By Kevin Egan
Kilmallock 2-19 Portaferry 0-12
Kilmallock broke a six-year hoodoo for Munster club hurling champions this afternoon when they easily overcame Portaferry of Down by 2-19 to 0-12 at Cusack Park in Mullingar.
They become the first team from the Southern province to reach an All-Ireland decider on St Patrick's Day since De la Salle in 2009.
On that occasion the Waterford club needed extra time to get past Cushendall, meaning that it was actually nine years since a Munster side last won an All-Ireland semi-final inside an hour. On that occasion too, it was Portaferry who came up short, losing to Newtownshandrum by 0-14 to 1-10.
There was no close finish along those lines here as Ger O’Loughlin’s men had far too much power and pace for their Down opponents throughout the full course of the hour’s play at the Mullingar venue. Portaferry showed plenty of resolve and spirit to hang on in the tie after making a bad start but they simply couldn’t do anything to resist once the Limerick club moved through the gears in the third quarter.
Six points in a row in a ten-minute spell crushed any lingering hopes that Portaferry might have entertained of turning over the 1/7 favourites from Kilmallock and by the time Graeme Mulcahy blasted the sliothar past Karol Keating for their second goal in the 50th minute, only the final margin of victory was in doubt.
This fixture was moved from Thurles to Mullingar due to the risk of a frozen surface at Semple Stadium but there were no such concerns here as the Cusack Park sod was in excellent condition, ideal for a fixture of this importance. Kilmallock took full advantage of that ground in the early stages with Bryan O’Sullivan getting them off the mark before Paddy O’Loughlin delivered a killer blow to the hearts of the Portaferry men with a close range goal after just three minutes.
O’Loughlin’s goal was followed by three more points to just one reply for Portaferry and already it looked as if the Ulster club were in for a heavy beating at the hands of the Limerick side.
However while their full back line looked to be in huge difficulty every time the sliothar was sent their way in the early stages, teenage full back Conor O’Neill played a wonderful role in keeping the Limerick men at bay with several excellent clearances.
At the other end of the field Paul Braniff’s accurate freetaking kept Portaferry in touch and at 1-8 to 0-6 in arrears, the Ards men weren’t without hope at half time.
Braniff and Paudie O’Brien exchanged points inside a minute at the start of the second half to maintain the status quo but from then on Kilmallock gave a masterclass in modern hurling, dominating the battle for primary possession and using it with pace and intent every time.
Six points in succession were rained over Karol Keating’s crossbar as they built up a double figure lead.
Two of the points came from Limerick county man Graeme Mulcahy, who had been held scoreless in the opening half, but he finally found room to show his class with two stunning scores from out on the left wing, before making the result well and truly safe after 20 minutes when blasting the ball to the net after collecting a quick handpass from Eoin Ryan in behind the Portaferry full back line.
The Ulster side continued to press and both Eoghan Sands and Conor Mageean added their names to the list of scorers in the closing stages, but by now the party was in full swing amidst the Kilmallock supporters in the Cusack Park seats and they’ll feel that their side is improving with every game in advance of what should be a fantastic battle with Ballyhale Shamrocks next month.
Kilmallock: B Hennessy, L Hurley, M O’Loughlin, A Costello; L Walsh, Philip O’Loughlin, K O’Donnell (0-2, 0-1f); P O’Brien (0-1), B O’Sullivan (0-4); J Mulcahy (0-1), Paddy O’Loughlin (1-0), R Egan (0-1); E Ryan (0-7, 0-4f), K Kennelly, G Mulcahy (1-2).
Subs: R Hanley for Kennelly (45), C Barry (0-1) for J Mulcahy (54), A O’Shaughnessy for Paddy O’Loughlin (56), J Meade for M O’Loughlin (57), D Joy for Walsh (59)
Portaferry: K Keating; C Taggart, C O’Neill, C O’Prey; C Coulter, J Convery, M Conlan; A Savage, C Mageean (0-1); A O’Prey, P Braniff (0-9, 0-6f, 0-1 ’65), K McGarry (0-1); S Mageean, E Sands (0-1), R Magee.
Subs: S Murray for Magee (37), N White for Taggart (50), B Trainor for McGarry (54), B Coleman for S Mageean (57)
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow)