Steely Leinster foil Munster’s three-in-a-row bid

BACKBONED by a strong Kilkenny contingent, Leinster won a keenly contested Martin Donnelly Inter-provincial hurling final in Portlaoise on Saturday evening denying Munster another three-in-a-row.

Trailing at the break by six points, 1-8 to 0-5 (Munster’s goal a first-time beauty by Andrew O’Shaughnessy, from a Brian O’Connell pass), Leinster dominated the second half.

Their defence, firmly anchored by the versatile Jackie Tyrell at full-back, Dublin’s Ronan Fallon at centre-back, reduced the high-powered Munster attack to just four points, only one of those from play, while up front the scores began to flow. Points from Richie Power (4), substitute Aidan Fogarty (with his first touch), Richie Hogan, Michael Rice, John O’Connor (Wexford, the only non-Kilkenny scorer), Eoin Larkin, and finally, Eddie Brennan, saw off the determined Munster challenge.

But it was Hogan’s goal, again made almost entirely in Kilkenny, that really turned the tide. It came in the 51st minute with Munster holding onto a one-goal lead (1-10 to 0-10). It started with a lovely little last-gasp Tommy Walsh flick, carried on with a scorching run from midfielder Eddie Brennan, then came a quick one/two with wing-forward Michael Rice and ended with a pass from Brennan to the lurking Hogan who drilled home from point-blank range.

A goal worthy of any occasion, it put Leinster in the driving seat, and from there to the finish they went comfortably through the gears and finished worthy winners. Another provincial title then for Leinster, their 25th, though they have still some catching up to do on Munster (45). Will they ever now get the chance to close that gap? Leinster captain Tommy Walsh, who made a passionate plea for the retention of the under-pressure competition in his acceptance speech, certainly hopes so.

“It is a players’ competition, the only opportunity we have to go out and meet and play with lads from the other counties. During the summer you’re coming up against them but you don’t really get to know them, you don’t get to meet them, have a chat. It’s absolutely brilliant to come here and develop friendships, see how these fellas look at hurling. There were lads from seven counties out there tonight, and every fella did his bit – we wouldn’t even be here tonight only for Eddie Coady’s (Carlow) goal against Connacht. Today again, Brendan Murtagh (Westmeath) did his bit, Ronan Fallon, Tommy Fitzgerald (Laois) won the free at the end that got us the insurance point, took the pressure off — everyone played their part. It means a huge amount to the players.”

Winning manager John Conran, obviously proud of his players and this win, was also looking at the bigger picture. “I’m more delighted than anything that we were able to have such a spread of counties, we had seven represented by the finish, and that’s fantastic. It’s a great competition for the lesser counties, the likes of Eddie Coady, Ronan Fallon and those. Even the Kilkenny lads, they’ve won a lot and this could be just another competition for them, but they don’t approach it like that – they’re seriously interested in it, and it’s fantastic that they would give everything in their bodies to win it, just like everyone else.”

Clare’s Gerry Quinn was equally adamant. “If it was marketed properly, I think anyone would pay to see these games. The best players in Munster, the best players in Leinster – market it, to young kids especially, stage it on a reasonable date, and the crowds will come back. There are so many options if the vision was there.

“I’m hugely disappointed, and yet it was a huge honour to be out there, in the middle of a line with John Gardiner on one side, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín on the other.”

Scorers for Leinster: R Power 0-9 (0-6f, 0-1 peno, 0-1 65); R Hogan 1-1; E Brennan, E Larkin, M Rice, A Fogarty, J O’Connor, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Munster: E Kelly 0-7 (0-6 frees); A O’Shaughnessy 1-0; B O’Connor 0-2; P Kelly, J Gardiner (f), N Gilligan, 0-1 each.

LEINSTER: PJ Ryan (Kilkenny); J Dalton (Kilkenny), J Tyrell (Kilkenny), D Franks (Offaly); T Walsh (Kilkenny), R Fallon (Dublin) , J O’Connor (Wexford); R Hanniffy (Offaly), E Coady (Carlow); M Rice (Kilkenny), B Murtagh (Westmeath), E Larkin (Kilkenny); E Brennan (Kilkenny), R Power (Kilkenny), R Hogan (Kilkenny).

Subs: B Hogan (Kilkenny, Coady 30); A Fogarty (Kilkenny, Murtagh 34); D Horan (Offaly, Dalton 45); T Fitzgerald (Laois, Larkin 60).

MUNSTER: B Cummins (Tipperary); C O’Brien (Tipperary), P Curran (Tipperary), S Hickey (Limerick); J Gardiner (Cork), G Quinn (Clare), S Óg Ó hAilpín (Cork); T Kenny (Cork), B O’Connell (Clare); P Kelly (Tipperary), T Carmody (Clare), B O’Connor (Cork); A O’Shaughnessy (Limerick), E Kelly (Waterford), N Gilligan (Clare).

Subs: D Óg Cusack (Cork , Cummins 30); L Corbett (Tipperary , Carmody 41); D Fanning (Tipperary , Quinn inj 43); S Callanan (Tipperary , O’Shaughnessy 56).

Referee: P Greene (Galway).

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