By Mark Jones
Galway 2-15, Kilkenny 1-15
Galway booked their place in the National Hurling League final against Tipperary when a bizarre injury-time goal by Alan Kerins settled the issue at the Gaelic Grounds.
The scores were level when a low cross by Mark Kerins had the Kilkenny defense in a state of disarray. Still, no permanent damage seemed to have been inflicted when Alan Kerins’ miss-hit shot rolled gently toward the line, but somehow the ball deceived everyone including a red-faced goalkeeper, Johnny Butler, and that was that.
It was an important win for Galway, not just because the Connacht county can now boast a second final appearance in four seasons, but because they are sure of competitive action until mid-May.
"I’m delighted to be in the final," manager Mattie Murphy said. "We needed to win that game. But let no one go away with the notion that we’re thinking we have the perfect team. We know we don’t."
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Certainly, Murphy will have noted the way Kilkenny’s Charlie Carter bemused cornerback Padraig Kelly and there also were subdued attacking contributions from Eugene Cloonan and Kevin Broderick, although Cloonan bagged an important 1-3 despite an off-color day.
Kilkenny were two points clear at the changeover thanks mainly to a superbly taken goal by Carter. He was in the right place to gather Eamonn Kennedy’s long free and his bullet shot from the narrowest of angles found the target.
Both teams had their moments in the second half and when Henry Shefflin struck his eighth point near the end, Kilkenny seemed to be on their way to the decider. But then Alan Kerins intervened.
"It was a messy way to lose, but I wouldn’t say I’m fierce disappointed," said Kilkenny’s manager, Brian Cody. "We’ve had a good League campaign and I’m happy enough."
Tipperary 0-19, Clare 1-15
As dress rehearsals go, this National Hurling League semifinal at the Gaelic Grounds certainly had its merits, but both camps knew only too well that it wasn’t the real thing. Five weeks from now, when Tipp and Clare go for the jugular in white-heat of the Munster championship, all will be revealed.
Typically, there was some more shadow-boxing from Ger Loughnane and Clare. With the contest still very much in the balance, both midfielders Ollie Baker and Colin Lynch were called ashore. Strangely, the normally animated Loughnane never left his seat on the sideline during the hour.
"It was a good appetizer for June 6," reflected the Clare manager. "It wasn’t championship-pace stuff out there." Despite Tipp’s qualification for the final, their coach, Nicky English, was being equally guarded. "Clare will still be favorites for the All-Ireland, even after that," he said.
So, what did we learn? For starters, Tipperary’s Tommy Dunne has emerged as a key man in English’s new order. Last Sunday, he was a match-winner in every way with a total of 12 points that included four 65s and two glorious sideline cuts.
Equally, Declan Carr’s return from the anonymity of Dublin intermediate hurling to the big time has been a success and there was also an impressive performance from Declan Ryan who got the better of the usually imperious Sean McMahon.
Tipp were good value for their victory. They played with more intensity, and even though they trailed by 1-7 to 0-8 at the interval, five scores early in the second half from Dunne (2), Carr, Brian O’Meara and Ryan gave them a 0-17 to 1-10 advantage.
Clare had grabbed a goal early on when Ronan O’Hara latched onto Lynch’s dropping ball to belt his shot home with an overhead stroke. Toward the end, the possibility of a draw loomed large as Clare got back on level terms with points by Jamesie O’Connor, Niall Gilligan and O’Hara, but fittingly it was the excellent Dunne who fired over the decisive score a minute from time.
You got the feeling that both teams were glad at being spared a replay. There are still a few tactical secrets to be saved for the big championship day in June.
There was action in the lower echelons of the National Hurling League and Derry kept up their drive for promotion from Div. 2 when they hammered Westmeath, 3-13 to 0-6, at Cusack Park. Wicklow also kept their hopes alive by retaining top spot along with Derry when they edged out Meath by 1-13 to 1-12.
Roscommon trail the leading pair by just a point following their 1-16 to 0-10 victory over Tyrone, while Kildare defeated Monaghan by 4-5 to 2-8 with three goals in the closing minutes. London and Carlow played out a 2-15 to 3-12 draw.
Also, Mayo opened up a two-point gap at the top of Div. 3 when they got the better of Longford by 3-18 to 0-6 and Sligo remained in contention following their facile 6-23 to 1-8 romp against Donegal. Armagh prolonged their unbeaten run when they drew with Cavan 1-3 to 0-6.