"IT’S not enjoyment, it’s relief!"
That was how full-forward Andrew O’Shaughnessy felt in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday afternoon after a Kilmallock team that had underachieved for years claimed their first Limerick SHC title since 1994. "This is the one we’ve wanted but we’ve always come up just short – it was worth the wait. This year we didn’t think of anything else, only winning."
To do so they had to overcome a stubborn but limited challenge from their own divisional side, Emmets, who, having pushed Kilmallock all the way in the group stages, came with high hopes but found themselves frustrated by a massive Kilmallock defensive effort, at the heart of which was captain and man-of-the-match Gavin O’Mahony.
Only the outstanding Donie Reale, who finished with 1-5 despite the best efforts of the tenacious Kevin O’Mahony, offered a major threat up front to Kilmallock, who were comfortably the better team throughout, even if that dominance wasn’t reflected in the final scoreline.
Both sides started slowly, Emmets getting their noses in front with two points from corner-forward Aidan McAuliffe (the second from a sideline, 30m left), and it was the 11th minute before Kilmallock began to click into gear. A point apiece from their outstanding midfielders Eoin Ryan and Paudie O’Brien had the game level in the 14th minute, and it was level again two minutes later after Donie Reale and Andrew O’Shaughnessy had exchanged points.
Then came the game’s first goal with Kilmallock corner-forward Graeme Mulcahy just touching the ball past the despairing Tommy Quaid (son of the Limerick legend) in the Emmets goal. It didn’t even reach the back of the net, but no matter, it put Kilmallock in the driving seat, to the relief of manager Tony Considine.
"There’s no such thing as a bad goal, we’ll take any goal that comes," said Considine.
It put the club side ahead (1-3 to 0-3) by the 19th minute, and it was a lead they would never relinquish. They were two ahead at the break (1-5 to 0-6), O’Brien and O’Shaughnessy on target, corner-back Stephen Walsh with a booming free well inside his own half in reply for Emmets, along with a brace from placed balls by Paul Neenan.
The first 10 minutes of the second half saw Kilmallock extend their lead to five, with three pointed frees by the unerring O’Shaughnessy, another from Eoin Ryan while Neenan replying for Emmets.
Four times in the next 15 minutes – Richie McCarthy driving them from the back – the divisional side managed to reduce the deficit to a goal, and at 1-12 to 0-12 in the 55th minute, it was still anyone’s game.
Those minutes belonged to Kilmallock, however; four unanswered points, by O’Brien, the skilful Mulcahy brothers Graeme (now operating successfully further out the field) and teenager Jake, and Paudie O’Dwyer (after a third score-making pass in that final quarter by O’Shaughnessy) put Kilmallock ahead by seven points as the game went into injury-time – game over, and a late goal from a 20m free by Donie Reale only served to put a gloss on the scoreboard.
"When you go into a place like Kilmallock, with so much tradition, there’s awful pressure on the lads to deliver," said Considine. "All around Kilmallock and the South Limerick area, they’re expected to win it every year. They hadn’t won it since 94, and that can put extra pressure on a team."
One of those who had just missed out in 94, but has been there ever since, was sub Paddy Connery, and his introduction in the 45th minute gave the new champions a decided lift.
"No-one realises what this means to me," he said; "I’m 15 years trying for this, the feeling now is unbelievable."
Scorers for Kilmallock: A O’Shaughnessy 0-5 (all frees); G Mulcahy 1-1; P O’Brien 0-3; E Ryan 0-3 (0-2 frees, 0-1 65); P O’Dwyer 0-2; J Mulcahy 0-2.
Scorers for Emmets: D Reale 1-4 (1-1 frees); P Neenan 0-4 (all frees); A McAuliffe 0-2 (0-1 s/l); S Walsh (free), M O’Brien, 0-1 each.
KILMALLOCK: B Hennessey; L Hurley, P O’Loughlin, K O’Mahony; L Walsh, G O’Mahony (c), B O’Sullivan; P O’Brien, E Ryan; P O’Dwyer, S O’Donnell, G O’Sullivan; G Mulcahy, A O’Shaughnessy, J Mulcahy. Subs: P Connery (S O’Donnell 45); K O’Donnell (G O’Sullivan 49); K Kenneally (J Mulcahy 58); M Cronin (K O’Mahony 60); D O’Mahony (O’Shaughnessy 60+3).
EMMETS: T Quaid (Effin); G O’Leary (Dromin/Athlacca), R McCarthy (Blackrock), S Walsh (Glenroe); B Moloney (Blackrock, capt.), B Kelleher (Dromin/Athlacca), David Moloney (Blackrock); N Quaid (Effin), M O’Brien (Glenroe); P Neenan (Dromin/Athlacca), E O’Leary (Dromin/Athlacca), J Kelleher (Dromin/Athlacca); D Reale (Hospital/Herbertstown), Damien Moloney (Effin), A McAuliffe (Castletown/Ballyagran).
Subs: J Dillon (Effin, J Kelleher 30); M Keane (Staker Wallace, B Moloney inj. 41); M Deegan (Hospital/Herbertstown, Damien Moloney 45); P Leahy (Glenroe, McAuliffe 48); E Walsh (Glenroe, Neenan 54).
Referee: E Phelan (St. Patrick’s).