When last these two colleges clashed in an All-Ireland final back in 2011, Thomas O’Hanrahan’s injury-time goal secured victory for St Kieran’s in the most dramatic fashion. It was a similar tale of woe for Ardscoil Rís in the 2010 decider, the Kilkenny nursery hitting 1-5 without reply to overtake their opponents at the death.
Yesterday afternoon in front of a crowd of 3,328, it was Ardscoil Rís who spent most of the hour giving chase.
1-8 to 0-7 they trailed the reigning champions at half-time, and this despite enjoying the backing of a slight wind. That gap stretched out to five points on two occasions entering the final quarter. And yet still, Ardscoil Rís refused to accept their fate.
Behind by 1-13 to 1-8 on 46 minutes, a foul on midfielder Brian Ryan allowed Paul O’Brien nail his fifth free of the afternoon. Sub Darragh Cunningham, with his first touch of the sliotar, split the posts in the subsequent action and it was game back on.
Crucial to Ardscoil Rís’s comeback bid was the decision by management, somewhat belatedly, to abandon the sweeper role and revert to an orthodox formation. The sight of three black jerseys close to the St Kieran’s goal brought renewed purpose to clearances out of defence and when Páraic O’Loughlin, set up by Rory Duff, fired over on 51 minutes, the gap stood at two.
There was now an edge to Ardscoil Rís’s hurling not seen during the first 45 minutes of action. Centre-forward Peter Casey chased his marker deep into his own half, eventually managing to flick possession away from Michael Cody. The subsequent roar gave firm warning to Kieran’s that there would be no stroll to the finish line.
The excellent Adrian Mullen steadied the ship in re-establishing a three-point cushion, but Liam Smith’s side would fail to add to their tally in the ensuing 10 minutes, during which their defence was heavily bombarded.
O’Brien clipped his sixth free on 54 minutes and it was back to the minimum when O’Brien was again successful from the placed ball 39 seconds into stoppages.
Unlike the 2010 and ’11 finals, though, there was to be no late drama as the St Kieran’s rearguard pulled the shutters down in front of goal, and indicative of the confidence flowing through this team was Joe Connolly’s insurance point on 61 minutes. The approach could have been to pack the defence; instead, St Kieran’s kept their shape and forced their opponents, in the last play of the game, to shoot for goal from a long way out. Brian Ryan was the player to try his luck from distance, the sliotar rolling harmlessly wide.
The foundations for a 21st Croke Cup win were laid during a first half in which Kieran’s stifled and upset their opponents at every turn. In front of goal, then, Adrian Mullen (0-4, 0-1 free), Edmond Delaney, and Connolly were their early contributors as the sides traded scores. On 21 minutes, daylight was established.
Kieran’s full-forward Joe Cuddihy, having initially been hooked by John Flynn when bearing down on Seán Mullane’s goal, caught his second attempt sweetly to leave the opposing ‘keeper with no chance.
Paul O’Brien, with his fourth free of the opening half, posted the Ardscoil Rís response. Momentum, though, rested with their opponents and midfield pair Edmond Delaney and Martin Keoghan both raised white flags approaching the break, 1-8 to 0-7 the difference at half-time.
Páraic O’Loughlin, who produced the score of the opening period with a fine catch and strike in front of the Ryan Stand, dragged the Limerick school back into contention with a scrappy goal 35 seconds into the second period.
The St Kieran’s reply was clinical; points from Colum Prendiville and three on the bounce from full-forward Cuddihy sending them on their way to title number 21.
J Cuddihy (1-3); A Mullen (0-5, 0-2 frees); E Delaney, J Connolly (0-2 each); M Keoghan, E Moylan, C Prendiville (0-1).
P O’Brien (0-7, 0-7 frees); P O’Loughlin (1-2); C Boylan (0-2); B Ryan, D Cunningham (0-1).
D Phelan (Emeralds); C Byrne (James Stephens), T Walsh (Tullaroan), E Carroll (Dicksboro); M Kenny (Clara), D Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks), M Cody (Dunamaggin); M Keoghan (Tullaroan), E Delaney (Conahy Shamrocks); A Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks), C Prendiville (Graigue Ballycallan), J Connolly (Clara); S Carey (Young Irelands), J Cuddihy (Ballyhale Shamrocks), E Moylan (Dicksboro).
A Nolan (Dicksboro) for Kenny (39 mins, inj), G Brennan (Young Irelands) for Carey (59), N Delaney (James Stephens) for Byrne (61).
S Mullane (Mungret); S Hogan (Adare), S Phelan (Broadford), R Connolly (Adare); C Houlihan (Na Piarsaigh), J Boylan (Na Piarsaigh), N Fox (Parteen); B Ryan (South Liberties), J Flynn (Patrickswell); P O’Loughlin (Clonlara), P Casey (Na Piarsaigh), D Carroll (Kilteely/Dromkeen); C Boylan (Na Piarsaigh), P O’Brien (Mungret), D Fitzgerald (Clonlara).
R Duff (Mungret) for Fitzgerald (38 mins), J Delahunty (Newport) for Fox (47, inj), D Cunningham (Cratloe) for Carroll (48), C Moriarty (Clonlara) for Duff (55).
D Kirwan (Cork).