The remarkable progress made by Árd Scoil Rís in recent years brought them to the brink of All-Ireland colleges hurling glory yet their hopes were dashed in the cruellest fashion. As this decider entered injury-time, they held a 1-11 to 1-9 advantage after a resilient second-half display had seen them overturn a four-point deficit to surge ahead.
But there is a reason why St Kieran’s had accumulated 17 Croke Cup titles before Saturday’s clash. When the action was fraught with tension, their latest collection of talented youngsters displayed a glacial nerve to collect the school’s 18th crown. In the 62nd minute midfielder Conor O’Shea burst down the right wing and he arrowed the ball across the square for Thomas O’Hanrahan to finish to the net.
Árd Scoil Rís quickly fired out the puckout but their move broke down and substitute Richie Reid popped over the score that sent St Kieran’s into a two-point lead. There was still time for a late slice of drama. Árd Scoil Rís were awarded a 20-yard free just to the right of the goal. Shane Dowling stood over the ball, missed the pick up before whipping a drive that midfielder Jamie Shanahan doubled on but his effort went the wrong side of the upright and the Kilkenny nursery just hung on.
For the second year in a row Árd Scoil Rís found themselves in a state of anguish after hurling against St Kieran’s. Last season the Kilkenny side hit 1-5 without reply in the last 10 minutes to win by three points but this reversal was more dramatic and more devastating for Árd Scoil Rís.
“What’s there to say?” pondered a downcast Árd Scoil Rís boss Derek Larkin after the final whistle. “It’s simply gut-wrenching. I thought we’d the hard work done. We were four points down in the second-half and the lads showed incredible character then to go two points up. Certainly that was a massive opportunity for us to win an All-Ireland. They’re brilliant kids on our team and this result is hard to take.”
It was a sensational finish to a game that never scaled the expected heights. It was still interesting fare though, with St Kieran’s edging a cagey and tactical first-half battle. In the second-half they had to withstand an Árd Scoil Rís storm and while St Kieran’s had to rely on late scores to bale them out, they did enough over the hour to merit victory. Their defence contained a few colossal performers in full-back William Phelan, centre-back Pat O’Carroll and wing-back Jack McGrath. St Kieran’s hunted in packs, swarming the player in possession and this ploy proved particularly successful in the first-half.
An attack, that featured Brian Cody’s son Diarmuid at left half-forward, was indebted to the sublime point-scoring skills of John Power. Closer to goal Thomas O’Hanrahan and Michael Brennan were elusive figures, with O’Hanrahan continuing his impressive goal-scoring record on the biggest stage. There was immense satisfaction for St Kieran’s selector Phillip Walsh yet he sympathised with their shattered opponents.
“I do feel for them. It’s heartbreak for them for the second year in a row. I shook hands with a few of them there and they were crestfallen. It’s terribly cruel but that is sport. We’ve been on the wrong end of it too.”
In a tense first-half it was O’Hanrahan’s 27th minute goal after a lovely handpass by Brennan cut open the defence that helped St Kieran’s to lead 1-4 to 0-4 at the break. Árd Scoil Rís were thrown a lifeline immediately after the break when Oisín Hickey billowed the net after a great run by Kevin Lynch. The concession of that goal did not perturb St Kieran’s who rifled over four points on the trot, with Power notching three, as they led 1-8 to 1-4 by the 39th minute. However Árd Scoil Rís displayed terrific character to fight their way back. Dowling moved to centre-back with Hannon switching to centre-forward and that duo along with Alan Dempsey and Mark Ryan produced marvellous displays. Dowling’s long-range marksmanship was simply outstanding as he registered five points to push them into a 1-11 to 1-9 lead. His last effort in the 61st minute had the look of an insurance score yet St Kieran’s had other ideas.
Scorers for St Kieran’s: T O’Hanrahan 2-2; J Power 0-4 (0-1f); M Brennan 0-2; W Phelan (0-1f), R Reid 0-1 each.
Scorers for Árd Scoil Rís: S Dowling 0-6 (0-5f, 0-1 ‘65); O Hickey 1-1; D Hannon (0-1f), J Fitzgibbon, M Carmody, A Dempsey 0-1 each.
ST KIERAN’S: S Johnston (O’Loughlin Gaels); L Hickey (James Stephens), W Phelan (Dunamaggin), E Morrissey (Bennettsbridge); C O’Neill (Danesfort), P O’Carroll (Lisdowney), J McGrath (James Stephens); P Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels), C O’Shea (Clara); J Power (Carrickshock), C Buckley (Dicksboro), D Cody (James Stephens); J Nolan (O’Loughlin Gaels), M Brennan (St Patrick’s), T O’Hanrahan (Thomastown).
Subs: R Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks) for Nolan (51).
ÁRD SCOIL RÍS: PJ Hall (Adare); K Lynch (Patrickswell), B O’Connell (Kildimo), D Moloney (Meelick); A Dempsey (Na Piarsaigh), D Hannon (Adare), M Moroney (Parteen); M Ryan (Na Piarsaigh), J Shanahan (Sixmilebridge); M Carmody (Patrickswell), S Dowling (Na Piarsaigh), B O’Connor (Croagh/Kilfinny); K O’Brien (Patrickswell), O Hickey (Meelick), J Fitzgibbon (Adare).
Subs: C Keogh (Na Piarsaigh) for Moroney (inj) (41), J Kelleher (Patrickswell) for O’Brien (51), C Lynch (Patrickswell) for Hickey (60).
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).