Senior Hurling Championship 2021 Round 2

Kildimo/Pallaskenry 1-19 Adare 1-21

Heartbreak for our Pallas Plastering/Chill the Beans-sponsored senior hurlers who fell to Adare in Sunday’s Senior Hurling Championship clash in the Gaelic Grounds, and have been denied a place in the county quarter final as a result. The players certainly delivered a performance, they fought to the bitter end but there is bitter disappointment within the group, as they have such high standards of themselves. They will be congratulated for a brave performance but, within the group, they will feel that they had another level within them and that is the thing that will disappointment. Adare did not hit their full flow either; as you would expect in a hard-fought Championship encounter between neighbours, both sides did their best to limit the opposition.

We started really really well and had the better of the opening exchanges. We had a couple of early opportunities before Cathal Downes, rampaging forward from wing-back, popped over the opening score of the game. Adare hit back with two points in succession but we would then score two in a row ourselves. Our captain, Kyle Hayes, scored a nice point to get himself off the mark before his fellow inside forward and intercountry man, Darren O’Connell, fired us into the lead. Adare hit back again to level things before we would score two in a row. Jack O’Keeffe had caused absolute havoc against Monaleen and he would continue in that vein, scoring two superb points in quick succession to give us a 0-5 to 0-3 lead. Both sides were getting joy when they came forward, Peter Nash made a couple of big interventions in our defence while Barry O’Connell and Paudi Hartigan were among those who almost broke through at the other end.

Having started excellently, we would hit our first poor patch in the lead-up to the water break; Adare would fire over a ’65, a point from play, a free before two further points from play to respond to us taking the lead, which meant that they led by 3. Importantly, we hit back with a free from Shaun Barry just before the first half water break to close the gap to just two points. We followed this up with another free from Shaun immediately after the break, but Adare would again reel off three scores in a row, two of them from placed balls. We also lost Ciarán Barry to injury during this first half, which meant that James Pomeroy was introduced to make his Championship debut. James became our fourth Championship debutant of the season and acquitted himself very well. It is always difficult being introduced unexpectedly due to an injury, you are thrown right into the thick of it and Pom had to pick up a forward who had run riot against Monaleen but he stuck to him like glue, and gave him nothing. 

On the back of that, we began to exert dominance on the Adare puckout. Liam Griffin and Cathal Downes begin to sweep up ball on the wings, Peter Nash seemed to be on every break while Shaun Barry, Barry O’Connell and Jack O’Keeffe were doing great work back the field. This dominance led to a run of scores, as we took over the remainder of the half. Liam Griffin did brilliantly to hit a free from distance straight over the black spot, despite a strong wind. Liam would follow this up with an amazing point from play; he took the ball on the right wing way out from goal but his strike was pure, which saw it sail over the crossbar and suddenly, there was only two in it. Cathal Downes wasn’t going to let his other wing-back colleague have all the scoring glory, and he got forward to get his second point from play to reduce the gap to just one. Shaun Barry was then able to level the scores just before the break as we exerted our dominance on proceedings. We actually could have gone in ahead at half-time, as Barry O’Connell had the ball in his hand and was about to pop it over the bar when referee, Eamonn Stapleton, blew the half-time whistle to leave the score: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-11 Adare 0-11.

It had been an excellent first half for the neutral; the game had ebbed and flowed, both sides had periods of dominance and both sides had taken some really good scores. We now had the wind to come and started the second half in a frenzy. Darren O’Connell, Kyle Hayes, Conor Staff and James Pomeroy among those putting in a number of hits on Adare players in quick succession. Adare did hit the first point of the second half, but it wouldn’t be long before we were back in front. Kyle delivered a powerful second half performance and he scored an excellent point to level things up again before Liam once again launched over a long-range free to put us back into the lead. Adare struck back to level things but Kyle was on hand to take on a number of Adare defenders, and with players hanging off him, he fired a point over the bar from a narrow angle to restore our advantage.

We were working hard, we were maybe slightly on top thus far in the second half but the critical score of the game would come shortly after and it would not go our way. We were maybe slightly unfortunate that the break fell the way of Adare, and Declan Hannon made no mistake when it fell to him, burying the ball into the corner of the net. A first sniff of goal and the ball was in the back of the net, giving Adare a two-point lead. That in itself was not a disaster but we were unable to respond as we would have liked and, instead, it was Adare who would follow up the goal with three more scores. The breaks started to go the way of the opposition, we hit a couple of wides and maybe the lack of experience at senior level told. Then, a short puckout malfunctioned, the Adare corner-forward collected the ball and raced through on goal but John Chawke made up for his error by producing a great save. However, some over-exuberance from Luke O’Keeffe saw him concede a penalty in the aftermath of the save, which gave Adare another chance to finish the game off. 
John Chawke famously saved a penalty in the county final in 2019, and he did so in even more spectacular fashion here. This was a well-struck penalty, low and hard, but John did superbly to get his hurley low to make the block and was quickest to react to get the ball clear to safety. It was an absolutely superb save from the most experienced man on the field and we went right down the other end, won a free on the touchline, which was nailed by Shaun Barry. It was definitely a momentum-shifter but even when we were getting scores, we were never unable to completely stem Adare’s scores and, therefore, it looked as though we would need a goal. Shaun Barry followed up his free with a brilliant point from play, from way out on the touchline; these two scores were sandwiched either side of an Adare point, and they would also reply to Shaun’s effort from play. They were maintaining their lead but Kyle Hayes showed superb leadership to fire over yet another point. 

As we delved into the final stages, Adare got a couple more scores and they knew that as long as they didn’t concede a goal, it would probably be enough to get the win. In that sense, they were happy enough to concede frees any time we bore down on goal, and Kyle was on the receiving end of a couple of hefty tackles. Shaun was able to pop two frees over the bar in quick succession but with the gap still at four and time running out, our period of dominance had come that little bit too late. Adare scored another free before we made a breakthrough two minutes into injury time. Kyle was again involved, he played a dangerous ball across the square, it broke loose and Darren O’Connell was quickest to react as he fired the ball low into the back of the net. It gave us a glimmer of hope, we were now two points down and another goal opportunity may have sneaked it but the referee immediately blew the full-time whistle before the clock hit 63 minutes.

Devastation for our players and supporters; having competed so well for so long, the game just slipped away for a few moments in the third quarter and, although we fought back well, going to the very bitter end, we just weren’t able to close the gap enough. Adare were the better side on the day and deserving winners but it is disappointing that we didn’t quite hit the heights that we know we are capable of. There is so much potential in this group; it is still a very young team, with more players hoping to break through next year and each of those players that featured has the potential to improve further. Painful as it was, we had to learn from a Premier Intermediate semi-final defeat to Garryspillane in 2018 and a Premier Intermediate final defeat to Blackrock in 2019 before we got over the line in 2020. While this game certainly could have been won; it is now up to the group to take the hurt of this defeat in 2021 and to go that bit further in 2022. It’s painful at the moment but the curve has to remain upward.

A huge thanks to all our supporters who came out and backed us all the way in the Gaelic Grounds; there was a huge crowd in and they made plenty of noise. It is a pity that the result didn’t go our way but the support is massively appreciated and we will hope to see all again next year as the Championship will hopefully return to its traditional format post-Covid, in which we will be guaranteed a minimum of 5 games. It was particularly heartwarming to see all our young supporters present, and we hope to see many of them take to the field for the senior hurlers in future. Young Billy Chawke was one of those supporters, who joined his father, John, on the field at full-time; the future is certainly bright.

We had a fairly large backroom team, a lot of people have put in a lot of work in order to facilitate us playing senior hurling and we must thank them all for the hard work they’ve put in throughout the year. Manager/coach Natal O’Grady put together an excellent backroom team and has done a great job in preparing the team from a tactical, skill and motivational point-of-view in getting the lads to step up to senior hurling. He was ably assisted in the coaching department by Ger Downes while clubmen Jim Maher, John Barry, Darragh Hayes and Éanna McGarrigle also put in a huge amount of work in getting the side ready for matchdays, as well contributing knowledge and insight into the team selection. 
Pre-season was difficult in a Covid environment but Adrian O’Brien put together a fitness programme to allow the lads use the time on their own to get into the best possible shape so that they could hit the ground running when we returned to the field. Similarly, Mark Melbourne, in his role as physio, used all his knowledge and expertise in order to get any of our injured players back on the pitch as quickly and as safely as possible, and credit must go to him for that. There are few clubmen as dedicated as Danny O’Sullivan and Brendan O’Shea, who fulfilled a variety of roles including working with the goalkeepers, first aid, communicating with players, while also being part of the player group. Their role cannot be understated. In recent weeks, we have been privileged to have Sean O’Donnell do some video analysis sessions with the team; he is the absolute best in the business and his sessions were of huge benefit in preparation for Championship. We also had Darren O’Shea as liaison officer, who facilitated all requests to the club; two of our minor hurlers, Davy Fitzgerald and Ciarán McMahon, assisted Éanna with the stats while Alan Fitzgerald was a constant presence on the line, the real stalwart of the club.

Many thanks to the club executive who have done everything they can to help them in their preparations for Championship; a particular thanks to Michael McMahon, Sean Cuddihy and Niall Kelly for all their work. A huge thanks must also go to Tom O’Connell of Pallas Plastering and Darren O’Connell of Chill the Beans Coffee as team sponsors; these funds are absolutely vital in ensuring that the preparation was up to scratch. Finally, we must also thank the players who have made a lot of sacrifices to be the best they can possible be; they have put in a serious amount of hard work and the development that we have seen in them is a credit to themselves, their families and their club. This is a really excellent group of players, with huge potential, and one with a massive bond between them. It is a really close, tightknit group; one that loves playing hurling. This defeat will hurt but there is no doubt that they will return stronger for it. 

Team: John Chawke; Luke O’Keeffe, Cían Hayes, Ciarán Barry; Liam Griffin (0-3, 0-2 frees), Tony McCarthy, Cathal Downes (0-2); Peter Nash, Conor Staff; Shaun Barry (0-7, 0-6 frees), Barry O’Connell, Jack O’Keeffe (0-2); Darren O’Connell (1-1), Kyle Hayes (0-4), Paudi Hartigan
Subs: James Pomeroy for Ciarán Barry
Panel: James Mason, Martin Nunan, Garry Sheehan, Luke Guinane, Aaron O’Donovan, Dylan Corrigan, Naoise McGarrigle, Jack Mullane, Liam O’Sullivan, Darragh Walsh, Matthew Lucey, Ryan Kelly, Jai Chaudri, Marc O’Shea, Ciarán Downes, Dean O’Neill, Eoin Sexton, Adam Butler, Ruairí Maher