Premier Intermediate Hurling Championship Semi-Final

Kildimo Pallaskenry 0-13 Garryspillane 1-14. 

Sadly, our Championship season came to an end in Kilmallock in what were absolutely dismal conditions. Torrential rain on a sopping wet pitch made the game into a real dogfight, and although our players battled to the very end, things didn’t go our way. Conditions were tough and we only had 14 players for the majority of the game, but credit to Garryspillane, they battled hard and were just able to keep their noses in front on the scoreboard.

Playing against the wind in the first half, we knew that it was unlikely that we were going to rack up big scores and Garryspillane were getting a foothold deep in our half with their puckouts. It was our opponents who settled the quicker, launching a few shots from out on the wings in the early stages, and converting two. But we eased our way into the game, fighting hard in the middle third, and our first score from the stick of Conor Staff, who continued his run of scoring form with a nice score from out the field. This was followed by a free won in the midfield area by blood sub, Liam Griffin, who was only briefly on the field. But it was an excellent contribution as John Chawke landed the free to level the game.

A ’65 converted by Garryspillane was followed by an excellent point from play for Kyle Hayes, who was fouled on his way through on goal but didn’t need the advantage and struck between the uprights. We then took the lead for the first time when Adam Butler fired over his first free of the game. But when Garryspillane scored a free of their own, we were deadlocked at four points apiece. We would then receive a blow as centre-forward, Ruairí Maher, was forced off with an injury just 18 minutes into the game and was replaced by Liam Griffin. At this point, both sides were working very hard. We had to work that bit harder against the wind to work the ball into shooting situations but the non-stop rain made things really difficult for both sides as the pitch really began to cut up. Kevin O’Connell was having a really great battle with his direct opponent, while the likes of Peter Nash and Barry O’Connell were battling hard to get on ball in the middle third.

But Garryspillane had their purple patch over the next five minutes as they reeled off a couple of scores on the trot. Again, the wind meant a lot of the game was being played in our half and there was no easy out ball due to the conditions; it really was not a game for corner-forwards on either side. But the constant pressure meant they were able to buy a couple of frees in a row and opened up a two-point lead. This was followed by what would be the decisive score of the game; a ball was played from the left wing towards the edge of the square and was won by their full-forward who was able to offload to the incoming player who fired low past John into the bottom corner. It gave Garryspillane a 5-point lead, which was significant in the conditions but there was no real panic from our players; we knew that with the wind that we definitely had the potential to get the scores we need. However, the goal was followed by a red card to Kyle Hayes and this double whammy meant we would really have to dig deep.

But the lads finished out the half well, Adam Butler scored another free which was the first score after the goal and red card. John Chawke then launched another free from distance over the bar; our two points sandwiched another point for our opponents. Garryspillane did manage to get another crucial score before the break which left the score at half-time: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-6 Garryspillane 1-8.

It was a difficult, yet not insurmountable lead but the gauntlet had been thrown down and our lads had to rise to the challenge. And that they did; they battled to the bitter end, fought for every fifty-fifty ball and can be very proud of their efforts against the odds. We started the second half well, again it was Conor Staff who opened our account in the half, a fantastic score from out the field, his 10th point in this Championship campaign, an excellent return. But Garryspillane sat deep, they did not want to allow us to get goals and even with the wind, the efforts in trying work a scoring opportunity was immense. Despite our good start to the half, we then hit a wide or two and Garryspillane halted our momentum and then began to reel off scores of their own. Primarily through frees, they punished every discretion and each one halted our momentum and sucked a little bit of confidence away, as they opened up an 8-point lead.

The fact that we responded to these setbacks, and dominated the last 20 minutes is a testament to the character of the team and they really did make Garryspillane worry. There were some outstanding individual displays but really this was a team effort; the players worked their socks off for each other. Our full-back line really began to clean up, Tony McCarthy is as safe a full-back as plays club hurling in this county. There was an absolute incredible display from Luke O’Keeffe at corner-back. This is a player in his first season of Championship hurling, someone who is still minor and he really came of age in the biggest game of his career; he was simply immense. He fought tooth and nail for every ball and won the vast majority of them; and a particular highlight was when a chance opened up for a second Garryspillane goal, they had an overlap but Luke brilliantly cut off both options at once, forcing the man in possession to make a decision; he went for the shot, Luke had cut off the angle and allowed John make the save. Lorcan O’Leary also thundered into the game in the second half but in defence and attack; he won a lot of aerial ball and carried it into the heart of the Garryspillane defence. There were big turnovers won by Liam Griffin, Shaun Barry, Barry O’Connell, Keel Moloney and Jack O’Keeffe as we took the game to Garryspillane.

John landed another free to cut the gap to 7 and then we were awarded a free about 25 metres out on a slight angle. Up came John, a player who has scored 2 Championship goals this season, but his piledriver of an effort was deflected just over the bar by the crowd of men on the line. Garryspillane then hit a free of their own to extend the advantage but scoring opportunities did not come their way often in the second half. But it was also clear that they were not going to give up a goal chance easily, they sat deep, crowded out the goal area and were happy to concede frees rather than a goal chance. But we began to grab hold of the momentum and slowly eat into that lead. Barry O’Connell landed a free to cut the gap to six points and then we saw serious impact from the bench from Jack O’Keeffe. Jack has been a superb addition to the panel this year, a real asset as he has continuously popped up with scores whether starting or from the bench. With his first touch, he spun away from his marker and landed a great point from play, made even better by the difficult conditions.

He would also get the next score: first of all, he brilliantly won the ball cleanly, then again he slipped away from his marker with a little spin and landed the ball just inside the uprights. Jack also won two frees in his time on the pitch, a really excellent contribution. The gap was now just four points, and when Barry nailed a close-in free, it was just three. A goal would have levelled matters but sadly, that was the one thing that Garryspillane were not going to let us have easily. Conor Staff was denied after a powerful run, the likes of Lorcan O’Leary, Darren O’Connell and Jack O’Keeffe opened up the defence at times but as we were down a man, Garryspillane always seemed to have numbers to swarm in defence. When they landed another free to open the gap out to 4 again, we did have a couple more opportunities but both Barry O’Connell and John Chawke had frees stopped on the line by the crowd of Garryspillane defenders. Sadly, that was it; the referee blew the final whistle and thus ended our first ever Premier Intermediate Hurling Championship campaign.

I think that everyone in the parish can be proud of these players; the efforts in what were truly awful conditions against the odds were just superb. I think that we definitely have the talent in this group to become a senior club. Of the 18 players that featured yesterday, just two are 30 or over and 12 are under 25. There is still room for growth and improvement and you have to remember this is the first time to club has ever competed at this grade; the players will learn from the experience and come back stronger. Don’t get me wrong, it was terribly disappointing to come out on the wrong side of the result but the players left nothing out there and that is all that we can ask. It’s been a long year for the players; they have been training since January and had to deal with a run of matches over the last number of weeks but have played some superb hurling, racked up some big scores and given us some great memories. So thanks to all the players for their efforts, and best of luck to those involved with the football team, they can still come away with a county title this year.

We must also thank the management team: Chris Sexton has led this team over the past number of years and I think it is plain to see how the team has come on in leaps and bounds under his tutelage. As a coach, mentor and organiser; he has put in a serious effort and that is reflected in the performance of his team; the club would really like to thank Chris for that.

Thanks also to Damien Gillane who came in as a coach this year. Again, we may have won a county title last year but Premier Intermediate is a completely different level and Damien helped us adapt and we were able to compete with the very best. A superb coach with a great hurling brain, thanks Damien for all your efforts.

To the selectors: Padraig Daly, Jim Maher,Pat Enright ,and Éanna McGarrigle; again the efforts these men have put in cannot go unmentioned. Great servants of the club, they have put in a serious amount of hours this season to try and get the team to the level that they were competing at. Perhaps sometimes, their contribution is not as visible but they all played their part in how this team is set up, how it lines out as well as tactical changes midgame; thanks to all!

We also must acknowledge the legendary Alan Fitzgerald, the most passionate man in the parish who has stuck by the team through thick and thin, always there to lend a hand and to drive the team on! John Sheehan and Justin Daly have done great work over the course of the year in getting team’s physical fitness right and again, we looked in fantastic shape when it came to the business end of the season and other teams started to flag. We must also thank to Paudie Ivess and Donal O’Brien for helping out on matchday as physio and first aid respectively, your efforts are much appreciated!

For a small rural club, we are blessed to have such great support and we have had great numbers all through the year. You have made yourselves heard and don’t think that your support isn’t appreciated; it has driven us on in difficult circumstances. There are some faces that have been almost ever-present at our matches, who have travelled to every corner of the county in support of the lads whether it be a challenge match, league match or championship and I’d particularly like to thanks those: the likes of Pat Hayes, Mary Moloney, Tony O’Brien, John and Cian Barry, Gary Dillon, Niall and Ross Kelly and Dylan Moloney who are just some among many who have followed this team all the way. And also, a huge thanks to our sponsors : Daly Champion Hurley’s Ltd / Team Car Flag Ireland Ltd / Champion Sliotars / Padraig Daly and DJ Daly have backed the team all year long between training under lights, food after matches, equipment and thousands of sliotars, we appreciate your support!

Team: John Chawke (0-4, frees); Luke O’Keeffe, Tony McCarthy, Kevin O’Connell; Bob McKeogh, Lorcan O’Leary, Keel Moloney; Conor Staff (0-2), Peter Nash; Kyle Hayes (0-1), Ruairí Maher, Barry O’Connell (0-2, frees); Darren O’Connell, Cían Hayes, Adam Butler (0-2, frees)

Subs: Liam Griffin for Bob McKeogh (4-5 mins, blood sub); Liam Griffin for Ruairi Maher (18 mins); Jack O’Keeffe (0-2) for Adam Butler (38 mins); Shaun Barry for Cían Hayes (48 mins)