Burke fires Connacht revival

Connacht 3-13 Leinster 1-16
An experimental but far more committed all-Galway Connacht proved too strong for Leinster in this Martin Donnelly Inter-Provincial Championship hurling semi-final at a windswept Tullamore yesterday.

Played in front of a disappointing attendance of a mere 489 (names and addresses to follow), the Kilkenny-powered home team started went 0-6 to 0-1 to the good after just 12 minutes, Offaly star Shane Dooley with four of those points, Aidan Fogarty and Colin Fennelly with the other scores to cause concern for Connacht and Galway manager Anthony Cunningham: “It wasn’t looking good for a while, took us a long spell to get into the game.”

Eventually however, Connacht kicked into gear and Oranmore-Maree’s Niall Burke was the inspiration. Shifted from full-forward to the 40, he outplayed Leinster captain Brian Hogan and his five points, added to what had been Connacht’s opening score along with a fine Cyril Donnellan effort, had the teams tied at 0-7.

The sides were still tied at the break, 0-8 all, but on the restart and now with the wind in their sails, Leinster raced into a five-point lead, 0-14 to 0-9. Cunningham and his selectors introduced the pacy pair Damien Hayes and Davy Glennon at the break, however, and they had an impact. Niall Burke too continued to have an influence but the defence, led by Shane Kavanagh and Joseph Cooney, also stepped up a gear, and Connacht took over.

It started with a goaled 20m free by keeper Colm Callanan and continued when the redoubtable Hayes goaled, giving himself an early 31st birthday present. That put Connacht 2-11 to 0-15 in front but it was all crowned with their third green flag, this one the best of the lot. Glennon finished this time, a lovely pick-up on the run and a kick finish, putting the game beyond reach of a strangely lethargic Leinster.

Kilkenny’s Eoin Larkin did pounce for a late goal but Connacht held out and qualified to meet Munster in the decider on March 3.

All round then, given the All-Ireland club semi-final wins for his home club St Thomas’ and the team of his current home, St Brigid’s of Roscommon, this victory for his experimental Galway team — a good weekend for Anthony Cunningham.

“That’s what we want, competition for places, everyone fighting for a starting place. We’ll be looking for all those players to be pushing hard to start.

“It’s not good enough that they’re on the panel, we want them pushing to get on the first 15 and that will put a lot of pressure on the guys who weren’t here today. We know though that effort and that performance won’t be enough to beat Kilkenny next Sunday and that’s our biggest focus now, looking forward to that in Pearse Stadium.”

Kilkenny did have nine starters yesterday, with another coming on as a sub; no consolation there, says Anthony. “They were the sharpest players out there, in my book, I thought they looked really sharp.”

Some did, some didn’t. What was most obvious from this game, and from the win of St Thomas’ on Saturday is the depth of talent now available to Anthony.

“We’d be very happy with the players we have but St Thomas’ have a lot of fine players, their touch is very good, and they’re all young men as well. They have one more step and we’d all hope they’ll win that — they’re going well.

“We won’t have the St Thomas’ players next Sunday and Andy Smith and Cyril Donnellan are both out through suspension. Andy’s sending-off was harsh, a tug of a helmet and you’re gone. We have everyone else.”

Scorers for Connacht: N Burke 0-9 (4fs, 0-1 65), D Glennon 1-1, C Donnellan 0-3, C Callanan (f), D Hayes 1-0 each.

Scorers for Leinster: S Dooley 0-8 (7fs), E Larkin 1-0, R Hogan 0-3, A Fogarty, J Bergin 0-2 each, C Fennelly 0-1.

CONNACHT (all Galway): C Callanan; B Flaherty, S Kavanagh, P Killeen; T Óg Regan, J Cooney, N Donoghue; A Harte, P Brehony; P Gordon, J Glynn, C Donnellan; S Maloney, N Burke, A Callanan.

Subs: D Glennon (A Callanan 35); D Hayes (Gordon 35); J Grealish (Brehony 43); R Cummins (Maloney 53).

LEINSTER (Kilkenny unless noted): G Maguire (Dublin); P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan (c), R Hanniffy (Offaly); D Redmond (Wexford), M Fennelly; D Sutcliffe (Dublin), J Bergin (Offaly), C Fennelly; S Dooley (Offaly), R Hogan, A Fogarty.

Subs: P Kelly (Dublin, M Fennelly 47); E Larkin (Kilkenny, J Bergin 50), C Keaney (Dublin, C Fennelly 54), P Morris (Wexford, D Sutcliffe 69).

Referee: O Elliott (Antrim).

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