The Kilkenny school advance to an All-Ireland final with Thurles CBS on Saturday week, but the Galway outfit — led by Evan Niland and Brian Burke — came desperately close to pulling off a massive shock.
With midfielder Richie Leahy masterful on the ground and in the air, and Ray Lahart and Tadhg O’Dwyer dangerous in front of goal, St Kieran’s – who featured 11 of last year’s Kilkenny minor panel – finally pulled clear in added time with points from each sideline from Morrissey and Connolly.
“After a game like that we’re delighted to be in the final,” said manager Liam Smith. “It was a cracking game. There was nothing between us and it was nip and tuck the whole way.
“Athenry are a serious team, we played them over Christmas, they are big strong men. We are just relieved to get over the line. I can’t wait to see it on video because it looked like a cracking hurling match.”
Ahead of the game few gave Athenry much hope of dethroning the competition’s record winners, but their report card was laced with excellent performances. Niland was classy with an 11-point haul, and kept Pres in contention at the start of the second half when Kieran’s upped their tempo. Fourteen-year-old wing back Conor Walsh didn’t look out of place while Brian Burke’s touch and physicality gave the talented Jason Cleere plenty to worry about.
Before the interval both sides showed their full array of skills as they shared 18 points by the time Diarmuid Kirwan blew for the break.
Niland and Lahart were both in fine form from dead balls, but Brian Burke and Morrissey graced the half with excellent scores when they fielded puckouts and pointed on the turn.
After the restart Kieran’s had the clear intention of nabbing a goal to kill of their battling opponents, but when the chances came they were foiled by wastefulness and some scramble defence by Athenry.
Midway through the half two Lahart frees were followed by a great score from Connolly to give Kieran’s a two point cushion, but three Niland points and a long range Burke free drew Athenry level with two minutes remaining.
But it wasn’t to be for Pres, and the champions showed their class with two points under pressure to reach their fourth final in the last six years.
Scorers for St Kieran’s College: R Lahart 0-7 (6f 1’65), J Connolly 0-4 (2f), J Byrne 0-3, L Branchfield, T O’Dwyer 0-2 each, B Ryan 0-1.
Scorers for Presentation Athenry: E Niland 0-11 (7f), B Burke 0-4 (2f), S Loftus, C Burke 0-1 each.
ST KIERAN’S COLLEGE: A Mullen; M Cody, T Walsh, J Barron; J Keoghan, J Cleere, E Walsh; J Byrne, R Leahy; L Blanchfield, S Morrissey, J Connolly; R Lahart, B Ryan, T O’Dwyer.
Subs: E Egan for E Walsh (46), N Walsh for Lahart (50).
PRESENTATION ATHENRY: D Maloney; S Bannon, J Fitzpatrick, N Burke; C Walsh, R Doyle, C McDaid; B Concannon, S Loftus; B Callanan, B Burke, R Hardiman; E Niland, T Forde, C Burke.
Subs: D Earls for Callanan (39), C Flynn for Hardiman (52), M Kennedy for Forde (55).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).