s Shane Murphy. The biggest change was in the weather, the wind appeared to have whipped up even more, but the rain was really chucking it down which was to make the second half even more difficult to play in than the first.
The first real scoring opportunity of the second period came from Kilkenny. Some lovely short passing between Walter Walsh and Paddy Deegan, saw the sliotar worked to Graigue-Ballycallan’s Billy Ryan whose shot whistled past the Antrim posts. Again, you could see Lyng’s men going for the jugular.
Dunloy’s Cunning got the scoreboard moving in the second half when he struck over another placed ball to leave just Drennan’s goal between the sides. Talking of Drennan, the lively attacker struck the game’s next two points, both from free’s after Cillian Buckley and Billy Ryan had been fouled. Antrim can count themselves lucky not to have been reduced to 14-men following the foul on Billy Ryan, who appeared to take a stick to the helmet. The conditions certainly helped the Saffrons, as referee Mooney probably didn’t see the incident as clearly as he would have on a better day.
Keelan Molloy who had hardly touched the sliotar in the game, then fired over a cracking score before two further points from Darren Gleeson’s men, the first a great effort from Cushendall’s Paddy Burke, roving up the pitch, taking a nice pass from Cunning before splitting the posts, before Cunning added another placed ball to his tally, to make it a 2-point game. Antrim were battling and showing great hunger, the home supporters sensed that an unlikely victory might just be possible.
The Cats needed a score and again it came from the accuracy of Glamoy’s Drennan’s free-taking after Billy Ryan was fouled. Referee Mooney then continued his ‘hand-pass’ crusade, this time harshly penalising Paddy Deegan. Conal Cunning took full advantage and pointed the free. All-Ireland final goal-scorer, Billy Ryan then struck over a point with about 3 minutes left to leave his side up by three points.
As the clock reached 70 minutes, Mossy Keoghan emerged from a scramble to rifle over to leave it a 2-score game. Thomastown’s John Donnelly then created an opportunity for Billy Drennan who took full advantage and struck over to make absolutely sure that the first league points of the season would be for those in very wet black and amber. There was just enough time for The Sash’s Mossy Keoghan to fire over his 3rd point of the game. Final score from Corrigan Park, Antrim 0-15, Kilkenny 1-18.
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Paddy Burke (0-01), Ryan McGarry, Niall O’Connor; Gerard Walsh, Eoghan Campbell, Conall Bohill (0-01); Michael Bradley, Joe Maskey; Niall McKenna (0-02), Keelan Molloy (0-01), James McNaughton (0-01); Conal Cunning (0-08, all frees), Neil McManus (0-01), Eoin O’Neill.
Subs: Phelim Duffin for N O’Connor (HT), Seaan Elliott for E O’Neill (HT), Conor Johnston for J Maskey (43), Paul Boyle for K Molloy (65),
Kilkenny: Aidan Tallis (0-01 free); Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Niall Rowe; Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, David Blanchfield; Paddy Deegan (0-01), John Donnelly (0-01); Walter Walsh (0-01), Cian Kenny, Paul Cody (0-02); Billy Drennan (1-08, 0-07 frees), Martin Keoghan (0-03) Billy Ryan (0-01)
Subs: Shane Murphy for Paul Cody (HT), Tom Phelan for Cian Kenny (63), Alan Murphy for Walter Walsh (68), Gearóid Dunne for John Donnelly (70+4)
Referee: Chris Mooney (Dublin)
>> SHERRY SAYS…
Ok. I want to start with reflecting on Antrim manager Darren Gleeson’s comments after his sides defeat at home to Kilkenny. The former Tipp netminder suggested that the Cats got away with their physicality, while the Saffrons were penalised. Darren, I only saw one possible red-card challenge – that was Paddy Burke’s hurl into the helmet of Billy Ryan. End of.
Back to the hurling. Conditions were typical of those in early February. Windy, wet, cold. The Corrigan Park pitch was anything but conducive to good hurling. The new ‘smart-sliotar’ didn’t roll on or bounce-up, it was tricky for both sides. The elements favoured the home side in the first half, and did again in the second, as the wind appeared to change during the break.
Importantly for Kilkenny, Derek Lyng’s men secured maximum points. That’s the main thing. The manager clearly wants his side to go for goal, and they did come close on a few occasions, along with the one green flag raised by star man Billy Drennan. With more games hopefully the ruthlessness will come.
Billy Drennan finished with 1-8 and was accurate throughout the game. He is adjusting to senior hurling nicely. For me, Padraig Walsh and Paddy Deegan were the real catalysts in the Cats opening round win. Stand-in captain Cillian Buckley also put his shoulder to the wheel and ensured the home side didn’t build serious momentum throughout the afternoon in Belfast.
Next up for Lyng’s men is the visit of Tipperary on Sunday. That will be a tougher challenge for the Cats and one that the manager will hope results in a second Allianz league victory for his side.