In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks back at Kilmallock’s All Ireland semi-final win over Down champions Portaferry.
It was mission accomplished for Kilmallock in Mullingar last weekend when they cast aside the tame challenge of Ulster champions Portaferry in the All Ireland semi final.
There was never any doubt about the outcome of this game as Kilmallock were by far the better hurlers and they will now face Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny in the All Ireland final on St Patrick’s Day.
Kilmallock went into the game as favourites but they handled the tag well and from the opening minute they set the foundation for what was a comprehensive victory. The game switch from Thurles to Mullingar might well have resulted in fewer Limerick supporters travelling but the core Kilmallock supporters were there and witnessed a very strong performance.
Referee John Keenan from Wicklow made a few strange decisions in the opening half but I liked the way Kilmallock kept focus and never took their eye off the challenge and the bigger picture. This was a big day for the Kilmallock team, management, club and also Limerick and it’s great to have a team just one hour away from the biggest prize in club hurling. Last Saturday was all about getting the result and securing a place in the final. Kilmallock did that and they now have a clear focus for the final on March 17.
Limerick have never won a club title at senior level despite a few attempts and many in Kilmallock will be mindful of the time they last played in the decider in 1993. This team are well balanced and well managed by Ger O’Loughlin and his backroom team but their minds will now turn to how they can stop hot favourites Ballyhale Shamrocks winning yet another title. To win big games you need players to stand up and show great leadership and in this regard Kilmallock had many last Saturday. Bryan O’Sullivan was outstanding and once again found the target. Paudie O’Brien also hit a ferocious amount of ball while the nimble Graeme Mulcahy and Eoin Ryan moved the ball around like snuff at a wake.
Kilmallock needed to start well to build momentum and it was young Paddy O’ Loughlin that rattled the net inside two minutes, he did well and showed maturity in the way he rounded his man, he received a good pass from Graeme Mulcahy who had also got a well directed hurley pass from Paudie O’Brien.
That set them on the road, they showed a great hungry and work rate in the opening 20 minutes and in reality Portaferry were just not able to match what Kilmallock were dishing up to them.
Portaferry were depending on Paul Braniff to keep them in touch as a result of frees but overall they were never allowed gain a foothold in the game by a well motivated Kilmallock team. Mark and Philip O’Loughlin were in control in defence and I also liked the way Aaron Costello played, he was first to the ball and that takes confidence.
Barry Hennessey was secure and very much in control in the goal and on many occasions his vision played a key part in setting up a number of Kilmallock’s scores. Portaferry improved somewhat in the last ten minutes of the first half which left just five points between the teams at the break. Kilmallock should have got a greater return from their full forward line during the opening half, may be a bit too much high ball was sent in but either way they should have been further ahead at the break.
Any hope of a Portaferry come back was extinguished in the opening minutes of the second half where Kilmallock landed seven points which in effect took the steam out of the game and some of their supporters were already booking the train for Dublin.
Eoin Ryan, Graeme Mulcahy and Kevin O’Donnell sent those points over and by doing so ended the game as a contest. From here on the game lost shape, Kilmallock knew they had done a good day’s work whereas Portaferry were now playing to put a better look on the scoreboard. There was a pretty big gap in first touch and overall technique, it came much more natural to Kilmallock and this was evident when Graeme Mulcahy scored a goal with ten minutes left in the game, he got a cheeky foot pass from Eoin Ryan and Mulcahy planted the sliotar in the back of the net.
For Kilmallock now the attention will turn to Ballyhale who are no strangers to playing and winning at this level. I saw them play a few rounds of the Kilkenny championship and from the very start they made no secret of the fact they wanted to return to winning ways.
Henry Shefflin is the playmaker for them and what a star this man is, he won the first of his 13 all Ireland medals in Tullamore in 1999 and watching their win back over Gort this man is still calling the shots.
Ger O’Loughlin will have to come with a plan to mind Shefflin and others and that will keep him busy for the next few weeks. For now the Kilmallock machine is purring and it would be a brave man that would not give them a serious chance in the All Ireland final.
They know what lies in front of them and few teams and clubs are better equipped to face this challenge.