Brennan key as grit earns Kieran's glory
For the second time in almost six months, a Kilkenny side proved that they are never beaten in an All-Ireland final.
Trailing by five points with nine minutes left, and with Ardscoil Ris appearing to have turned the screw, St Kieran's College showed true character to come from behind and win their 17th title at Semple Stadium on Saturday.
Michael Brennan's goal in the 52nd minute helped turn the tide and five unanswered points followed to ensure the Croke Cup returned to the famed hurling nursery after a six-year absence.
"It was pure grit," said St Kieran's joint-manager Tom Nolan on his side's late fightback. "They talked the talk in the second half. We went five points down, Ardscoil Ris were on a roll, walking through us, but the boys steadied up, got the few points and the goal and got back into the game.
"To win this match was going to take a huge effort and this was our best performance of the year. We have seven on the team doing the Leaving Cert and this was their last half hour hurling for St Kieran's so they wanted to make it memorable."
It was a heartbreaking end to a historic year for Ardscoil Ris, who claimed the Munster title for the first time only three weeks ago, but found themselves on the receiving end of a St Kieran's purple patch in the last 10 minutes which left them with no time to respond.
A heavy downpour just before throw-in made the playing conditions difficult but despite this, Ardscoil got off to a flying start and were three points to the good after six minutes through Kevin Downes and two points from John Fitzgibbon, the second from a well-executed sideline cut.
A full 10 minutes elapsed before St Kieran's opened their account from John Power. Scores were hard to come by in an error-strewn first half but St Kieran's did hit for a crucial goal in the 16th minute as a Padraig Walsh shot was fumbled by Ardscoil goalkeeper David Sheppard and Paul Buggy was in quick as a flash to scoop the ball to the net.
Points from Fitzgibbon and Adrian Breen edged the Limerick side back in front but the impressive Padraig Walsh tied the scores as the teams left the field at half-time.
With the strong breeze favouring them in the second half, St Kieran's exerted some dominance and opened a two-point lead by the 41st minute with full-forward Michael Brennan to the fore with two points.
Missed chances were hurting Ardscoil dear, but they broke the lock in the 46th minute when Declan Hannon sent a raking clearance into the opposition square where Brendan O'Connor made a superb catch and drilled low past Michael Connelly.
The Kieran's netminder had to be alert to touch over a dipping Mark Ryan shot a minute later. However, he was beaten again just two minutes later as he saved from O'Connor but the alert Fitzgibbon was on hand to score from the rebound to send the noisy Ardscoil supporters into raptures.
The Munster champions were completely dominant at half-back and midfield at this stage with Hannon, Ryan and Martin Moroney influential as their physical strength appeared to be standing to them.
St Kieran's needed a goal and it came from a high ball from Power with Martin Brennan catching it above three other players before coolly slotting it to the net.
Game on again and within three minutes, the sides were level before the lively Thomas Hanrahan finally got on the scoresheet, taking the pass from Power, who had a very effective closing quarter.
In a frantic finale, St Kieran's defended manfully and hit Ardscoil on the break with Padraig Walsh and centre-back William Phelan sealing the win with points in added-time.
Scorers -- St Kieran's: M Brennan 1-2, P Buggy 1-1, P Walsh 0-3, W Phelan 0-2 (0-1f, 0-1 '65), T Hanrahan, J Power (0-1f), C Buckley 0-1 each. Ardscoil Ris: J Fitzgibbon 1-3 (0-2f, 0-1), B O'Connor 1-0, K Downes, A Breen, M Ryan, D Hannon (0-1f) M Moroney 0-1 each.
St Kieran's -- M Donnelly; C O'Neill, R Lennon, S Phelan; A O'Dowd, W Phelan, D Brennan; J Gannon (capt), C Buckley; M Brennan, B O'Connor, P Walsh; P Buggy, J Power, T Hanrahan. Subs: R Reid for O'Connor (53), C O'Shea for Hanrahan (58).
Ardscoil Ris -- D Sheppard; M Carmody, E McCarthy, A Dempsey; C McInerney, D Hannon, S O'Brien; M Ryan, N Kennedy; M Moroney, S Dowling, B O'Connor; J Fitzgibbon, K Downes, A Breen. Subs: J Shanahan for Breen (44), C Keogh for Dowling (58).
Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).