U-21 Premier Hurling Championship 2019

Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-9 Ahane 0-17

The club’s first ever foray into the Premier grade of the U-21 Hurling Championship ended in disappointment on a blustery night in Knocklong as, after a very strong first-half display, our opponents roared back into contention to take the two points for the win.

We had a very bright start and played some superb hurling in the first half, as we took control of the contest in the middle third of the field. Indeed, our first score came from a wing-back foraging forward and was evidence of our dominance in this area. A sideline from Liam Griffin was collected by Conor Staff, and he was able to pick out Luke O’Keeffe in space in an advanced position and he drove over the opening score. We quickly followed this up, as another wing-back, James Pomeroy, fed Conor Staff who turned and split the uprights. Ahane did respond with a couple of quickfire points of their own, but we were making them work for their scores and were beginning to exert some dominance in our backline.

After Shaun Barry was fouled in the right half-forward position, Liam Griffin stepped over the free and sent us back into the lead. He would follow this up with a lovely score from play; he was picked out with a clever pass by Dylan Corrigan and fired over on the run from out the field. The lead was extended to three points after Steven O’Brien was fouled as he ran at the defence, and again Liam converted the free. At this point, we were motoring well and although Ahane would get the next score, we would come back with two more of our own. There had been a lot of work done by our half-forward line in the first 15 minutes of the game, but more ball started to head into our full-forward line as the half progressed and Adam Butler made the most of that, with an immaculate touch to get away from his marker, before sending his shot straight over the black spot. Shaun Barry was getting through a huge amount of work and he turned provider again when he picked out Conor Staff, who again unleashed a shot to give us a 0-7 to 0-3 lead.

It was a well-deserved lead, but one which we were looking to increase as we did have a slight advantage with the wind in the first half. We conceded a couple of soft frees which gave Ahane a bit of a foothold, as they reduced the gap to just two but again we responded in fashion. Shaun Barry stood over a sideline out on the right wing and cut it beautifully over the bar, a magnificent score before Liam Griffin drove forward from centre-back and effortlessly sent the ball over the bar from way out the field. At this point, it looked as if we would kick on and open up a lead before half-time but credit to Ahane, they dug their heels in, fought for every ball and eked out the scores before the break. Again, frees helped them as they slowly began eating into our lead before the break and this time, we weren’t able to respond which meant the half-time score was: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-9 Ahane 0-9.

It was a slight blow to the confidence going in level at the break despite having been the better team on the balance of play and we knew we were in for a battle in the second half. But it was a different Ahane side that emerged for the second half; they played with renewed energy and seemed to be able to find space that bit easier than they had in the first half. They tagged on a couple of early scores to take the lead for the first time in the game. The soft pitch underfoot made it difficult for both sets of players, with numerous tussles on the ground and hard-fought rucks. Bit-by-bit, Ahane began to edge further into the lead; 4 frees in a row between the 32nd and 45th minutes gave them a decent advantage.

Unlike the first half, our half-forward line were finding it difficult to get the ball in hand to take on their defenders and the Ahane full-back line dealt admirably with some of the high balls into the full-forward line. As the lead started to increase, we began to chase goals but were faced with an impassive Ahane rearguard. A number of dangerous frees were floated in around the square but we couldn’t manage to get the ball over the line. An incisive run from James Pomeroy saw him get some space but his shot was blocked and deflected away. Naoise McGarrigle then also had a shot blocked which fell to Jai Chaudri, whose effort was also half-blocked and stopped agonisingly short of the line in a goalmouth scramble, before being cleared to safety.

Down the other end, James Mason stood tall to make a couple of excellent reaction saves but Ahane were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over enough meaning that, without the goal, the comeback was not on. Our lads fought bravely to the end but sadly, the victory went to our opponents who were deserving winners particularly on the basis of their second-half performance. It was the first time the club have competed at this grade and there was by no means a gulf in class. The lads competed very well and the scoreline probably doesn’t reflect their performance; but it does show there is very little margin for error at this level. These are a hugely-talented group of players who will learn from this, and they are out in action again next Tuesday night; the games are coming thick and fast!

Team: James Mason; Jack Mullane, Mikey Hayes, Darragh O’Brien; James Pomeroy, Liam Griffin (0-4, 0-2 frees), Luke O’Keeffe (0-1); Steven O’Brien, Dylan Corrigan; Shaun Barry (0-1, sideline), Conor Staff (0-2), Cathal Downes, Paudi Hartigan, Naoise McGarrigle, Adam Butler (0-1)

Subs: Jai Chaudri for Steven O’Brien; Mícheál Cuddihy for Adam Butler; Matthew Lucey for Paudi Hartigan