BY NIALL SHERRY, SPORTS EDITOR
Buckley goal secures 75th Leinster title for Cats
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Final
Croke Park, Dublin
Kilkenny 4-21 (33) Galway 2-26 (32)
Cillian Buckley emerged as the unlikely goal-scoring hero for Kilkenny as his injury time major snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in an enthralling provincial decider at Croke Park last Sunday. Two points down in the final minute of additional time, the sliotar found its way to Dicksboro’s Buckley who only had one thing on his mind – goal, and the Cats veteran rifled his shot between the smallest of small gaps between Galway keeper Eanna Murphy and his left-hand post. A stunning end to an incredible game that saw the Bob O’Keefe Cup return to Noreside for the 75th time.
It was a sickening way for Henry Shefflin’s men to lose the final, as it appeared to all watching on that Galway had done enough to secure a first provincial title since 2018. But no team knows the old adage ‘It’s not over till the final whistle blows “better than Kilkenny and the men in black and amber broke the hearts of the Westerners with the latest of late, late shows.
Derek Lyng was forced to make some late changes from the XV that he had named a couple of days prior to the decider. Mikey Carey and Richie Reid were both ruled out and were replaced by Erins Own’s Conor Fogarty and The Village’s Cian Kenny. Already missing the classy Adrian Mullen, Lyng would have been relieved to have the services of Mikey Butler and Mossy Keoghan who limped off during the defeat to Wexford recently. Danesfort’s Richie Hogan was also unable to take his place on the Cats bench and as a result, Paddy Mullen and Tullaroan duo Shane Walsh along with Gearoid Dunne were added to the provincial holder’s panel.
As expected, the game started at a frantic pace. Galway won a free in the opening seconds which top marksman Evan Niland popped over from half-way with the aid of a strong breeze and the Clarinbridge man repeated his favourite trick moments later. A third score for Henry’s charges came in as many minutes when Kinvara’s Conor Whelan fired over a fine score out on the left.
Kilkenny got the scoreboard moving in the 4th minute thanks to a classy point from TJ Reid who was lining out in his 80th championship match for his beloved county. The Tribesmen’s response to this score was to rattle off the next three points of the game. Two points in the space of 30 seconds from Niland and Joe Cooney, were built on by another free from that man Niland to leave the men in maroon five points to the good after seven pulsating minutes.
The Cats needed a response and it came in the form of the man with the goal-den touch. Cian Kenny picked up possession before slipping a pass to the supporting David Blanchfield who surged forward. The Bennettsbridge man gave a lovely hand pass to Mossy Keoghan who gathered the sliotar and headed for goal. Despite coming under serious pressure from Padraic Mannion, the Tullaroan man shortened his grip and batted the ball to the net as he lunged forward. Game on. This was Keoghan’s 11th goal in championship hurling and The Sash attacker clearly loves a major.
Just a minute later Eoin Murphy played a short pass to TJ Reid who was dropping deep to provide an outlet to his under pressure defence. The Shamrocks Ballyhale man took aim and rifled over a booming score from inside his own ‘65. Pure TJ, pure class. The Noresiders then went on a little scoring blitz, adding a further four points to their tally with scores from captain Eoin Cody, Cian Kenny, TJ (f) and a well worked effort from David Blanchfield after he combined with Mr. Reid who surprised the opposition by going short from a ‘65. Kilkenny now led by 3, tables turned.
Then came major number 2 of the 2023 Leinster Final. A long ball out of the Galway defence saw Tommy Walsh and Paddy Deegan rise along with Brian Concannon. The sliotar broke loose and into the path of the on-running Conor Whelan. The enigmatic Kinvara man made no mistake as he shot across Eoin Murphy and to the back of the Cats net. The sides were level, 1-6 a piece.
Derek Lyng’s then saw goal scorer Mossy Keoghan hobble-off with a recurrence of the injury sustained in Chadwicks Wexford Park. The management team chose to replace goal-getter Keoghan with Walter Walsh, a change that would prove fruitful over the remainder of proceedings in Croker.
Evan Niland, the lively Conor Whelan and Kevin Cooney tagged on further points for the Westerners as they restored a 3-point lead. The Kilkenny response, I hear you say? Well – once again the Cats showed their claws. Walter Walsh plucked a long delivery out of the Dublin air. He turned inside his marker, Fintan Burke and powered forward with menace. The big Tullogher Rosbercon man outpaced Burke and the chasing Cathal Mannion before striking a powerful shot across Eanna Murphy. The sides were level again, 2-6 to 1-9.
In a moment of déjà vu, Niland and Whelan struck further points before Hawkeye was called into action to correctly award Kilkenny a point after the umpires couldn’t decide if TJ’s effort from play had crept inside the upright. Doubting Thomas’s. Niland then popped over another placed ball before Lyng’s men hit two lovely points before the short whistle via Walter Walsh and captain Cody. Sean Stack blew for the interval and the players headed to the changing rooms for some much-needed refreshments, the match; all square for the 4th time, Kilkenny 2-9, Galway 1-12.
The sides shared the first four points of the second period, Cathal Mannion and Evan Niland for the Tribesmen, TJ and John Donnelly for the Cats. These two rivals couldn’t be separated, some supporters were already mentioning the dreaded ‘P’ word – penalties. Then came major number four, from another unlikely source.
David Blanchfield rose majestically and claimed a stunning catch over Kevin Cooney. The wing-back passed to the supporting Mikey Butler who burst forward. The All-Star defender then returned to ball to the Bennettsbridge man who returned the favour under serious pressure from Kevin Cooney to set the Hurler of the Year surging clear.
Many, including myself presumed the O’Loughlin’s man would pop the ball over the bar, but oh no, Butler had different ideas. The diminutive corner-back continued his diagonal run towards the Galway goal before unleashing a shot across Eanna Murphy that nestled in the Galway net. Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee donkey, this game had everything! The Cats up by 3.
Butler’s goal was the signal for Kilkenny to turn the screw on their Connacht opponents. Evan Niland sent over a free, but for the next 9 minutes it was all about the black and amber. Six scores followed from the four-in-a-row chasing Cats. Cian Kenny, a brace of placed balls from TJ, and further scores from Eoin Cody, Walter Walsh and John Donnelly saw Derek Lyng’s charges lead by 8 points with 49 minutes played.
Surely that would be the Westerners resolve broken and a comfortable final 20 minutes ensue for the holders? No, this is hurling, it’s different. Henry Shefflin needed a spark and they got it courtesy of the ever-threatening Whelan. The Kinvara man pounced on a loose ball and played a stunning pass to the recently introduced Jason Flynn. The Tommy Larkins man rifled an unstoppable shot past Eoin Murphy. The gap was down to five points.
Evan Niland and Tj then swapped frees as Padraig Walsh entered the fray for Lyng’s team. Conor Whelan was having one of those days. Everything was on-point. Whelan struck two nice points back-to-back before TJ struck an incredible free from close to the sideline on his own ‘65, a stunning score. Sarsfields Kevin Cooney then added to his tally with a fine point to make it a 3-point game.
The Kilkenny bench then provided fresh legs and minds in the form of Cillian Buckley and Timmy Clifford who replaced Darragh Corcoran and Tom Phelan. Tullaroan’s Padraig Walsh then split the posts with a beautiful score. Conor Whelan then got his 6th point of the game before Brian Concannon also raised a white flag. Niland notched another brace of points to level matters again.
Derek Lyng then sent on Billy Drennan in place of the hard-working Billy Ryan and the Galmoy man’s impact was immediate as he rifled over a lovely point to nudge the Noresiders ahead after a great run by Cillian Buckley, a run that would be repeated before the long whistle.
Shefflin’s troops then found another gear. Kevin Cooney added another point before their top-scorer Niland landed another placed ball as Galway edged ahead with 3 minutes remaining of the additional 5 signaled. Tommy Walsh then produced a magnificent block to deny The Tribesmen a certain score, but the men in maroon won the ball back and found Brian Concannon in acres of space under the Cusack stand. The Connacht faithful in attendance rejoiced, confident that Bob O’Keefe was going to cross the Shannon that evening.
Then came the strangest passage of play. Neither team appeared to be able to mentally or physically do what needed to be done for their cause. Galway appeared allergic to clearing the ball down field, or even out over the sideline. Kilkenny appeared to be unable to secure the sliotar. Then with time more or less up, TJ and John Donnelly combined and the Thomastown man flicked the ball into the danger zone. Padraic Mannion lost his hurl in challenging for possession, kicked the ball away. The sliotar went straight to Cillian Buckley.
The Dicksboro man accepted Mannion’s pass at the edge of the ‘D’ and headed towards goal. Time stood still. Buckley drove forward and unleased his shot. The sliotar evaded those in its path and more importantly, Eanna Murphy the Galway netminder. The rest, as they say, is history. Kilkenny, champions of Leinster again. Final score from Croker Park, Kilkenny 4-21 Galway 2-26.
SCORERS – Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-9 (6f), W Walsh 1-2, M Keoghan, M Butler, C Buckley 1-0 each, E Cody 0-3, C Kenny, J Donnelly 0-2 each, D Blanchfield, P Walsh, B Drennan 0-1 each.
Galway: E Niland 0-12 (8f), C Whelan 1-6, B Concannon, K Cooney 0-3 each, J Flynn 1-0, J Cooney, C Mannion 0-1 each.
KILKENNY – E Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, T Walsh; D Blanchfield, C Fogarty, D Corcoran; C Kenny, P Deegan; J Donnelly, TJ Reid, T Phelan; B Ryan, M Keoghan, E Cody.
Subs: W Walsh for Keoghan (19), P Walsh for Fogarty (52), C Buckley for Corcoran (58), T Clifford Phelan (62), B Drennan for Ryan (68).
GALWAY – É Murphy; J Grealish, G McInerney, D Morrissey; P Mannion, D Burke, F Burke; J Cooney, C Mannion; T Monaghan, E Niland, C Whelan; B Concannon, K Cooney, C Cooney.
Subs: J Flynn for Monaghan (47), S Linnane for C Cooney (60), TJ Brennan for Morrissey (64).
REF – S Stack (Dublin)
>> SHERRY SAYS…
We’ll keep this brief. All we hear is Munster this Munster that. Sunday showed that there’s plenty of hurling in Leinster.
A first trophy under the guidance of Derek Lyng for our senior hurlers. A fourth Bob O’Keefe on the bounce and a 75th in total. 4 goals for the Cats including two from highly unlikely sources – Messrs. Butler and Buckley.
This game had everything. Conor Whelan finished on the losing side, hit 1-6 and won MOTM having not scored in his previous game. TJ top scored for the Cats again, but the veteran Shamrocks man’s intelligence to drop very deep in the middle part of the opening period to help secure possession when his team were struggling to get out of their own half was pure leadership, pure TJ.
Huw Lawlor and Mikey Butler again outstanding. Is there a better No.3 in the country than Huw? Mikey Butler took his goal like a seasoned inside forward.
Walter Walsh comes on for the injured Mossy and plays a blinder notching 1-2. Walter’s goal was a thing of beauty. The catch, the run, the skill, the finish. Just a note on Wally’s goal – the run made by Billy Ryan to take a defender out of the way & make space for WW’s run – that was clever.
Four weeks to rest weary bodies, get those niggles sorted and with a little luck, more time for Adrian Mullen to recover. All-Ireland semi-final, the Cats are coming.