AN All Ireland title remains on the radar of the county U-21 hurlers, after they blitzed defending champions Kerry in Nenagh last Saturday afternoon to book their place in the national final and a meeting with Roscommon on September 15, writes John Ryan.
ALL Ireland Under 21 B Championship Semi Final
Inspired by teenage full-forward Gerry Keegan, who bagged 3-2 for himself, Kildare laid the foundations for this remarkable victory inside the opening four minutes, during which time they found the net twice through the young Celbridge man.
Even though they lost their way slightly during the second quarter, Kildare though never lost sight of the bigger target long enough to be overly troubled.
They got to the break four points clear and always managing to keep Kerry at arm’s length, Kildare also overcame the loss of wing-back, Shane O’Flynn to a second bookable offence with nine minutes remaining.
By that juncture Kildare were seven points to the good, but rather than O’Flynn’s loss having a detrimental effect, it in fact spurred his team-mates on to greater things as Kerry’s hopes went up in smoke.
Substitute Mark Delaney, introduced in the first half but who needed time to get up to the pace of the game, found the net eight minutes out to all but put the game beyond the Kingdom’s reach, before Kildare added further goals through Keegan and another sub, Fiachra Lohan as they wrapped up a 17-point win over a team who came into the game seeking to win a fourth successive All Ireland title at this grade.
Post-match Kildare team manager, Noel McMahon spoke of how he adjusted his side’s pre-match preparations in the hope of addressing the slow starts that his side endured against both Westmeath and Meath.
It had the desired effect for, after Martin Fitzgerald pointed Kildare ahead inside the opening minute, Keegan then found the net moments later. As Kildare’s crisp hurling continued to enjoy success through the heart of Kerry, it got even better for the Lilywhites as after Conor O’Hehir – included after overcoming a hamstring complaint – pointed a delightful effort from out on the right wing, Keegan then turned Jason Bowler down the left, before powering infield and flashing his shot to the net for both his and Kildare’s second goal.
Eight points down inside a handful of minutes, Kerry were facing a mammoth task, yet offered themselves hope when referee, Patrick Murray somehow failed to adjudge Conor Fitzell to have bundled Kildare ‘keeper, Paddy McKenna over the goal line having fielded a Shane Nolan effort under his crossbar.
Still, as Kerry’s under-protected defence struggled badly to deal with Kildare’s rampant attack which was well supplied by Fitzgerald, points from O’Hehir (free) and Keegan made it 2-4 to 1-0 after 11 minutes.
For all their endeavour as they slowly established a footing in the game, Kerry however rarely put it up to Kildare, who won most of the individual battles. Corner-forward Pat Joe Connolly posed some threat down the right wing, while in the opposite corner, Shane Nolan did his part from placed balls, and between them they hit six points before the break to leave matters 2-7 to 1-6 in favour of Kildare.
Upon the restart, just like they did in the first half, Kildare hit the ground running once again, Delaney (2) and Keegan both pointing without response inside four minutes.
As the game became a little more stretched, points from Brendan Brosnan, Muiris Delaney and Connolly by the 41st minute kept Kerry somewhat in touch, but that five point difference remained at the three quarter stage (2-13 to 1-11) after Fitzgerald and Delaney traded scores with Connolly (free) and Brosnan (free).
That though was as close as Kerry would get to Kildare, despite the sending off of O’Flynn. Delaney goaled when he swept home in the 52nd minute, before a short puck-out from Kerry goalkeeper, Kieran Fitzgibbon to Connolly two minutes later went alarmingly wrong when Keegan dispossessed the former before hitting the back of the onion sack.
With the game long over as a contest, Lohan plundered Kildare’s fifth goal of the game three minutes into borrowed time, before another sub, Fergal Conway tagged on another point to set the seal on comfortable win.
Paddy McKenna; Ryan McGrath, Mark Carter, Darach MacDonnadha; Shane O’Flynn, Mick Purcell, Kevin Whelan; Liam McDonagh, Martin Fitzgerald 0-3; Philip Cocoman, Conor Kenny 0-2 (1 ‘65’), Ross Kelly; Conor O’Hehir 0-6 (4f), Gerry Keegan 3-2, Sean Gainey. Subs: Mark Delaney 1-3 for Gainey 18 mins, Declan Flaherty for O’Hehir 49 mins; Ross Bergin for Keegan 58 mins; Fergal Conway 0-1 for Kenny 58 mins, Fiachra Lohan 1-0 for Cocoman 59 mins.
Kieran Fitzgibbon; Stephen Leen, Jason Bowler, Kevin Orpen; John Paul O’Mahony, Anthony Fealy, Anthony Carroll; Brendan Brosnan 0-3 (2f, 1 ‘65’), Muiris Delaney 0-1; Colm Harty, Sean Dowling, Sean Weir; Shane Nolan 0-5 (3f), Conor Fitzell, Pat Joe Connolly 1-3. Subs: Eoin Kelly for O’Mahony (25 mins); Kevin Connor for Fitzell (52 mins); Brendan O’Leary for Delaney 53 mins, Sean Godley for Connolly 55 mins.
Patrick Murray (Carlow).