O'Mahony stands tall to end long title wait
Divided they may have been during the county's darker days last winter, but united they most certainly were in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday as Kilmallock's long wait for a ninth Limerick SHC title ended.
The club's county players had been split on the right course of action to take. Andrew O'Shaughnessy was dropped by Justin McCarthy 12 months ago and Gavin O'Mahony stayed away in protest.
On the other hand Graeme Mulcahy and Bryan O'Sullivan stayed and became central figures in Justin McCarthy's revamped squad.
It could have been divisive, but clearly it wasn't, as they put any difference of opinion behind them to bring the best out of each other after so many years of expectation from a very productive underage conveyor belt.
The optimist in Limerick will welcome their return to the top for a very simple reason.
The last time they were looking down on the rest as champions, Tom Ryan was taking the county team to within minutes of an All-Ireland title having won a first Munster crown in 13 years.
For Limerick to thrive it's important for Kilmallock to thrive, so their first county title since 1994 has some real significance as they bid to haul themselves away from the misery of the last 12 months on a national scale.
The pessimist will have come away from the Gaelic Grounds yesterday bemoaning an absence of real quality, particularly in attack. New manager Donal O'Grady, present in the Mackey Stand, has his work cut out on this evidence.
That won't have mattered much in the south county market town last night, as the pressure to deliver was finally lifted from these young men.
It was, as the Limerick chairman Liam Lenihan put it in his speech, an afternoon when Kilmallock's boys did, indeed, become men.
For former Clare manager Tony Considine it extends an impressive strike rate in Limerick in recent years, having guided Garryspillane to their only county title five years earlier.
He only took over in Kilmallock at the beginning of this season, but has built on their immense promise quickly. Emmets were drawing their personnel from six clubs dotted around the south division, chiefly in the outlying areas around Kilmallock itself.
They included three members of the Blackrock team that won the All-Ireland junior hurling title in Croke Park last February.
And as you would expect when there is such local rivalry at stake, they fought tigerishly, only conceding ground late on when O'Shaughnessy and Mulcahy finally got some momentum and space.
It was an afternoon when defence was king. At the heart of operations was O'Mahony, who ruled his patch with ruthless efficiency earning him the official 'Man of the Match' award afterwards.
The gong could, in fact, have gone to either of the midfield pair, who provided a very effective shield in front of O'Mahony and his impressive wing men Liam Walsh and O'Sullivan.
Paudie O'Brien made some penetrating runs and landed three points from play; Eoin Ryan's best work was done at closer quarters and between them they never allowed Nicky Quaid or Mike O'Brien to gain a foothold.
Ultimately, it was a slightly fortunate goal which gave Kilmallock some early daylight, Graeme Mulcahy making the most of hesitancy on Tommy Quaid's behalf to steal in on 18 minutes.
They had the amalgamation at arm's length after that, allowing them to within a point twice before the break at which stage they were 1-5 to 0-6 ahead.
With the wind at their backs, Kilmallock piled it on early in the second half, with Ryan and O'Shaughnessy landing frees to lift them 1-9 to 0-7 clear with 40 minutes elapsed.
At the other end, Donie Reale was Emmets most dangerous attacker. but support for him was limited.
Jake Mulcahy was the first of Kilmallock's starting forwards to score a point from play on 50 minutes and it had a liberating effect on them in the closing 10 minutes as they surged seven points clear heading into injury-time.
A Reale goal from a close ranger free gave the divisional side brief hope after goalkeeper Barry Hennessy had saved well from Emmets' substitute Paudie Leahy, but Kilmallock's defence was in unforgiving mood and yielded no more.
Considine admitted that pressure weighing on Kilmallock had been a factor all season. "The pressure that these lads were under is unbelievable. All around Kilmallock and the South Limerick area they're expected to win it every year. They hadn't won it since '94 and that can put extra pressure on a team. The extra pressure was there.
"We hurled very well in the second half and we got the scores that mattered. I think it's good for Limerick hurling that Kilmallock have won it -- when they were county champions before Limerick came on the crest of a wave and this could be something for Limerick."
Scorers -- Kilmallock: A O'Shaughnessy 0-5 (0-5f), G Mulcahy 1-1, E Ryan (0-2f,0- 1 65), P O'Brien 0-3 each, P O'Dwyer, J Mulcahy 0-2 each. Emmets: D Reale 1-4 (1-1f), P Neenan 0-4 (0-4f), A McAuliffe 0-2 (0-1f), S Walsh (0-1f), M O'Brien 0-1 each
Kilmallock -- B Hennessy; L Hurley, P O'Loughlin, K O'Mahony; L Walsh, G O'Mahony, B O'Sullivan; E Ryan, P O'Brien; P O'Dwyer, S O'Donnell, G O'Sullivan; G Mulcahy, A O'Shaughnessy, J Mulcahy. Subs: P Connery for O'Donnell (44), K O'Donnell for G O'Sullivan (48), K Kennelly for J Mulcahy (57), M Cronin for K O'Mahony ((60), D O'Mahony for O'Shaughnessy (62).
Emmets -- T Quaid; G O'Leary, R McCarthy, S Walsh; B Moloney, B Kelleher, David Moloney; N Quaid, J Kelleher; P Neenan, E O'Leary, M O'Brien; D Reale, Damian Moloney, A McAuliffe. Subs: J Dillon for Kelleher (h-t), M Keane for B Moloney (40), M Deegan for Damien Moloney (44), P Leahy for McAuliffe (47), E Walsh for Neenan (53).
Ref -- Eamonn Phelan (St Patrick's).