Saturday afternoon in Portlaoise was an easy one for those selecting a man of the match in the All-Ireland U20 semi-final.
Cork’s Tommy O’Connell ended the day with 1-10 and was the driving force in Cork’s win. In an entertaining game his reliability from frees and opportunist first-half goal proved to be the difference.
The Cork side were sickened by a late, late winner in the Munster final against Tipperary and manager Denis Ring was conscious of the need to to be stronger in this outing.
“We got out early, got a good warm-up, there was a good tempo to it. We had a good recovery and video analysis after the last day, we put that to bed quickly.
“We saw Kilkenny four times and we knew them very well. To be honest, we were hurt a bit by some of the things that were said (after the Munster final) - that Cork were too soft. When your own crowd are saying it you’d get worried.
“From the off today we were conscious that that wasn’t going to be an accusation that would be levelled at anyone today. Even in the warm-up there was some slightly different stuff went into that to cater for it.”
Though Kilkenny were aided by a slight breeze, Cork dominated early, hitting three points in the opening five minutes.
Cork’s Shane O’Regan almost had a ninth-minute goal but O’Connell pointed the resulting 65. Kilkenny opened their account with an Eoin Cody point on 13 minutes, with Niall Brassil adding a free just afterwards: 0-4 to 0-2 at the end of the first quarter.
From the puckout from another Brassil free O’Connell won the ball and soloed through, cracking home a goal from outside the 20m line, the ball spinning over the line off Kilkenny keeper Dean Mason’s stick.
Evan Shefflin pointed when play resumed, 1-4 to 0-4 and the sides continued to swap scores, but late on a Cody free and Brassil point made it 1-6 to 0-8 at half-time.
Conor Heary levelled the game on the resumption and a Cody free nudged Kilkenny ahead before O’Connell converted a Cork free and then pointed from long range. A Cody free on 37 minutes levelled the game once again, 1-8 to 0-11.
Two more O’Connell points restored Cork’s advantage and Cork began to take control. It was 1-10 to 0-12 at the three-quarter stage, but then a run of four Cork points in a row put daylight between the sides, Ryan Walsh (two), O’Connell (65) and sub Simon Kennefick hitting the target.
Cody added another free for the Cats but O’Connell responded in kind and Kilkenny were forced to look for goals in the last five minutes. Cork’s defence, impressive all day, held out for the win.
“Generally in the aerial battle and breaking ball is where the appetite and hunger is most evident,” said Ring.
“I think today we won the lion’s share of those. We had wides and things, we were disappointed with those, there were aspects of our performance we weren’t happy with, but we kept the scoreboard ticking over in our periods of dominance. I think we deserved it, to be honest with you.
“In the first half we conceded eight points, which is pretty good at this level.”
Ring had particular praise for defender Ger Millerick, who picked up Kilkenny senior Adrian Mullen, while he also sympathised with the Fennelly family of Ballyhale - relatives of Mullen - on the loss of Brendan Fennelly during the week.
“Ger saw off Jake Morris for the majority of the game the last day, I thought he was man of the match, and on Adrian Mullen today . . . our sympathies go to the Fennelly family on their recent bereavement.
“This was a real match, we were coming in to Leinster territory, a real battle on a tight pitch, and I thought we rose to the challenge. I’m really proud of our lads and proud of all the work put in by our backroom team.”
E Cody (0-6, 5 frees); N Brassil (0-4, 2 frees), A Brennan, E Shefflin and C Heary (0-1 each).
T O’Connell (1-10, 6 frees, 2 65s); B Turnbull (frees), R Walsh (0-2 each); S O’Regan, S Kennefick (0-1 each).
D Mason, J Brennan, C Flynn, M Butler, C Heary, M Carey, D Blanchfield, C Murphy, E Shefflin (c), E O’Shea, N Brassil, A Mullen, S Ryan, A Brennan, E. Cody.
S Donnelly for Brennan (HT); C Brennan for Ryan (40); J Molloy for Murphy (45)
G. Collins, C. O’Callaghan, J Keating (c), E Roche, G Millerick, S O’Leary Hayes, R. Downey, R Walsh, D Connery, S Twomey, B Roche, T O’Connell, B Turnbull, S O’Regan, P Power.
S Kennefick for Connery (42); E Sheehan for Power (45); B Murphy for O’Regan (60); C Hanafin for Twomey (62); J Copps for O’Callaghan (65).
J Murphy (Limerick)