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Kiely point for Kilcormac a fitting finale to epic battle

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The Kilcormac Killoughey and Shelmaliers players battle for the ball during their Leinster club SHC quarter-final clash. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

The Kilcormac Killoughey and Shelmaliers players battle for the ball during their Leinster club SHC quarter-final clash. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

The Kilcormac Killoughey and Shelmaliers players battle for the ball during their Leinster club SHC quarter-final clash. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

This marvellous helter-skelter battle was settled by the perfect grace-note from Kilcormac Killoughey's Cillian Kiely right on the concrete toes of the stand in Wexford Park.

His elegant canter down the tram-line, sliotar glued to the base of his hurley, was art in itself. But then the arcing shot on the run all but stung the eyes with its beauty. It arrived in the 80th minute, finally resolving a Leinster Club Championship battle that had been threatening to stretch into darkness.

The victorious team looked a little spun-out and drained at the conclusion. They had been coursed all afternoon by novice Wexford champions, Shelmaliers showing little evidence of any excess indulgence from their first ever week as county hurling kings.

If anything, they looked the hungrier and fresher throughout, hunting in packs and endlessly driving the Offaly men backwards in collisions.

Indeed, they were just about home when James Gorman caught a high delivery towards the Shelmaliers square and, wheeling away from goal, somehow lasered a low shot through heavy traffic to the net. It was a goal that maybe flattered Kilcormac Killoughey slightly, yet one that also stood as a monument to their will.

For it salvaged extra-time from a game in which they rarely if ever hurled with freedom.

For manager Danny Owens that was a blessing he could live with.

"Fair play to Shelmaliers, this is their third Sunday in a row here, but they're a very fit team and they really put it up to us," he reflected. "You know a lot of things didn't go right for us today and we've an awful lot to work on. We're just glad to get out of here."

Had he feared they would be doing so defeated?

"With a minute to go of normal time, it looked like it was gone," he agreed. "We needed a goal. We're just relieved to have got through not playing as well as we can. But you play as well as you're let and Shelmaliers really put it up to us. We had to show wonderful character out there.

"The lads knew things were going bad, we were making a bundle of uncharacteristic mistakes. But they kept going, they kept fighting. It was a real battle."

Bloated

Local expectation had been largely muted for Shelmaliers given a bloated schedule that will see most of the team back out on football county semi-final duty next Sunday. Then there was the added attraction of Stephen Banville's wedding last Friday.

If ever a team had the option of excuses, Shelmaliers was that team.

Yet, they hurled magnificently here, pushing the three-in-a-row Offaly kings right to the edge of exhaustion. They led 0-10 to 1-6 at the interval, Joe Kelly accounting for all but one of their scores in a contest dominated largely by defences.

Conor Mahon's well-taken 20th-minute goal, set up by some brilliant work from Peter Geraghty, had edged the Offaly men two points clear only for Kelly to respond instantly with two gorgeous scores from play. But it was his free-taking that was hurting Kilcormac Killoughey most, some of the Offaly crowd particularly energised by Sean Cleere's officiating.

Eoin Doyle was having a wonderful game at midfield for Shelmaliers but the two Healion brothers, Ger and Peter, formed an unbreakable buttress down the spine of the KK's defence. So we encountered a kind of epic stalemate, two teams swinging windmills at one another, none quite landing.

Shelmaliers looked to be edging home when, between the 52nd and 59th minutes, they scored unanswered points from Tommy Barron, Eoin Doyle and captain Ciaran O'Shaughnessy to stretch three clear - the game's widest margin.

But Gorman's 61st-minute goal then drew Halloween shrieks from the stand, locals palpably fearful of what an extra 20 minutes of hurling might ask of an already overworked team.

To be fair, that high mileage never showed and they led by a point as the first period of injury-time ebbed to a close, only for the elegant Kiely to nail a wonderful equaliser, running 60 yards before scoring.

The second period all but dissolved in tension.

It ran a full ten minutes without a score, Ciaran Slevin and Dan Currams spilling wides for the Offaly men, Kelly and substitute Conor Byrne coming up short for Shelmaliers.

The intensity was caught in perfect colour when Kevin Grogan and the Wexford men's centre-forward Brian Malone clashed at full pelt under the brow of the stand, timber splintering into the audience.

Then, finally, Kiely made his gorgeous intervention to settle things. Substitute Noel Mythen did have a last-second opportunity to rescue a replay, but his effort sailed agonisingly wide.

For Shelmaliers manager Vinny Parker, the over-riding emotion was still pride.

"In fairness, they went for the full match, extra-time and all and it was only a puck of the ball in the end," he smiled. "It was savage unlucky, but we're dead proud of the lads. They've had a heavy few weeks, two county finals and now this. But they kept going, they weren't found wanting. We're bitterly disappointed, but we have to take it.

"We've played seven or eight weeks in a row now but, look, we're not complaining about that. That's just the hand we were dealt and we'll get on with it. It was ours for the taking today and we didn't take it.

"You have to give credit to Kilcormac Killoughey, they never gave up and just pipped us at the post. Fair dues to them."

Scorers: Kilcormac Killoughey: C Kiely 0-4, Ciaran Slevin 0-4 (0-3fs), Conor Mahon 1-1, J Gorman 1-0, D Kilmartin, K Leonard, D Currams, P Geraghty 0-1 each. Shelmaliers: J Kelly 0-10 (8fs), C O'Shaughnessy 0-2, B Doyle, S Banville and T Barron 0-1 each

Kilcormac Killoughey: Conor Slevin, Con Mahon, G Healion, A McConville, K Grogan, P Healion, B Leonard, D Kilmartin, K Leonard, Ciaran Slevin, Conor Mahon, C Kiely, J Gorman, D Currams, P Geraghty. Subs: T Geraghty for McConville (52), E Grogan for B Leonard (57), J Grogan for Kilmartin (77).

Shelmaliers: B Murphy, S Donohue, A Murphy, B Barron, C Walsh, C Lawlor-Ryan, A Cash, E Doyle, B Doyle, C O'Shaughnessy, S Banville, J Kelly, E Nolan, B Malone, J Cash. Subs: T Barron for Nolan (h-t), D O'Brien for Banville (58), C Byrne for J Cash (70), N Mythen for B Barron (71).

Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).

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