Next on the agenda for the holders is a March 4 meeting with UL, conquerors of Galway IT. Judgement on WIT’s chances of retaining their title will have to wait until then, because they won’t have learnt much from this 60 minutes.
The Ulster boys, making their bow in the competition this year, faced a stiff test against a side dripping with inter-county names like Kilkenny’s Conor Phelan, Wexford’s Keith Rossiter and Galway’s Adrian Cullinane.
Wexford forward Rory Jacob sat out the tie with injury but was not missed as Kilkenny’s Brian Dowling, Cullinane and Jack Kennedy in particular impressed. David Hayes and Michael Walsh ruled midfield while Kilkenny’s PJ Delaney - JJ’s first cousin - impressed most among a largely untested back line.
Considering the scoreline, it seems astonishing that Ulster led after four minutes. Cullinane had already opened WIT’s account within seconds of the start before a low-flying free from Brendan McGourty was gathered by Ulster-full forward Brendan Quinn who slipped the ball under Clare’s senior sub keeper Philip Brennan. A promising start, but unfortunately Ulster had hit their peak.
Brian Dowling, dropped from the Kilkenny senior panel, hit 1-6 in 26 devastating minutes. The goal after eight minutes arrived thanks to a Jack Kennedy ball from the left wing in behind the Ulster defence. Dowling then shot high past the exposed Dominic Kearns.
Ulster, apart from a few isolate outposts including Fermanagh’s Kevin McGarry at half-back, Michael Herron in midfield and the lively Quinn up front, were sinking ever deeper under the rising tide. At the break they were 1-12 to 1-1 in arrears.
As if to stress their obvious superiority, WIT called half-back Joe Brady ashore on the turnaround and replaced him with younger brother Kevin - Offaly’s Club Hurler of the Year in 2004, no less.
Still, Ulster managed to plug some of the gaping holes in defence in the second period as WIT inevitably lost interest in over-extending themselves. There was still time for more scores though and WIT tacked on a flurry of points after introducing three forward replacements inside the last ten minutes.
: P Brennan; K Rossiter, A Kirwan, H Maloney; J Brady, PJ Delaney (0-1f), T Holland; D Hayes (0-1), M Walsh; J Phelan (0-1), J Kennedy (0-3), C Phelan (0-1); E Reid, A Cullinane (0-5), B Dowling (1-7, 4f).
: K Brady for J Brady, 30, K Hayes (0-1) for Kennedy, C O’Brien for Reid, R Wall (0-1) for C Phelan, J Maher for Walsh, all 52.
: D Kearns; T McGonigle, M McCambridge, JH Hughes; C Brunton, L Hinphy, K McGarry; B McGourty, M Herron (0-1f); J McCusker, J McDaniels, P Quigg; P Cunningham, B Quinn (1-2, 1f), C McDonnell.
: K McDonnell for McGonigle, 12, C O’Grady for McDaniels, 47, P Shivers for McDonnell, 51, C Coulter for McCusker, 56.
: E Morris (Dublin).