Maybe it was the fear of a relegation dogfight that drove the players on. Maybe it was just the brilliant hurling conditions that brought out the best in two committed sides. Maybe, but there can only be one winner and it’s St Catherine’s who go into the championship draw, leaving Killeagh to battle against relegation with Castlelyons.
Killeagh came agonisingly close — two gilt-edged missed goal chances going abegging — but for guts and determination alone St Catherine’s deserved their victory.
Selector Jerry Fitzgerald was over the moon: “This was a huge victory for the club, pride in the jersey bringing us through. We tried to play good open hurling, it took a huge effort but I though our team performance tonight was wonderful.”
Coach Denis Walsh, too, was upbeat: “We worked very hard for this result, the lads knowing relegation loomed if we did not perform. We brought in two lads tonight new to championship hurling and they did not let us down. We worked for this result and the way we played I can tell you no team will want to meet us in the next round.”
Both sides proved their commitment from the off as points rained over in the opening five minutes, three to St Catherine’s per Kieran Morrison and the two Cotters, Shane and Padraig, with Brendan and Brian Barry replying for Killeagh. With Morrison in top form at centre-forward for St Catherine’s and Shane Cotter and Shane Kearney also in top gear, the Ballynoe men always had that extra bit of power up front. The Killeagh defence, with the evergreen Damien Irwin at full-back, was kept busy.
Morrison rowed in with two more points for St Catherine’s, but with Killeagh’s Joe Deane radar-like from frees the sides were level at 0-5 after the first quarter. Then, with St Catherine’s leading 0-8 to 0-7 entering the 25th minute, came the first turning point. Michael Byrne and Deane combined to set up Pádraig McGrath, but the Killeagh full-forward could only manage a point with a goal at his mercy.
It was a huge let-off for St Catherine’s, though Killeagh finished the half strongly with points from Deane and John O’Connor to lead 0-9 to 0-8 at the break.
Perhaps that relegation fear factor drove the players on, but there was no let-up in intensity in the second period. Cotter, with a free, and Richard O’Connell fired St Catherine’s back in front and although Brendan Barry again tied up the scores, the second turning point followed in the 35th minute — and again it favoured St Catherine’s.
A glorious long ball into the danger zone was grabbed by Deane, and when he was upended, referee John Sexton had no hesitation in awarding a penalty, showing Patrick O’Neill a yellow card. Up stepped Mark Landers but, amazingly, he fumbled his lift and his weak ground shot was cleared.
A goal at this stage might have damaged St Catherine’s morale. Instead points from Kearney and young substitute Noel O’Brien fired them into a lead they were never to relinquish. Leading 0-15 to 0-13 entering the final quarter they were playing the better hurling, with Junior Sheehan, Martin O’Keeffe and the magical Cotter and Kearney up front always busy.
In fairness to Killeagh they never wilted and outscored St Catherine’s in the final quarter. However, they were far too dependant on the mercurial Deane for scores. On the night, St Catherine’s deserved their win, their hunger for victory just that bit stronger than Killeagh’s.
: St Catherine’s: S. Cotter 0-7 (0-5 frees), K. Morrison, S. Kearney 0-3 each, R. O’Connell 0-2, P. Cotter, N. O’Brien 0-1 each. Killeagh: J. Deane 0-9 (0-5 frees, 0-2 65s), Brendan Barry 0-3, Brian Barry, M. Landers (free), P. McGrath, J. O’Connor 0-1 each.
: M. Walsh; S. Fitzgerald, M. Fitzgerald, E. Kenneally; C. Horgan, M. O’Keeffe, C. Ahern; James Sheehan, P. Cotter; P. O’Connell, K. Morrison, R. O’Connell; S. Kearney, John Sheehan, S. Cotter.
: P. O’Neill for E. Kenneally, N. O’Brien for John Sheehan, L. O’Connor for Ahern.
: B. Rochford, C. Fogarty, D. Irwin, P. McCarthy; K. Lane, M. Byrne, R. Walsh; Brian Barry, M. Landers; Brendan Barry, D. Kelleher, J. O’Connor; L. Collins, P. McGrath, J. Deane.
: K. Scully for Brian Barry, A. Walsh for Lane.
: J. Sexton (Ballyhea).