THE enduring importance of the M Donnelly inter-provincial series, was in evidence at Fermoy on Saturday when, in a superbly prepared venue, in front of an appreciative crowd of several hundred, a much stronger Munster hurling outfit eventually subdued a Leinster side shorn of several club-tied stars.
“The (club) quarter-finals are on in Dublin, eight clubs involved,” explained Leinster manager John Conran. “The semi-finals are on in Kilkenny while the championships also reaching a climax in Offaly and Wexford, which meant a lot of players were out of the equation.”
Munster are likewise affected with championships still ongoing in all counties bar Kerry, but the greater strength in depth in the southern province was evident in the 15 who took the field with All-star nominees in practically every position.
Ironically, the most eye-catching display of all came from one of those overlooked — Waterford’s Eoin Kelly giving a man-of-the-match performance with 1-10.
Credit to Leinster, for most of the first-half they really put it up to the home side and led by a goal after 27 minutes, 1-7 to 0-7.
Richie Power, operating at full-forward in the absence of the injured Eddie Brennan, opened the scoring with a Leinster point, Barry Lambert contributed a brace as did centre-forward James Young while the goal was claimed by Rory McCarthy after a bit of messing in the Munster defence.
For Munster it was the sharp-shooting Kelly doing most of the scoring during that opening period.
In the final minutes of that half, however, Munster finally got their act together.
With the two Tipp men taking control up the middle, Declan Fanning at full-back, Conor O’Mahony at centre, the defence finally got on top while up front, Michael Fitzgerald, John Mullane, Seán O’Connor and Lar Corbett all got their names on the scoresheet with Timmy McCarthy doing a lot of good work at centre-forward. It meant that Munster led by three points at the break, 0-13 to 1-7.
On the resumption, Munster continued exactly where they had left off. With their defence now completely on top, Eoin Murphy and Gerry Quinn both impressing alongside Fanning, club and county team-mates John Gardiner and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín commanding the wings, Brian Murray in superb form between the posts, Leinster could find no way through, managed just two points in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
At the other end came a succession of points from a variety of sources, Kelly was still prominent, and when the Waterford star got on the end of a laser-accurate Gardiner long delivery to shoot past Leinster captain James McGarry (who had saved a well-struck Gardiner penalty in the first-half) from close range, it was all over, 1-18 to 1-9. with nine points between the teams there was no coming back for Leinster, who nevertheless kept battling to the end, midfielders Michael Rice and Derek Lyng to the fore, along with the superb Tommy Walsh who shifted up front for the final quarter to good effect.
“Satisfying,” pronounced Munster manager Michael Ryan; “We didn’t set the world on fire or anything but it’s the first time this group of players have played together. At half-time I asked them for a big effort. We weren’t happy with the first-half performance and we said a few things. Thankfully they responded and we ended up winning. It’s a historic occasion now heading to Croke Park under lights for the final and we’re delighted to be part of that.”
“Enjoyable,” said Limerick’s Donal O’Grady. “It wasn’t exactly the most intense game I ever played in but it’s great to get a chance to play with all these guys. It is great to get to continue this tradition and follow the outstanding names who played there before.”
Satisfying as it was for all the Munster players, however, entertaining as it was for a young and enthusiastic attendance, this was Kelly’s day, an emphatic message sent to the All-Star selectors who omitted him even from the list of nominees.
“They pick it on what they see, maybe on what they don’t see, but they have it done now and I’m not going to cry over spilt milk,’’ Kelly reflected. ‘‘An All-Ireland medal is what I want, but a Railway Cup medal is a great medal to have as well. Individual awards are grand but it’s probably only yourself and your family who get enjoyment out of that whereas if you win a medal with your county, or with Munster, thousands get enjoyment out of it. I love playing for Munster and beating Leinster is special. It’s going to be a historic event in two weeks, and I hope the crowds come out in support of us. There’s a lot of work going into the promotion of the series, trying to save a brilliant competition; hopefully they can.”
Scorers for Munster: E. Kelly 1-10 (0-6 frees); L. Corbett 0-3; J. Gardiner 0-2 (0-1 free, 0-1 65); M. Fitzgerald, J. Mullane, S. O’Connor, S. McGrath, J. Clancy, M. Walsh (free), 0-1 each.
Scorers for Leinster: J. Young 0-4 (0-3 frees); R. McCarthy 1-0; M. Rice 0-2; D. Lyng 0-2; B. Lambert 0-2; A. Fogarty, R. Power, K. Brady, 0-1 each.
MUNSTER: B. Murray (Limerick); E. Murphy (Waterford), D. Fanning (Tipperary), G. Quinn (Clare); J. Gardiner (Cork), C. O’Mahony (Tipperary), S. Óg Ó hAilpín (Tipperary); M. Walsh (capt. Waterford), D. O’Grady (Limerick); M. Fitzgerald (Limerick), T. McCarthy (Cork), E. Kelly (Waterford); J. Mullane (Waterford), S. O’Connor (Limerick), L. Corbett (Tipperary).
Subs: M. O’Brien (Limerick, Fitzgerald 40); D. Shanahan (Waterford, O’Connor 45); S. McGrath (Tipperary, McCarthy 45); J. Clancy (Clare, Kelly 55); B. O’Connell (Clare, O’Grady 67).
LEINSTER: J. McGarry (capt. Kilkenny); B. O’Leary (Wexford), B. Hogan (Kilkenny); R. Mullally (Kilkenny); T. Walsh (Kilkenny), K. Brady (Offaly), J. Ryall (Kilkenny); D. Lyng (Kilkenny), M. Rice (Kilkenny); R. McCarthy (Wexford), J. Young (Laois), W. O’Dwyer (Kilkenny); B. Lambert (Wexford), R. Power (Kilkenny), A. Fogarty (Kilkenny).
Subs: R. Keogh (Wexford, Mullally inj. 23); J. Dalton (Kilkenny, O’Leary 42); B. Carroll (Offaly, Power 43); D. McCormack (Westmeath, O’Dwyer 45).
Referee: M. Haverty (Galway).