Category: Archive

Top Cats: Kilkenny take hurling title

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

Kilkenny 5-15, Offaly 1-14

For D.J. Carey, there haven’t been too many final days like this one. Brilliant and all as the m’stro has been for the last 10 years, he still had to really do it in Croke Park in September. But now, any doubts have been dispelled. Kilkenny tore Offaly apart in last Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling decider and Carey was the ingenious catalyst for most of the damage.

A typical goal as early as the seventh minute and a spectacular point from out the field more than an hour later, he bookended a magnificent Kilkenny triumph with a devastating individual performance. On the verge of becoming the first county ever to lose three finals on the trot, Carey and his teammates quickly made sure they would go down in GAA history for a more positive reason.

It wasn’t that Offaly were a pale imitation of the side that had bushwhacked reigning champions Cork in the semi-final. In fact, they hurled on level terms in many areas of the pitch, but once the ball floated in towards Carey and the Kilkenny forwards, the gulf was vast. Carey picked off 2-4 from play, while Henry Shefflin and Charlie Carter each had 1-3. Offaly simply couldn’t live with that sort of finishing as they hit a disappointing 19 wides.

If the winners’ front line were on fire, there were still plenty of glowing embers all the way back to goalkeeper James McGarry. Andy Comerford thundered around midfield to shut out the Offaly threat, and behind him the half-back line of Philly Larkin, Eamon Kennedy and Peter Barry were majestic. John Power showed the sort of enthusiasm and energy that had been lacking in the previous two finals, while Denis Byrne clipped over four stylish points from play.

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"You can never be sure of anything in sport," said manager Brian Cody, "but I knew from the focus and determination that there was an iron will to win this championship."

Cody’s players might have been expected to be edgy based on the deflating experiences of the last two seasons. However, they started and finished with such pace and precision that the result was never really in doubt.

In the end, it was Carey who epitomized Kilkenny’s drive for a 26th Liam McCarthy Cup. Not selected on the GAA’s Hurling Team of the Millennium, and criticized for the occasional underwhelming display on the big day, the Gowran full-forward was a man on a mission as he sliced through the Offaly defense.

Offaly were hoping for some divine intervention as Kilkenny raced into 1-2 to no score lead in the opening minutes. Byrne and Shefflin struck points and then Carey bolted past a couple of defenders to send a rasping shot to the net.

Shefflin then had his shot saved by Niall Claffey right on the line, and Carey was in the right place to fire in the rebound. Offaly tried to get some momentum going, but by now Kilkenny were irresistible. Johnny Dooley’s frees only helped to avoid a complete first-half humiliation as Carey sprinted through yet again and even though Stephen Byrne made a fine stop, Carter swooped on the loose ball for goal number three.

Offaly hadn’t had time to draw breath and the interval scoreboard showed 3-8 to 0-7 – a 10-point margin. Apart from the wides, Michael Duignan had an excellent chance of a goal, but his groundshot was mis-hit wide of the target. "Our shooting was desperate in that first half," Duignan admitted, "and those goals killed us off. We were certainly aware of their forward threat, but we still couldn’t do anything about it."

Nothing had gone right for Offaly, and manager Pat Fleury gambled by switching the subdued Brian Whelahan to the attack for the second half. Whelahan got no change out of the wily Willie O’Connor, and Fleury might have gained more of an advantage if his star turn had been put on the less experienced Noel Hickey. But nothing the losers’ did would probably have changed the course of the game. Kilkenny had already coped with the departure of midfielder Brian McEvoy with a collarbone problem and Canice Brennan had settled in comfortably.

Predictably, their scoring rush slowed somewhat as Offaly battled back with Duignan and Johnny Pilkington making their marks. However, it was Shefflin who killed off any lingering doubts of a revival when he got on the end of Canice Brennan’s long, fast delivery to burst through for the fourth goal and soon the margin was out to a massive 13 points.

"Every time we looked like scoring, or responded with a score, they were back up the field and got another one," said a dejected Fleury. "You can only admire Kilkenny. They were magnificent on the day."

Pilkington managed to steal in for a goal, but Kilkenny replied with three quick points and a goal by substitute Eddie Brennan to wrap up the most one-sided final since Tipperary hammered Antrim in 1989.

There was never going to any great debate over the Man of the Match award and Carey was his usual modest self in acceptance.

"I can’t ask for anything more than I’ve got out of the game," he said. "I’ve played in six All-Irelands and won three, that’s a fair record. I’d love to play in 10 and win five, that would be nice. I retired once, but after days like this, you’d stay going forever."

Carey clearly hasn’t finished, and neither has this Kilkenny team. On last Sunday’s performance, there is more to come.

Kilkenny: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, W. O’Connor; P. Larkin, E. Kennedy, P. Barry; A. Comerford (0-1), B. McEvoy; D. Byrne (0-4), J. Power, J. Hoyne; C. Carter (1-3), D.J. Carey (2-4), H. Shefflin (1-3). Subs: C. Brennan for McEvoy, 28 mins.; E. Brennan (1-0) for C. Brennan, 67 mins.

Offaly: S. Byrne; S. Whelahan, N. Claffey, S. Whelahan; B. Whelahan(0-1), J. Errity, K. Martin; Johnny Dooley (0-8), G. Oakley; J. Pilkington (1-1), G. Hanniffy (0-1), B. Murphy (0-1); M. Duignan, J. Ryan, Joe Dooley (0-1). Subs: D. Franks for Claffey, 45 mins.; J. Troy for Ryan, 48 mins.; P. Mulhare (0-1) for Murphy, 52 mins.

Referee: W Barrett (Tipperary).

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