Awesome defensive displays feature of magnificent evening of hurling

THERE won’t be a better game at any grade in any championship this year than yesterday evening’s end-to-end blow-for-thunderous-blow between two sporting, superbly-prepared, well-disciplined teams in the replayed Munster U-21 hurling final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Massive support for both Cork and Tipp, the huge short-sleeved crowd was held in thrall right to the final exhausting whistle in a game that surpassed in excitement and hurling even last Thursday evening’s draw in Thurles. Feature of that night were the outstanding individual forward displays from Tipp’s Eoin Kelly and Cork’s corner-forward Kieran Murphy, feature of last night’s game were the defensive displays, team and individual, by both Tipperary and Cork. John Gardiner at centre-back for the Rebels was reminiscent of the regal Brian Corcoran at his very best, and he had many able deputies, while the Tipperary half-back line of Martin Maher, Diarmuid Fitzgerald and Hugh Moloney especially was a veritable wall, beating back ball after ball. Behind them, full-back and senior panellist John Devane had a tremendous battle with Cork’s own rising attacking star, Setanta Ó hAilpín. Just as Tipp just about shaded this game, John just about got the better of Setanta, finally won a medal he’s been seeking for some years now.

“It’s unbelievable. A lot of people are saying this grade should be done away with, but there’s no way you can do away with nights like tonight. They announced a crowd of 14,000, I’d say it was nearer 20,000. The kids get in free, and that’s what it’s all about.

“It was an unbelievable game,” Devane continued, “the pressure was coming in waves from the very start, we had to concede two penalties to try and keep them out. They have class forwards, Setanta Ó hAilpín, Kieran Murphy, the whole lot of them; they’re going to come at you the whole day long. You just have to stay on your toes. We let it slip a few years ago against Limerick, again last year against Limerick, and we thought our chance had gone again in Thurles last Thursday evening. But we made a commitment to each other that we’d come down here and we’d own the place, and that’s what we did, came away with the win. This is my third year. I’m just hanging on and hanging on for this victory, and it means so much. I’m sure the younger lads will realise that themselves in a few years, you don’t win Munsters too handy. Now we go along, meet Galway the next day, hope that turns out alright for the best“.

Team captain Eoin Kelly waited even longer. Won in his first year, but then had three losing seasons. Didn’t have the personal success of last Thursday night either, really well marked by Brian Murphy on this occasion. Got away just once, but once was enough, scored the first Tipperary goal. Got himself booked too, a rare event. “I did, yeah, but the way it was, I had a will to win tonight. I’m not a dirty player but that was my third Munster U21 final in a row, I didn’t want to lose again. We just had the bit of luck tonight, got a lucky goal in the second period of injury-time. We didn’t have that luck in 2001, 2002, and that was the difference tonight. It makes up for those others, because this is my final year and the way it is, this is the bunch of players I value most, because I grew up with them. We were successful at U14, failed at U16, written off as minors, written off again this year as U21s. Delighted now, so I am, it’s very sweet.”

As for a disappointed but certainly not disappointing Cork, manager Seán O’Gorman probably spoke for all. “I feel most devastated for the lads; they gave it everything, I couldn’t have asked for anything more of them. They’re a credit to everyone, it’s just unfortunate they didn’t pull it off. Two brilliant games, not a dirty stroke in either. Nothing you see in Croke Park this year will surpass that, and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, entertainment value. That’s what this competition seems to be about every year, draws, replays, great games. It takes everything to win it, but we didn’t get the rub of the green on the night just to finish it off. But fair play to Tipp, too, they never gave up. Goals win matches, they got two. We worked our way back after the first one, got four points on the trot which was brilliant really, legs getting tired and all that. Fair play to our fellas, you couldn’t ask for more. We got the penalties, on another night you’d crack them home, but at least we got a point from the second one, which is often the option you take anyway. Every one of those fellas would have died for it tonight, and there was only one score in it at the end, the one score in the second half of extra-time”

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