First rang the Rose of Mooncoin, followed swiftly by ‘Oh we are the mighty super cats’.
The Kilkenny minor dressing-room was a picture of elation just shy of 3pm yesterday, the successful hurlers gathering around team captain Darragh Joyce who frequently thrust the Irish Press Cup into the air. An All-Ireland title, irrespective of code, grade or age-group, is a special achievement, but this was a particularly sweet win for the Kilkenny youngsters.
Criticism from inside the county had flowed in the aftermath of their Leinster first-round thumping to Dublin and while Pat Hoban’s charges bounced back with four wins on the hop, they were largely written-off entering the final. This was Limerick’s All-Ireland, or at least that is what they had been routinely told over the past three weeks. Kilkenny, as is their tradition, did their talking inside the whitewash.
For John Walsh it was a bittersweet triumph.
The corner-forward’s mother passed away in March and the Mullinavat hurler struggled to break into Hoban’s starting XV all summer, sprung from the bench in their last three outings. Handed the number 15 shirt for the decider, Walsh didn’t disappoint.
In a carbon copy of his semi-final goal against Waterford, the right boot was engaged to devastating effect 40 minutes into yesterday’s affair. As Kilkenny’s Eoin Kenny and Limerick’s Thomas Grimes tussled for possession 20 metres from the Treaty posts, Walsh ghosted in from the corner, flicked possession from the grappling pair and kicked beyond keeper Eoghan McNamara.
The contest’s opening goal moved Kilkenny 1-14 to 0-13 in front and doubts quickly surfaced as to whether Limerick had the stomach for battle. Séamus Flanagan split the posts in the ensuing passage of play, two Ronan Lynch frees thereafter reducing the margin to the minimum. On 46 minutes, Barry Nash was presented with an opportunity to equalise, but could not oblige. Aside from Walsh’s two goals, here stood the game’s crucial moment.
Alan Murphy nailed a Kilkenny free before Ronan Corcoran struck an absolute beauty off the hurl when tearing down the Cusack Stand side of the field. Ronan Lynch and Liam Blanchfield swapped points subsequently, the gap back out to three (1-17 to 0-17).
Cue John Walsh’s second centre-stage movement. Alan Murphy superbly pulled down the delivery out of defence, turned full-back Paddy O’Loughlin and off-loaded to Walsh. The finish to the bottom left corner of McNamara’s goal was befitting of the occasion. Thereafter, several Kilkenny forwards retreated deep inside their own half to ensure there would be no Limerick revival and while Barry Murphy and Ronan Lynch (0-1 65) pared back the margin, the required major did not materialise.
Lynch’s 21-yard free was blocked by keeper Darren Brennan on 57 minutes, Barry Nash’s rebound flashed wide.
“It is absolutely unreal,” reflected man of the match Walsh upon the final whistle. “I can’t believe it. .”
It was he who set the early tone, nailing the target on two occasions inside the opening quarter as the underdogs established a 0-6 to 0-3 lead. Luke Scanlon, Alan Murphy and Ronan Corcoran were other key figures in their opening burst, with Limerick largely reliant on the dead-ball accuracy of Ronan Lynch.
The Munster champions were forever playing catch-up, on only two occasions did they hold the scoreboard initiative over the hour. Cian Lynch, Barry Nash and the impressive Tom Morrissey levelled matters at 0-6 apiece, with Alan Murphy trading efforts with Nash and Morrissey subsequently.
A Ronan Lynch converted free moved Brian Ryan’s outfit in front, a passage of play that could have just as easily saw the green flag raised. Nash and Lynch combined in putting through Morrissey and although upended en-route to goal, the chance was there had referee Fergal Horgan not called back for a free.
Murphy and Walsh clipped three points in quick succession on the run in to the break to hand Kilkenny a 0-12 to 0-10 interval advantage.
There followed a tale of Walsh efficiency and continued Limerick wastefulness.
John Walsh’s goal on 53 minutes. Limerick had absorbed the corner-forward’s opening major early in the second period, but simply had no answer to his second goal strike.
Irrespective of the age group, irrespective of pedigree, the ability of Kilkenny hurling teams to find the net at the most crucial of junctures remains the county’s outstanding hallmark. Pat Hoban’s side would prove no exception.
The six Limerick forwards bunching within 10 yards of their midfield pair for the throw-in. The Kilkenny defenders looked utterly bemused, as did the rest of us.
John Walsh. The Mullinvat corner-forward, in his first start since the opening rounds of the Leinster championship, pilfered 2-5 from open play. His first goal was superbly taken with the right boot, a real goal-poachers finish, while his second ultimately swung the verdict in the Cats’ favour.
Kilkenny’s second-half tactic of pulling out their two corner-forwards and leaving just one inside paid rich dividends, directly contributing to both goals. Limerick, on the other hand, were too inclined to bunch in front of goal and heavy traffic prevented the required majors late on.
Fergal Horgan’s display didn’t sit well with the Limerick following. On 27 minutes, Tom Morrissey, though fouled, was through on goal, but Horgan wouldn’t allow the advantage and called for a free. Earlier in the half, Andrew La Touche-Cosgrave was clearly impeded, but no free was awarded. Possession was taken from the centre-back with Ronan Corcoran pointing for Kilkenny.
Scorers for Kilkenny: J Walsh (2-5); A Murphy (0-6, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ’65); R Corcoran (0-3); L Blanchfield (0-2); L Scanlon (0-1).
Scorers for Limerick: R Lynch (0-9, 0-6 frees, 0-2 ‘65’s); C Lynch (0-3); S Flanagan, B Nash, T Morrissey (0-2 each); B Murphy (0-1).
KILKENNY: D Brennan (St Lachtain’s); T Walsh (Tullaroan), C Delaney (Erin’s Own), C McGrath (John Lockes); P Lyng (Rower Inistioge), J Cleere (Bennettsbridge), D Joyce (Rower Inistioge); C Browne (James Stephens), L Scanlon (James Stephens); S Morrissey (Bennettsbridge), R Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels), R Corcoran (Ballyhale Shamrocks); A Murphy (Glenmore), L Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), J Walsh (Mullinavat).
Subs: B Ryan (Graigue Ballycallan) for Butler (ht), E Kenny (Slieverue) for Browne (38 mins), A Gaffney (Dicksboro) for Corcoran (58).
LIMERICK: E McNamara (Doon); S Finn (Bruff), P O’Loughlin (Kilmallock), L Lyons (Monaleen); C Ryan (Pallasgreen), A La Touche-Cosgrave (Monaleen), C Byrnes (Murroe Boher); R Hanley (Kilmallock), T Gromes (Na Piarsaigh); S Flanagan (Feohanagh/Castlemahon), B Nash (South Liberties), C Lynch (Patrickswell); P Casey (Na Piarsaigh), T Morrissey (Ahane), R Lynch (Ahane).
Subs: C Fitzgerald (Claughan) for Byrnes (16 mins), E Doyle (Monaleen) for Fitzgerald (ht), J Porter (Monaleen) for Lyons (ht), B Murphy (Doon) for Grimes (53).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).