Stunning win for South Kerry hurling combination

County U-21 Hurling Championship Final: Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes 2-16 Lixnaw 1-14

The Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes team celebrate winning the County U-21 Hurling Championship final
The Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes team celebrate winning the County U-21 Hurling Championship final

Timmy Sheehan, Austin Stack Park, Tralee

With a display which owed much to their collective endeavour and the level of their intensity the South Kerry combination of Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes fashioned a famous victory for the region in the final of the County Under-21 Hurling Championship in the Austin Stack Park last Monday.

Some might consider it to be an unlikely victory, somewhat against the odds, but when one considers that they had to beat Crotta O'Neills, Causeway, and Lixnaw to claim the coveted crown then one can appreciate and applaud what was in many respects a special sporting success story.

The task of keeping the code alive and vibrant in the southern half of the county, is one that requires dedication and desire in equal measures given that success is largely sporadic. But then there's always been a hardcore of hurling die-hards who have ensured that success such as this has always remained a target and an aspiration, even if the challenges being faced by them can at times appear to be insurmountable.

Certainly belief and confidence were key ingredients in terms of this win and having gone in front in the very first minute they were never headed thereafter, even if they had to cope with an almost 20-minute period, short a player after Gary Randles was shown a straight red card in the 26th minute.

However, a greater physical presence ensured that they never really lost their grip on proceedings and they were always able to respond to any resurgence from Lixnaw, in particular, when the margin was reduced to a single point early in the second half.

It certainly looked at that particular juncture as if Lixnaw, with wind assistance were perfectly positioned to push on and claim outright victory, but they failed to exert any real type of control in mostly all of the key areas as Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes dug deep and drove on to complete a fully deserved success.

With Michael Lenihan making an early impact the three club combination opened up a pretty decisive lead 1-3 to 0-1 after just seven minutes with the goal being scored by Donal O'Sullivan from a penalty, after a foul on the aforementioned Dr Crokes player.

For a period Lixnaw got more to grips with the situation, even if, they still trailed by four points, 1-4 to 0-3, at the end of the opening quarter. The unerring returns from placed balls by Michael Lenihan helped to maintain his side's scoring advantage with goal chances being created in quick succession at opposite ends in the 20th minute.

Both efforts from Daniel Casey, and Mikey Kelliher failed to produce a major return, but did provide points from the resultant placed balls.

After Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes had been reduced to fourteen players for a late challenge they struck for a crucial goal almost immediately when Donal O'Sullivan's cross field delivery was forced home from close range by James McCarthy in the dying moments of the half. It ensured that they retired with a five point half time lead 2-8 to 0-9, with Michael Lenihan being their top scorer 0-7 frees at this juncture.

They resumed with a reshuffled formation with Michael Lenihan now featuring in midfield and Donal O'Sullivan operating on the 'forty'.

Within two minutes of the restart Lixnaw's chances had received a significant boost when Shane Conway's sideline stroke, from just inside the 65-metre line ended up in the net, rather fortuitously off the stick of the Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes custodian Michael Horgan, who subsequently played a key role in his side's success.

With Conor O'Keeffe, being the extra man, sitting deep as a covering defender Lixnaw quickly reduced the deficit to a single point courtesy of Shane Conway's conversion from a '65.

However, the response from the South Kerry side was pretty emphatic, converting four unanswered points, thereby affording them a five-point advantage, 2-12 to 1-10, by the end of the third quarter, with Lixnaw also having been reduced to fourteen players at this stage in proceedings due to Darragh McElligott's dismissal in the 44th minute.

It owed much to the input of Liam Twomey and Gearoid Fennessy in the pivotal defensive positions, and the cutting edge of Donal O'Sullivan, along with the scoring input of Daniel Casey up front, with Lixnaw on occasion being guilty of over elaboration especially in defensive situations.

Shane Conway did his utmost with some surging and penetrating runs from deep positions, but found his path to goal blocked repeatedly by clusters of players converging on him, being prepared to foul, rather than afford him a goal scoring opportunity.

On reflection, Lixnaw might feel that he would have been better utilised closer to goal, and, when he did feature in the full forward position, very late on, he was denied twice in quick succession in goal scoring situations which said so much about Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes defensive resilience and the qualities of their defenders.

The outcome still hung in the balance, with the deficit being reduced to a single goal, 2-14 to 1-14, with two minutes of normal time remaining, but the result was put beyond doubt, with points from two of their most influential players, Michael Lenihan and Daniel Casey, which sealed a win, which was, in the end, very much a fully merited and significant success.

Kilgarvan/Kenmare/Dr Crokes: Michael Horgan (Dr Crokes), Gary Randles (Kilgarvan), Liam Twomey (Kilgarvan), David Cronin (Kenmare), Sean Casey (Kilgarvan), Gearoid Fennessy 0-1 (Kilgarvan), Tommy Cronin (Kenmare), Jack Foley (Kilgarvan), Dan McCarthy (Kenmare), Ronan Foley (Kilgarvan), James McCarthy 1-0 (Kenmare), Richard O'Sullivan (Kilgarvan), Daniel Casey 0-3 (Kilgarvan), Michael Lenihan 0-11f (Dr Crokes), Donal O'Sullivan 1-1 (1-0 pen) (Kilgarvan). Sub: Tom Doyle (Dr Crokes) for D Cronin.

Lixnaw: Robert Silles, Daire Shannon, Liam Mullins, Niall Cullen, Darragh Mc Elligott, Conor O'Keeffe, Matthew Pike, Brian Mc Auliffe, Shane McElligott, Jack Brosnan (0-1), Shane Conway 1-11 (0-9f, 0-2 '65', 1-0 s/l), Jamie Galvin (0-1), Mikey Kelliher, Colin Sheehy (0-1), Aodhan Shanahan. Subs: Evan McCarthy for M Kelliher (blood), Mikey Kelliher for E McCarthy, Aidan O'Brien for D Shannon, Evan McCarthy for B McAuliffe.

Referee: Mike Hennessy (Ballyduff)

The game in 60 seconds

Main man

Michael Lenihan received the official award, and, a tally of eleven points in a championship final is certainly a pretty significant contribution, but then, the winners had some notable individual contributions in all sectors of the pitch at varying intervals in proceedings. However, the prolific scoring returns of the Dr Crokes attacker, were matched by the heart warming level of his work rate, and the unselfish nature of his support play.

Key moment

This was a contest which was delicately poised for prolonged periods. Shane Conway's goal in the thirty second minute looked at the time as if it might ultimately have a decisive impact on the eventual outcome. However, those two successive points from Daniel Casey and Michael Lenihan midway through the second half afforded the winners a timely boost and a vital cushion, which they mantained right up until the final whistle.

Talking point

It's been spoken about since Kilgarvan's successive wins in the Intermediate championship, and, this particular win will fuel the debate further in terms of their participation in the senior championship. It's undoubtedly a big step up, and, under age success never guarantees a similar type return at senior level, but, as pointed out by their team manager, it's time to fully consider the prospect and the possibility in detail.