It wasn’t just that St. Martin’s didn’t deserve to lose — and they didn’t — it’s just that this draw gives both teams a second opportunity (Sunday at Nowlan Park) to show that they should be accepted as genuine contenders for the Kilkenny crown.
On the evidence of this game, both have a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s sift through the evidence: On a perfect hurling afternoon, with perfect sod, Fenians managed just 14 points. Of those, four came from midfielders Kieran Grehan and John Broderick (two apiece) while a further seven came from placed balls by full-forward Kevin Power. That left three points shared between the other five forwards, plus the two subs who were introduced in that area — two points for corner-forward Paul Quinlan, both of those in the first-half and one from substitute Lar Ryan.
For St. Martin’s the picture was a little rosier, but only barely — four forwards scored from play with the Mulhalls, Brian (1-1) and John (0-3) doing most of the damage, but again, three points came from their midfielders (Shane Coonan with two and Paul Maher had one). Hardly the kind of firepower, from either team, that will have Ballyhale Shamrocks trembling in their boots, is it? Improvement is a must then, thus the welcome second chance for both teams.
For most of this game St. Martin’s looked the likelier winners. Though Fenians were fastest out of the blocks, two points to the good after five minutes (Quinlan and Broderick), Muckalee then took control for the next 15 minutes after which they led 1-4 to 0-2. John Maher had two points, brother Paul had another, but it was big full-forward Brian Mulhall doing the major damage. He opened his account with a point, using his size and power first to win the ball and then to make room for a shot that dipped just over PJ Ryan’s crossbar. In the 15th minute came his goal; Ryan came off his line a little early to deal with a low-flying ball which he failed to control, and Mulhall pounced on the break. Finally, however, Fenians gathered themselves, and points from Kevin Power (2), from Kieran Grehan and Paul Quinlan, had them back in it at the break, 1-6 to 0-6.
The second half was an improvement, but only after another 10 minutes of sub-standard hurling. One point the Fenians managed in that period, a fine strike from midfielder Broderick, two for St. Martin’s, both of those from the flying John Mulhall (this guy is exempt from the general criticism, he worked diligently and intelligently throughout).
It was only in the final 20 minutes that this game finally came to life. It was during this period that Fenians made their charge with a succession of points — mostly from placed balls and thus mostly from Kevin Power — putting them ahead by two points, 0-14 to 1-9, with just over five points to go. But in a tense final few minutes their opponents managed to claw their way back. John Mulhall with the first of the two points needed, then McGrath with the closer. Fenians did have a couple of chances to win it again in the three minutes of added time, JJ Delaney (impressive, alongside namesake PJ in the half-back line) underhitting from about 50m, then St. Martin’s corner-back Alan Murphy getting a desperation block on Fenians sub Lar Ryan right at the death.
There are fine players on both these teams, the five Mahers all looked the part for St. Martin’s, as did the two Mulhalls, Shane Cadigan and Alan Murphy, while the three Delaneys in the Fenians defence all looked classy, as did their two midfielders. Forward power, though, was at a premium yesterday as both sets struggled for any kind of dominance.
Scorers for Fenians: K. Power 0-7 (0-6 frees 0-1 65); P. Quinlan 0-2; K. Grehan 0-2; J. Broderick 0-2; L. Ryan 0-1.
Scorers for St. Martin’s: B. Mulhall 1-1; J. Mulhall 0-3; J. Maher 0-3 (0-2 frees); S. Coonan 0-2; E. McGrath, P. Maher, 0-1 each.
PJ Ryan; P. Phelan, Jodie Delaney, D. Garrett; G. Henderson, PJ Delaney, JJ Delaney; K. Grehan, J. Broderick; B. Power, B. Ryan, S. Grehan; P. Quinlan, K. Power, D. Broderick.
Subs: J. Whelan (Power 36); L. Ryan (D. Broderick 38).
C. McGrath; S. Cadigan, B. Maher, A. Murphy; N. Moran (c), P. Nolan, R. Maher; P. Maher, S. Coonan; E. McGrath, John Maher, J. Mulhall; T. Breen, B. Mulhall, Joe Maher.
Subs: J. Dowling (Breen 55); D. Callanan (Coonan 60).
D. O’Sullivan (John Lockes).