Senior Hurling Championship 2021 Rnd 1

Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-20 Monaleen 0-15

We’re back!!! Let’s not say it was worth the wait, because 70+ is way too long a time for a proud club to be out of the top tier of club hurling in the county; but we made our mark on our return with a superb victory over a Monaleen side, who have been a comfortable senior team for the past five seasons. This was backed by a stylish and classy first half display in which we had seven different scorers and held our opponents to just three points from play. We drove it on after half-time and went on to lead by 12 points, before Monaleen drew themselves back into contention. Now, admittedly, things got a little nervy and there is a whole load of things to work on for next week. But two points are in the bag, senior status for 2022 is secured and we have a shot against our neighbours, Adare, for a place in a county quarter-final. What more can we ask for?

And the age profile of this team is good; we had three debutants today. From our county final victory just last September, we were down three players who featured that day. Corner-back Kevin O’Connell and wing-back Lorcan O’Leary are both unavailable for selection, while Ruairí Maher, who made a huge impact from the bench that day, is unavailable due to injury. 18-year-old Ciarán Barry, in his first year available for selection, started at corner-back and gave a tigerish performance which belied his years. Another 18-year-old, Garry Sheehan, was the first man in from the bench, adding real determination and energy in the middle third. The third player to mark his debut was Luke Guinane, a player who has developed massively in recent times, his pace and tenacity are a nightmare for defenders. Well done to all three of the boys on their debuts, they did themselves proud, as did the rest of the team!

And what a first-half performance it was: this was the performance of a seasoned team; you wouldn’t have thought we were the newcomers to the grade. Monaleen took the lead with a free, but that was the only team they would be ahead in the entire game. Liam Griffin, from wing-back, levelled the game with a huge score from distance. It was very evident that the playing style encouraged our wing-backs to get forward, and both Cathal Downes and Liam were a handful for their Monaleen opponents, both getting on the scoresheet. We didn’t get a whole pile of frees in the first half but when we did get one, Shaun Barry nailed it. He was 100% from placed balls, another fine display from the Pallaskenry deadeye. Paudi Hartigan put in a phenomenal display, popping up in space everywhere. He was a constant livewire, a thorn in the side of Monaleen’s defence and he popped over a fine point from distance. Liam Griffin extended our lead to three points from a ’65, after Monaleen got a good block in on a shot on the right wing.

Jack O’Keeffe has had many good days in the blue & white before, but this was probably the finest day of his career so far. He scored four points in a first-half display where everything he touched turned to gold. Monaleen were attempting to shut down the space around our inside forward line but Jack was one of those who found the spaces outside, and he would pop over our next score; just after Monaleen had hit their first point from play. Barry O’Connell was another who was finding those spaces, he was everywhere in the first half, and got a well-deserved score to extend our lead further. Jack was on the scoresheet again before our team captain hit his first point of the day. I haven’t mentioned Kyle Hayes much in the report so far, he was subject to a lot of attention from the Monaleen backs, as you would expect but, again, he was superb, winning dirty ball, laying it off for the forwards around. In actual fact, the only forward not to score in the first half was Darren O’Connell, who was threatening for goals, had won a free and was laying the ball off nicely. Jack exchanged scores with the Monaleen centre-forward as we led by six at the water break.

At this point, we were totally dominant. Conor Staff was everywhere: tackling, hooking and blocking. We saw clean catches from Cathal Downes and Cían Hayes as they stormed out of defence; Peter Nash was on all of the breaks and John Chawke was also seeing a lot of possession drop into his pocket. The work rate all over was very high, and the tempo was good and every time Monaleen scored, we would hit back with a flurry. They would hit the first point of the second half, but we would hit back with three-in-a-row. Cathal Downes got forward deep into the Monaleen half to fire over the bar, before Jack O’Keeffe scored a lovely point to bring his personal tally to four. Shaun Barry then added a second free of the evening. We had a couple of sniffs at a goal opportunity, but to be fair to Monaleen, they were dead set on not conceding a goal and had bodies around to prevent us breaking through. We picked off the scores from distance and, although they would hit the last score of the half, we led at time: Kildimo/Pallaskenry 0-12 Monaleen 0-5.

And we didn’t let up at the start of the second half; we hit six of the first seven scores of the second half to really open up a margin. Darren O’Connell was quickly in on the action, showing his footwork and elusiveness, before firing over the bar. Monaleen hit back straight away with a point from play but then we would reel off five in a row. Most of these came from the stick of Shaun Barry from placed balls. Kyle Hayes won a number of these frees, he won four in all, while Darren O’Connell also won two. Shaun Barry made no mistake, he struck score after score, depleting the confidence of our opponents. And when Darren O’Connell scored a lovely point from out on the wing, we had established a 12-point advantage, which was almost surreal.

To this point, pretty much everything had gone according to plan, we just hadn’t rattled the back of the net to kill the game off once and for all. We had played against the wind in the first half but maybe the efforts put in to give us such a lead told, and Monaleen were never going to go down without a fight. A loss for them would put them into a relegation final and they came at us hard. They started to get a bit of momentum before the second half water break. They replied to our five points in a row, with five points of their own, the last two before the breaking being frees. This meant we had a seven-point lead at the break. We introduced fresh legs in the form of Garry, Martin Nunan and Luke but Monaleen kept coming. They hit a few wides, but scores were also coming. The lead was narrowed, but it soon looked as though they needed goals. They lumped ball after ball in but Luke O’Keeffe, Cían Hayes and Ciarán Barry, ably assisted by John Chawke and Peter Nash, held firm. One shot blazed wide, although Chawkie at full stretch may have had it covered. Another was driven over the bar on the turn. Monaleen cut the gap to four points before Kyle showed his leadership to score a fantastic point from distance. Monaleen would hit back with one more, but we would finish out the day and Kyle found Darren inside in the full-forward line. Darren showed his class, going inside, then outside, before popping the ball over the bar.
That sealed the victory and shortly after, the final whistle blew. After 70+ years, it was great to experience a Senior Championship victory and, after the past 18 months, to have a crowd roaring us on as we did so. It means Monaleen are into the relegation final, it means that we will be playing senior hurling in 2022. But that was always going to be just the first step in this Championship season. We now are one game away from a county quarter-final, from reaching the last 6 of the Limerick club championship. We will be underdogs, sure enough. But we go into a game against our neighbours Adare full of confidence, full of belief, full of hope. There are numerous things that will have to be worked on over the course of the next week; but there were numerous really positive things to take away also. The performance of the first 40 minutes was a level above anything we had produced in 2020. The team is going from strength to strength; this was a new experience for every single one of these players and they took to it like a duck to water and will look to improve once again.
Well done to all the players and to the management and backroom; they have done the parish proud and there is a lot more to come!

Team: John Chawke; Luke O’Keeffe, Cían Hayes, Ciarán Barry; Liam Griffin (0-2, 0-1 ’65), Tony McCarthy, Cathal Downes (0-1); Peter Nash, Conor Staff; Shaun Barry (0-6, all frees), Barry O’Connell (0-1), Jack O’Keeffe (0-4); Darren O’Connell (0-3), Kyle Hayes (0-2), Paudi Hartigan (0-1)
Subs: Garry Sheehan for Barry O’Connell; Martin Nunan for Paudi Hartigan; Luke Guinane for Shaun Barry
Panel: James Mason, James Pomeroy, Aaron O’Donovan, Dylan Corrigan, Naoise McGarrigle, Jack Mullane, Liam O’Sullivan, Darragh Walsh, Matthew Lucey, Ryan Kelly, Mark O’Shea, Ciarán Downes, Dean O’Neill, Eoin Sexton, Adam Butler, Ruairí Maher, Jai Chaudri