Premier Intermediate Hurling Championship Semi-Final

Kildimo/Pallaskenry 3-20 Bruff 0-15

Back into a county final! Our Champion Sliotars-sponsored delivered a devastating performance as they powered past Bruff to reach a county final for the second year in succession. Bruff had been very impressive this season, winning all three group games against South rivals and racking up big tallies, but were blitzed in a particularly powerful opening fifteen minutes. We had met Bruff in last year’s semi-final, defeating them after extra-time but it really was the opening quarter which was decisive here. 2020 has been a strange year and Kilmallock was closed to supporters, which is a huge pity for the community, but the victory remains hugely important for the club! The match was streamed live on the Limerick GAA website and can still be purchased for those who wish to watch it.

Although we did dominate the first half, it was Bruff who scored the opening point, a nice snapshot from open play but we would then score the next seven scores without reply. Team captain, Kyle Hayes, delivered a superb performance, notching 1-5 from play but also provided ballwinning ability and produced a series of tackles. Alongside him, Darren O’Connell did similar and also hit 1-4 from play and it was the two intercounty men who linked up for our opening score; Darren winning the ball and laying it off for Kyle to fire over the bar. A superb run from Barry O’Connell down the left wing saw him evade the Bruff defence before popping the ball over. Conor Staff was part of an all-action midfield duo and he delivered a high-octane first-half performance; the highlight being a fine score from play after winning the ball in a crowded space.

Darren got in on the act himself with the next score when he was given too much space, easily stepping inside his man and firing over the bar. When Shaun Barry did really well to intercept a puckout, Kyle Hayes was quickest to react and he fired over for his second point. The crucial score of the half, and arguably the entire game, was the next one and it was a fine team move. Cathal Downes carried the ball out of defence in typically dynamic fashion and delivered a high ball towards the full-forward line. Darren O’Connell was outnumbered inside but competed superbly to break the ball, which Paudi Hartigan read brilliantly. Paudi took the ball to the side and although his ground strike wasn’t the cleanest, it looped up into the air and over the goalkeeper into the back of the net. Paudi is in his debut season with the Premier Intermediate hurlers and that was his first ever Championship goal, and what a one it was to get!

Darren and Paudi linked up again shortly after and could have had a second goal. Darren raced through the middle of the Bruff defence, popped the ball right to Paudi again but it just escaped his grasp as the goalkeeper advanced and Bruff were able to get the ball away to safety. Bruff did hit back with a superb point from distance, against the wind, from their centre-back, Sean Finn, but a quick puckout from John Chawke saw Barry O’Connell collect the ball on the Bruff ’65 in acres of space and the 2018 All-Ireland winner had no problems slotting over the bar. It was a brilliant run by Barry into the space and excellently spotted by John which gave us an eight-point lead at the first water break.

We did have the benefit of the breeze in the first half and Bruff struggled with a couple of frees but eventually Sean Finn landed a monster strike from inside his own half to get the first score after the water break but we responded well. Liam Griffin did well to set Darren O’Connell away; Darren was fouled but referee, Jonathan Hayes, played advantage as he did all afternoon and Darren was able to pop the ball over the bar for his second point. Bruff hit back with a point from play but this would be their last score of the first half and we would round off the half with five scores on the trot! The first of these came from a placed ball, after Kyle Hayes was fouled close to goal. We had won a number of advantages but had made good use of them which meant this was the first time Liam Griffin had an opportunity to strike at goal and he made no mistake. Less than a minute later, he also had his first point from play. Lorcan O’Leary brilliantly won the puckout, he popped the ball back to Tony McCarthy who delivered crossfield to Liam who had moved into space and Liam made no mistake with the strike. Liam made it three-in-a-row when a Luke O’Keeffe sideline made its way up the line as far as Darren, who was again fouled.

The next score was a lovely team move started in our own defence. Our full-back line were rock solid throughout, eating up every ball that went inside while Tony McCarthy was hugely influential in the opening period, picking up a huge amount of loose ball. In this instance, Luke O’Keeffe won the ball back, he found Tony in space, who released Peter Nash to deliver long to the full-forward line. Darren won the ball, turned his man and fired over the bar yet again. The final score was simplicity itself as a pinpoint delivery from John Chawke in goal found Kyle Hayes, who just floated the ball over the bar. This rounded off the opening half scoring and gave us a 12-point lead: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 1-13 Bruff 0-4.

It was always going to be difficult to maintain the savage intensity of the opening half an hour but we did continue the work rate into the second half; however, with the aid of the breeze behind them and pride in the jersey, Bruff did get on top in the third quarter and were certainly more active on the scoreboard. Two frees in the opening minutes gave them a bright start and they followed this up with a nice point from play. We were having a little difficulty securing our own puckouts into the wind, as Bruff had in the first half so when John Chawke picked out Cathal Downes in space, it was imperative to make full use of it. Cathal rampaged down the left wing and then cleverly popped the handpass inside to Barry O’Connell, who had made a superb supporting run, and he fired the ball over the bar to settle us again. Despite this, Bruff would again hit three scores in a row; the first from a free and then two from play. This reduced the gap to seven points but this was as close as they would get and our full-back line were simply not going to let them get a goal: John Chawke, Cían Hayes, Kevin O’Connell and Luke O’Keeffe all made necessary interventions when even the hint of a threat arose, it was really an outstanding display from these men.

We did settle ourselves before the water break again and the work rate was superb in the second half when Bruff had their purple patch, and pressure caused them to hit a few wides. When Darren O’Connell turned the ball over, he was then fouled, and Liam Griffin again stroked the free over the bar. This was followed up by very good play from Kevin O’Connell, who picked out Kyle Hayes, who looked up and fired over the bar from distance, his fifth point from play! Bruff did hit back with a point but then Kyle produced a sensational catch under pressure and although it looked like he was being fouled, he was able to pop a pass through for Shaun Barry who fired over the bar on the run. Shaun was actually the last of our starting forwards to hit the scoresheet, but he would finish with 0-3 and his work rate was top-notch throughout. Bruff did hit another free before the water break but with less than fifteen minutes to go, we held a 1-17 to 0-12 lead.

Our defence was required to step up again as Bruff hunted for a goal after the water break but once again, they stayed on top. Thus far, they have only conceded one goal in four Championship matches, that from a placed ball and are working very well as a unit. The energetic Peter Nash was also everywhere in the second half, making tackles all over the pitch. In a scoring sense, we dominated the final quarter and when Kyle was fouled, Shaun Barry was able to fire the free over the bar. Some great work rate from the likes of Conor Staff saw us win a free in our own half and John Chawke did brilliantly to fire it straight into the path of Darren O’Connell, who swivelled and fired over for his fourth point from play. Kyle and Darren then linked up well, with Darren picking out the run of Shaun Barry with a precise pass. Although he was under severe pressure, Shaun was able to get the shot away, and over the bar. Bruff did hit a few points in a row but the goal they needed never came and we would actually round off the game in style, with our last two scores raising green flags.

The first of these was one of those goals that you have to see to believe, a cheeky effort from Kyle Hayes. Bruff goalkeeper Eric Finn had done well to win the ball and then advanced from goal while looking for pass. He played the pass but Kyle did absolutely brilliantly to get in front and intercept, before winning the ball on the ground. He looked up, saw the goalkeeper off his line, and went for the cheeky lob. It’s not something that you often see in hurling but Kyle, thirty metres out from goal, measured his flick to perfection and it hit the back of the net to bring his tally to 1-5 from play! Our subs all made an impact; Jack O’Keeffe won a couple of vital balls which we used well, Aaron O’Donovan was unlucky not to raise a white flag and Adam Butler made a brilliant catch close to the goal but Ruairí Maher did superbly to create our third goal. He played the initial pass inside to Darren O’Connell but, most importantly, bust his gut in continuing his run to be able to receive a return pass from Darren. He took that pass, drew a man, and popped the ball back outside to Darren. Darren, one-handed, put the ball past the goalkeeper; it took a while but eventually trickled over the line and the umpire raised the green flag to bring his tally to 1-4 from play!

Those two late goals really put the icing on the cake but focus for the team immediately turns to next Sunday evening as we face Mungret/St. Paul’s in the county final in the Gaelic Grounds at 7pm! Our neighbours defeated us by a single point in the group stages and they will surely be eager to maintain that superiority. Our team will be hurting from that defeat and even moreso from the defeat in last year’s county final replay to Blackrock. We have consistently been there or thereabouts among the contenders at the Premier Intermediate grade since our promotion but the players are determined to finally get over the line and make the step up to the senior grade. Best of luck to all players, management and backroom from everyone involved with the club!

Team: John Chawke; Luke O’Keeffe, Cían Hayes, Kevin O’Connell; Lorcan O’Leary, Tony McCarthy, Cathal Downes; Peter Nash, Conor Staff (0-1); Shaun Barry (0-3, 0-1 free), Barry O’Connell (0-3), Liam Griffin (0-4, 0-3 frees); Darren O’Connell (1-4), Kyle Hayes (1-5), Paudi Hartigan (1-0)

Subs: Ruairí Maher for Lorcan O’Leary (45 mins); Jack O’Keeffe for Liam Griffin (47 mins); Aaron O’Donovan for Paudi Hartigan (54 mins); Adam Butler for Kyle Hayes (57 mins)