By NIALL SHERRY
A 73rd O’Keefe Cup secured as TJ top scores again
Kilkenny and Dublin contested the Leinster Final in front of 18,000 fans on a beautiful evening at headquarters. In what was Ireland’s biggest gathering since lockdown measures were implemented in March 2020, Brian Cody’s team stepped on the gas in the second half to defeat the Capital side by nine points.
In the build-up to throw-in, news started to filter through of a positive covid test in the Dublin camp. As a result, the metropolitans were forced to make four changes to their team sheet, which clearly disrupted their match preparations. There was also a late change to the Kilkenny line-up, with James Maher replacing Darragh Corcoran, a change that would reap huge reward.
In a further blow to the home sides hopes, full back Eoghan O’Donnell was forced to leave the field after just 3 minutes. The Nore-siders took advantage of the disruption, by registering the first four scores of the match, as Mattie Kenny’s side struggled to find any rhythm in the game. They did begin to claw their way back after Danny Sutcliffe and Chris Crummey hit some eye-catching scores.
The Sky Blues hit four unanswered points as the cats failed to raise a flag for ten minutes and drew level after thirty-three minutes. Thankfully Kilkenny’s scoreless period was brought to an end with a nice point from Eoin Cody to nudge them one ahead. James Maher then justified his late selection, by registering a point, following a surge up field. The last action before the short whistle, saw TJ Reid point from a free after a foul on Shamrock’s clubmate, Eoin Cody, to leave the Cats three ahead at the interval, 0-12 to 0-9.
Cody made one change for the restart, as Alan Murphy replaced Richie Leahy. Murphy was quickly into his stride, and won a free after being clipped by Danny Sutcliffe, which was converted by TJ, his seventh score of the evening, and his sixth from frees.
Tj won and pointed another free, before great play from James Maher saw him register his second point of the game. The St Lachtain’s man won the sliotar out in front of Sutcliffe before hitting a great score.
Cody’s charges had clearly stepped up a gear and blitzed the Dub’s in and around the second water break, hitting five further points. Once again, Kilkenny’s strength in dept showed, with Michael Carey, Alan Murphy, Cillian Buckley and James Bergin all raising a flag after their introduction. Mattie Kenny’s team needed to raise the green flag, to stand any chance of a comeback, but it would be the cats that would take that honor.
Maher was in the zone, his third point coming from well inside his own half on 57 minutes. Any remote chance of late drama was averted when just after the hour mark, Dublin’s Jake Malone was sent to the sin bin having fouled Alan Murphy. Tj stepped up and dispatched the resulting penalty to the net, having sent Sky Blue’s keeper Alan Nolan the wrong way.
Kilkenny registered a couple more points through James Bergin, before the long whistle signaled a 73rd O’Keefe Cup victory. Leinster title defended. The Cats are now just two wins from Liam. The journey continues.
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan; James Maher (0-3), Padraig Walsh, Conor Browne; Richie Reid, Adrian Mullen (0-2); John Donnelly (0-1), Martin Keoghan (0-2), Billy Ryan; Eoin Cody (0-1), TJ Reid (1-10, 1-0p, 0-8f, 0-1 ‘65), Richie Leahy.
Subs: Michael Carey (0-1) for Conor Browne (25th minute), Alan Murphy (0-2) for Richie Leahy (half-time), Cillian Buckley (0-1) for Richie Reid (46th minute), Walter Walsh for Billy Ryan (48th minute), James Bergin (0-2) for Eoin Cody (64th minute).
Dublin: Alan Nolan (0-1, 0-1f); Paddy Smyth, Eoghan O’Donnell, Andrew Dunphy; Daire Gray, Liam Rushe, James Madden; Rian McBride (0-1), Conor Burke; Danny Sutcliffe (0-2), Donal Burke (0-10, 0-8f), Chris Crummey (0-2); Cian Boland (0-1), Mark Schutte, Cian O’Sullivan.
Subs: Seán Moran for Eoghan O’Donnell (3rd minute), Paul Crummey for Mark Schutte (half-time), Jake Malone (0-1) for Seán Moran (52nd minute), Davy Keogh (0-1) for Cian O’Sullivan (54th minute), David Treacy for Cian Boland (70th minute)
When Captain Adrian Mullen Hoisted the O’Keefe Cup in the air, the Kilkenny faithful cheered, while keeping some decibels in reseve for perhaps bigger days ahead.
A 73rd Leinster title, and the 17th under the guidance of James Stephen’s clubman Brian Cody. There will always be detractors, trolls and keyboard warriors that seek to detract from what this group are doing, but make no mistake, Cody is quietly making progress with this panel.
This season, the contribution from the Cats bench has been telling. Again, at headquarters, the subs input allowed Kilkenny to pull away from Mattie Kenny’s team.
The late change to the team sheet, saw James Maher start…and boy did he start! The St Lachtain’s man hit three great points, including a booming effort from his own half.
Yet again James Bergin delivered and is surely pushing hard for a starting berth. The more minutes Walter Walsh can bank, will stand him in good stead this summer.
Since securing Leinster, Cody has turned his attentions to the business end of the season. There are bigger challenges ahead. Yes, Limerick should be respected, Waterford, we remember them too! Whoever the semi-final opponents are, Cody will have a plan. The dream lives on.
Mullen focused on semi clash
Captain says lessons learnt from Waterford defeat
At a GAA media event on Tuesday, Adrian Mullen fielded the questions with the same coolness and calming manner in which he plays the game.
The young Ballyhale man has already plenty of medals and accolades to his name as he navigates the rocky road that can be senior inter-county hurling.
Along with the silverware, Mullen also has the scars too. A serious cruciate injury sustained while playing against Clare in a league fixture at Nowlan Park in February 2020, gave the attacking star a glimpse of how quickly things can change. “Sport will always produce highs and lows, and it’s about how you react to these.” “I believe that you shouldn’t get too carried away with the high’s and try not to get too down in the low moments” says the current Cats Captain.
After a long and detailed rehab process, fifteen months later, Mullen made his competitive county return in the Allianz League opener with Dublin at Parnell Park in May. He is especially thankful for the excellent backroom team that got him back. “Our Strength and Conditioning coach, Michael Commerford did a great job in getting me right and back in shape.”
“It was great to get back on the pitch with the county, and my manager has given me plenty of minutes to regain the match fitness, and importantly the sharpness needed for championship hurling” “I have just tried to take it step by step, building my confidence and trying to learn and develop in a way which benefits the whole team.”
The former young hurler of the year in 2019 was nominated by his club in February to be this season’s captain, something that he is exceptionally proud of while not feeling any added pressure in the role. “It was a huge honor to be named captain of Kilkenny, following in the footsteps of legends” “Being selected to play for Kilkenny is a big enough thing, being captain is an added bonus. Mullen says that the team are blessed to have many leaders, and that this is a great help. “We’re lucky to have many leaders in the squad, the likes of TJ (Reid), Paddy (Deegan) and Huw (Lawlor).” You look at how they go at it in training and matches, so it really helps.”
On the upcoming semi-final, Mullen says that not knowing who they’ll face until later this weekend isn’t a huge problem. “On any given day, each team can beat each other, so we’ll take whoever and give it our best.”
“The way the game is now, every training session is like a match.” “We try to emulate game situations and bring that intensity to each session; no quarter is given.” One of the main reasons for this, Mullen believes, is the competitiveness within this squad. “We have a great squad; every lad is trying to take the jersey off the next lad, and all the players know that you have to step up every time you run out.”
On the season so far, the young forward believes that the extra time victory over Wexford and provincial final win against Dublin, will stand to the team, as the business end of the season approaches.
“The Wexford game was tough on the bodies, it could have gone either way, but luckily we came out on the right side of the result.” Mullen also referenced the effect having fans in the ground has on the team. “It was great having the fans in, even the eight thousand-odd at the Wexford game created a great buzz, and as players we thrive on that.”
As the 13th Ballyhale clubman to captain the county, Adrian wouldn’t be drawn on whether it would be ‘lucky 13’ this year. “I don’t know about that” he smiles. “We are focused on the next game, and that’s the semi-final, and we’ll do all we can to get the result.”
Mullen may have started his hurling career in defence, he may have won College’s titles as a goalkeeper, but I sensed a steely determination that the unassuming Ballyhale man wants to deliver on the biggest stage for his county.