Premier Intermediate Hurling 2020 Championship County Champions!!

13/09/2020
Premier Intermediate Hurling County Final: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-22 Mungret/St. Paul’s 1-13 

County champions!!!! Kildimo/Pallaskenry are a senior hurling club! It’s been a long time coming but we have made the step up. It’s been a whirlwind few years for the club, with lots of success and this crowns all achievements thus far, with an exciting new chapter to come as our Champion Sliotars-sponsored hurlers make the step up to senior! I will tell you now that this is going to be a long one, so if you want to read it, free up your day and put the kettle on because you might be here a while. Because not all our supporters got to be present; this has been one of the strangest years in human history and it wasn’t your typical county final. Coming into this, people mentioned the word eerie but it wasn’t eerie as the panellists and officials were present nearly lifted the roof off the stand with the noise they made, as few as they were. We have some fantastic supporters, as acknowledged by Kyle Hayes post-match, and obviously, it was a huge disappointment that they couldn’t all be present. Some of them played monumental parts in the journey to lifting this title, this wasn’t a one night event; this has come after years of hard work. It was great that people were able to watch it via stream but this report will also provide a blow-by-blow of what it felt like to be there because it was a special night! 
The match itself was typical final fare; tight, tense, hard-fought with some sublime bits of skill from both sides, errors from players and plenty of hard work. Credit must go to Mungret/St. Paul’s, they delivered a fine performance, had the better of things during many sectors of the game and pushed us all the way. The teams were level on nine separate occasions during the match but in the end, there was no stopping the blue and white wave, and the flurry in the final quarter, in the Championship minutes, proved vital! The hurt of last year’s county final defeat after a replay to Blackrock was probably a factor; we were absolutely devastated after that defeat and nobody wanted to repeat that in 2020. We knew that we were good enough and it was just about finding a performance to deliver on that potential.
It was never going to be like the semi-final where a spectacular display of firepower saw us rack up 3-20. Mungret had defeated us in the opening group match and had dug out a victory with the last puck of the game. They had done a very good job at limiting our undoubted attacking talent and they did so again in this encounter. The pitch was in perfect condition but the low sun and strong breeze were major factors in the first half. We played into the sun which was absolutely blinding due to its trajectory, while we also played against the strong breeze and Mungret utilised the wind very well on their puckout.

The game started at a frenetic pace, with 10 scores inside the first 13 minutes with hits flying in from all angles. We had a chance straight from throw-in when Kyle Hayes got running at goal but he was hauled down, but unfortunately Liam Griffin’s free went just wide. But Liam had a chance to make amends only moments later after Darren O’Connell brilliantly won a turnover and was then fouled. Liam slotted the free over the bar for the opening score! Mungret tagged on the game’s first point from play when their corner-forward raced in down the left and when the referee saw a foul on the ’21, their freetaker, Paul O’Brien gave them the lead. We responded immediately as Kyle broke the puckout down to Darren, who was fouled for the second time; Liam again fired the free over the bar to level things again.
Mungret opened a two-point lead when they scored two frees in quick succession with the referee, John O’Halloran, just trying to lay down the law as heavy hits went in from both sides. But again, the response came. Barry O’Connell and Conor Staff worked really hard down the right touchline before the ball was turned over but Darren, again, brilliantly won it back and popped it outside for Kyle and the team captain fired over our opening point from play. Mungret tagged on another free to restore their two-point lead but we would seen hit back with a quickfire double. Cathal Downes burst out of defence and linked up with Shaun Barry with a clever handpass; Shaun looked up and split the posts from distance to reduce the gap before a brilliant team score levelled the game. Mungret missed a from distance and John Chawke quickly found his intercounty football colleague, Tony McCarthy, in the centre-back position. Tony, as he always does, got his head up and picked out a pass to Barry O’Connell. Barry performed his trademark step back inside to find himself acres of space and he lofted the ball between the posts; capping off a wonderful team move. It was 0-5 apiece with less than 13 minutes played and that would continue into the water break and beyond; the next 10 minutes would be brutally tough intensity-wise, but with no scores from either side.

Kevin O’Connell powered into the game during this period; he showed moments of genuine class as he beat his man time and time again. He had been tasked with picking up a real dangerman, but as ball after ball went into his corner; Kevin emerged on top on every occasion with blocks, tackles and just brilliant positioning. Corner-backs don’t always get the credit they deserve but Kevin delivered a performance for the ages on one of the biggest stages of all. But there was unbelievable work rate from players all over the pitch; we would rack up in excess of 100 tackles over the course of the hour, an absolutely phenomenal total! Cathal Downes turned the ball over high up the pitch but his shot went just wide of the post. Pressure from the likes of Luke O’Keeffe, Cían Hayes and Cathal saw Mungret hit a couple of wides on the trot before Kevin again forced a wide from out on the touchline. John Chawke then brilliantly took down a ball from just above the crossbar to keep the sides level. But Mungret were also producing some fine work rate: Darren O’Connell did really to well to find Shaun Barry who found himself in a bit of space to give us the hint of a goal chance. But Mungret scrambled back well to get a block on Shaun’s shot. Paudi Hartigan then set up Cathal Downes, rampaging forward from wing-back but his shot was also blocked  out for a ’65 but unfortunately, Liam’s effort went just wide of the post.

A score had been a long time coming but the intensity and ferocity of the game was still very enjoyable to watch before a clever sideline from Barry O’Connell in front of his namesake, Darren, saw Darren pick the ball brilliantly before being fouled, yet again and Liam converted the free. We went two to the good when he put together another sublime team move, moving the ball from backs to forwards with ease. Tony McCarthy again picked up the loose ball, he found Peter Nash with a little pass, who then moved it on to Lorcan O’Leary. Lorcan’s delivery inside was excellently won by Darren O’Connell, who offloaded it to Kyle, who struck it over the bar on the angle! But Mungret struck back immediately from the puckout before they would have the hint of a goal chance. They attacked down the right flank, there were some good tackles by Kevin and then, Luke O’Keeffe before the ball was flicked across goal but Barry O’Connell, back from centre-forward, was there to make a crucial intervention. But John O’Halloran had been playing an advantage and Mungret levelled things up with the close-range free. 

Barry had just made a crucial intervention at one end; he would follow this up instantly with a magnificent score at the other. We had scored a couple of fantastic team points but this was certainly the individual score of the match to date. John Chawke directed the puckout towards Kyle; Barry cleverly read the break in behind; travelled down the right touchline and from way out on the wing, with a little flick of the wrists, sent the ball soaring between the uprights. It was a sensational score, the response to which made it sound like it was a packed house in Limerick GAA headquarters rather than behind closed doors. But Mungret again hit back immediately through their own centre-forward to level the game coming into half-time. There was still time for more excitement as the half finished as frenetically as it had begun. A passage of play continued for four or five minutes without the ball going dead; during which the likes of Shaun Barry, Conor Staff, Kyle Hayes, Darren O’Connell, Tony McCarthy and Peter Nash all put in massive hits. 

Both sides had chances to score and eventually, under pressure, a Mungret player lofted the ball high but it dropped short. John Chawke didn’t catch it cleanly first-time and there were hearts in mouths as the ball rolled precariously towards the goal. But the coolest man in Caherdavin was Mr. Chawke as he strolled back towards his own goal, roll-lifted the sliotar and got the pass away. Certainly the kind of composure that only years of experience can bring! This left the half-time score: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-8 Mungret/St. Paul’s 0-8.

The sun had gone down, the lights were now on and the breeze had dropped which meant that the conditions advantages were no longer really a factor for the second half. We began the second half excellently; Kyle and Shaun Barry pressured a Mungret from the throw-in and then forced him to throw the ball, which was penalised by John O’Halloran. Liam Griffin nailed the free from midfield with consummate ease. Two minutes into the second half saw the game’s only goal; and it didn’t go our way. A couple of 50/50 breaks around the middle of the field went the way of our opponents and eventually a ball was lofted from the right touchline to the edge of the square where intercounty footballer, Pat Begley, was lurking. He had been by far Mungret’s biggest attacking threat and he proved so again when he caught the ball clean, stepped back inside and dispatched to the back of the net under John Chawke!

It was a blow, certainly, but we responded in admirable fashion and maybe this was an area where the learnings from last year’s county final defeat took hold. Crucially, Kevin O’Connell again forced a wide immediately after which would have given Mungret the chance to go three clear; nobody had had a lead of more than two points thus far. But it would be the most inexperienced man on the pitch, the man who hadn’t even made his Championship debut when these sides met in the group stages, Paudi Hartigan, who would lead the charge over the next few minutes. Again, a Barry O’Connell sideline created the opportunity; Paudi read it brilliantly, turned, and flicked the ball over the bar on the angle. He then had a chance to level things but his shot dropped just short before he surged away from his marker and was fouled; Liam Griffin levelling the game up within five minutes of conceding the goal. In some aspects, we were getting totally on top during this period; the intercounty football duo of Peter Nash and Tony McCarthy were getting on huge amounts of ball in the middle third to launch attacks, and Barry O’Connell inspirationally tracked back 60+ metres to force the Mungret midfielder to strike the ball wide to keep the scores level.

Mungret would hit the front with the next score but then struck the upright with a free and on those small margins, games can be won or lost, Mungret were very unfortunate not to see the ball creep inside the post. Cían Hayes then did excellently to push Begley away from goal when he looked threatening again and Peter Nash completed the job when he made a vital interception on the pass. We turned defence into attack and although the ball was lost; Barry O’Connell was able to get a block on the clearance from the Mungret wing-back. Barry was also quickest to react and he picked the loose ball and fired over on the run from out on the left wing to level things again. And Barry would follow this up with another point in very quick succession. Lorcan O’Leary did brilliantly to intercept in our defence; he transferred the ball onto Shaun Barry who found Barry again with a really clever pass. With the form Barry was in, he was never going to miss; he fired over his fourth point from play and in a matter of moments, we had retaken the lead! But Mungret hit back almost immediately; although the likes of Shaun Barry put in a number of good tackles, they were just able to get the ball for the equalising score. But the work rate was still really good, the attitude was right and we knew that if we persisted, things would go our way. Darren then did really well to win the puckout but just like Mungret had seen a few moments previously, he struck the upright with his shot and would have to wait a little longer for his opening score of the day.

Mungret retook the lead after intercepting a clearance from our defence, a well-taken score from the middle of the field before Kyle Hayes stood up to deliver an absolutely inspirational score. Kyle had been crowded many times throughout the encounter but won a puckout out on the right touchline when found by John Chawke. He was surrounded by three opposition players but took the ball down the touchline before unleashing a shot off his right side from way out on the wing which travelled and travelled over the bar. It was an incredible score to level things at the second half water break. The game was tight, it was tense, it was hard-hitting. Up to this point, the teams had been level on nine occasions. There had been nothing separating them. But with fifteen minutes to go, our players got together at the water break and resolved to leave nothing out on the pitch. 

In those final fifteen minutes after the water break, we would outscore our opponents by eight points to two. We would finally unleash the scoring potential that we knew we had; but that came from the work rate and markers that had been laid down in the first 45 minutes. We had sown the seeds of victory; now it was time to reap the rewards. It was another team move that gave us the chance to move head. John Chawke picked out Lorcan O’Leary on the wing; Lorcan found the pass to Kyle who had moved deeper at this point; Kyle delivered a superb ball inside to Darren O’Connell who took on his man as he always does. The arm of the Mungret full-back slid up around Darren’s neck and the referee had no option but to award a free. With Liam Griffin having been replaced by Ruairí Maher at this point; the freetaking duties fell to Shaun Barry and it his first free was by no means an easy one and even had to suffer the disruption of having it moved five metres to the right. But there was ice in the veins of the 20-year-old as he slotted the free coolly over the crossbar to give us the lead.

That was the start of it and we would not let up until the final whistle. A touch of class from Barry O’Connell in the middle of the field saw him set up Kyle Hayes and although his shot flew wide; the two would link up directly from the puckout to give us a two-point lead. This time Kyle would turn provider as he intercepted the Mungret puckout and kept his head to find Barry ahead of him in space. Barry jinked inside, away from his marker, leaving him for dead and stroked the ball over the bar for his fifth point from play. To score 0-5 from play in any match is some achievement; to do it in a county final under the pressure and expectation from all and sundry is just phenomenal. Barry led by example throughout with work rate, scores and the creation of chances; it was simply a joy to watch him play on the night.
Mungret hit back with a pointed free after Kyle and Peter Nash were adjudged to have committed a foul but again, the level of work rate was simply off the charts and we could feel the momentum building as we won ball after ball in our backline. Conor Staff had worked his socks off throughout and he was quickest to a loose ball, and released a quick shot which dropped just over the crossbar. Mungret subs had scored a couple of points but none had as much of an impact as Ruairí Maher. Ruairí was certainly the key figure in the closing quarter of an hour as he popped up everywhere. His ability to find space caused absolute mayhem in the Mungret defence. He also tracked back into this own half and got a few tackles in, and Mungret hit a couple of wides in quick succession which could have clawed the margin back. But the momentum was now firmly in our favour and when John’s puckout to Barry was broken down; Ruairí was there to pick up the break and his snapshot from the left wing flew straight between the uprights. This was the first time during the game that either side had a lead of three points and we weren’t going to stop there. Ruairí himself would extend that lead moments later with his second point in a minute. Tony McCarthy did brilliantly to recover the ball in defence, he found Kyle Hayes; again Kyle got his head up and found the perfect pass. Ruairí had made his run from the left touchline right across the width of the pitch to the right touchline and the result was exactly the same. White flag raised and a four point lead! 

Cían Hayes and Lorcan O’Leary both made some big interventions in defence; a block by Lorcan stopped a potential goal chance before Barry delivered a great ball into attack for Darren. Although Mungret won the ball back, their midfielder fouled the ball while emerging from defence due to pressure and Shaun slotted the free straight over the black spot. Mungret were chasing goals but that Lorcan block was probably as close as they came. They hit another point as the clock moved past 60 minutes and into stoppage time. We were fighting desperately for every ball, however, and Barry O’Connell slid in to win a 50/50 which would lead to a score. Kevin picked up the break, laid it off to Peter Nash who picked out Ruairí, again finding space. Ruairí was cool as a breeze, and let the ball off to Darren O’Connell who fired over off his left side. Darren had tormented the full-back line all day long but this was his first score. He had had a hint of a goal chance earlier when he won the ball in behind his marker but the ball slipped from his grasp before he could dispatch a finish. He had won a number of frees and laid off a number of passes but our top scorer for the year was not going to be held scoreless on county final day! 

Darren’s score gave us a five-point lead and time was ticking away. We conceded a 20 metre free on a slight angle and although the shot went on goal; John directed his defence and made the save with ease before clearing away to Barry O’Connell. Again, Barry stepped back inside before delivering crossfield for the man in space, once again it was Ruairí Maher. Ruairi was cool as a cucumber, running almost diagonally across the pitch to draw the man before releasing the handpass. The other substitute, Jack O’Keeffe, received the pass and made absolutely no mistake with his shot, splitting the uprights. This would be the final score of the game; Jack became our ninth different scorer on the day and brought our total tally to 0-22. Shortly after, John O’Halloran blew the final whistle and the scenes of joy erupted.
Though the game was played behind closed doors; there was no lessening in the outpouring of emotion at full-time. This was for more than just the players and management present; this was for all the parish. It was not a one-day thing or even a one-season thing. A huge amount of work went in to making this possible, going back years in both sides of the parish. From the Bord na nÓg coaches who trained every one of these players; past management teams who laid the foundations for this success, particularly over the past few years as we have gone from strength-to-strength; from club officials who allow things to run as smoothly as possible; from supporters and other club people who drive teams on at all grades to the players themselves, who have bettered themselves year on year, season and season and have got the rewards they deserve! Kildimo and Pallaskenry have been playing together at the adult grade since 2012, officially unifying as of 2016 and we have seen success after success in that time.
Credit must go to the management team on the day, however. Natal O’Grady came in as manager/coach and had a very distinct way that he wanted to play based upon the players we have, and that was very clear from our performance in the final. He was ably assisted by great clubmen in Darragh Hayes, Jim Maher and John Barry who put a mountain of work in this year. Éanna McGarrigle also helped out with the stats and performance analysis side of things, while in Mark Melbourne, we have as good a physio as is around. Legends like Danny O’Sullivan and Brendan O’Shea were also heavily involved in the backroom and although Roger Ryan didn’t get to play Championship hurling, his insight was also crucial in the backroom. Darren O’Shea was team liaison and one of these key for just making operations run smoothly day-to-day, week-to-week. And what can we say about the legendary Alan Fitzgerald; the heartbeat of the club, man who just exudes passion for the club at every match where it be a Premier Intermediate final our an U-6 blitz. Alan celebrated a big birthday this year and was probably more affect than most by the cancellation of games at that time. Well, the games have returned and there is no better belated birthday gift for Alan than a Premier Intermediate title and a voyage to the Senior Championship!
There are countless others who could be mentioned; the club executive of Michael McMahon, Niall Kelly and Sean Cuddihy made our lives very very easy due to the hours they put in and there are many, many others who made contributions, both big and small. I am not going to name everyone but would also like to sincerely thank the Daly family and Champion Sliotars for their continued sponsorship of the team. This victory would not have been possible without you and the club is going in bright new directions for 2021 and beyond. 

On a final note, the club would like to congratulate the players, management and backroom time on a magnificent win and a magnificent season; they have done the club proud. What a game! What a night! What a season! Hon the parish! Cill Díoma/Pailís Chaonraí abú!

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, 0-2 frees), Barry O’Connell (0-5), Liam Griffin (0-5, 0-5 frees); Darren O’Connell (0-1), Kyle Hayes (0-3), Paudi Hartigan (0-1)
Subs: Ruairí Maher (0-2) for Liam Griffin (40 mins); Jack O’Keeffe (0-1) for Paudi Hartigan (57 mins)
Bench: James Mason, Adam Butler, Aaron O’Donovan, Keel Moloney, Jai Chaudri, James Pomeroy, Micheal Cuddihy
Extended Panel: Darragh O’Brien, Martin Nunan, Mikey Dillon, Naoise McGarrigle, Jack Mullane, Brendan Meskell, Luke Guinane, Matthew Lucey