A STROLL at headquarters for Kerry on Saturday, a final they dominated from start to finish against a game but outclassed Wicklow side to win their first Christy Ring Cup title.
Ahead by seven points at the half-time (1-10 to 0-7, the goal by John Egan, after a powerful Gary O’Brien run), Kerry upped the tempo after the break and this ageing Wicklow team simply couldn’t stay with them. Narrowly beaten in the final by Westmeath last year, sweet satisfaction for the Kingdom then, and for captain Mikey Boyle (one of four Ballyduff brothers on the panel) particularly. “We’ve been progressing gradually for the last couple of years, getting better and better, and we deserved this,” he said.
Kerry had a plethora of heroes, not least the captain himself, along with youngsters Darragh O’Connell and powerhouse O’Brien in the half-forward line, corner-forwards Egan and Shane Nolan flanking hardworking Mike Conway, then — working backwards towards keeper Bernard Rochford — midfielders Darren Dineen and John Griffin, rock-solid half-backs Colin Harris, Jason Casey and Andrew Keane, and the full-back line of Padraig O’Grady, James Godley and Eamonn Fitzgerald. For Wicklow, midfielder Eamonn Kearns really stood out, as did captain Jonathon O’Neill and sub James Quirke, but on this day at least, the glory went to the green-and gold.
Mind you, strange colours for keeper Rochford to be wearing (made several outstanding saves) — for years the Killeagh stalwart was backup to Donal Óg Cusack in the blood-and-bandage of Cork, winning an All-Ireland as sub in 1999, but he has since been recruited by manager John Meyler to serve the Kerry cause.
A comparison with ‘99? “Well I was on the field of play, for a start,” said Rochford. “Fantastic though. I know it wasn’t a close game but we were under a lot of pressure at different stages. Wicklow really attacked us but the backs were fantastic, willing to die out there today. After the pain of losing last year they were willing to give everything for the win this year.”
With Division 2 status already secured for 2012 after a solid league campaign, it’s been a satisfying season for this young Kerry side, and for manager John Meyler. “Tom Murnane wasn’t playing today, Shane Brick wasn’t there, two huge losses, top-class players even at the highest level, but the young fellas did very well, so enthusiastic. This was our second Christy Ring final in a row; we should have won last year but were caught by a lack of experience. We finally put two good halves together, which we hadn’t done all year; we finished well, saved our best hurling ‘til last really — that was a real plus.”
Scorers for Kerry: D O’Connell 1-10 (0-4f, 0-1 65); S Nolan 0-5; J Egan 1-1; J Griffin, M Boyle, G O’Brien, M Conway, J Flaherty, 0-1 each.
Wicklow: J O’Neill 1-4 (0-3f, 0-1 65); J Quirke 1-1 (0-1f); A O’Brien 0-2; E Glynn 0-1.
KERRY: B Rochford; P O’Grady, J Godley, E Fitzgerald; C Harris, J Casey, A Keane; J Griffin, D Dineen; M Boyle (c), G O’Brien, D O’Connell; J Egan, M Conway, S Nolan.
Subs: J Flaherty for Conway (52); L Boyle for O’Brien (64); J Fitzgerald for E Fitzgerald (69); C Harty for Nolan (69); A Royle for Egan (69).
WICKLOW: W O’Gorman; J Connors, G Keogh, B Cuddihy; S Kelly, L Kennedy, G Birmingham; E Kearns, R Keddy; L Glynn, E Glynn, A O’Brien; D Hyland, J O’Neill (c), T Doyle.
Subs: J Quirke for Doyle (35); E O’Neill for Connors (41); W Collins for Bermingham (59); J Murphy for E Glynn (65); E Dunne for Kelly (70).
Referee: G Duffy (Antrim).
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