Sunday 22 April 2018

Kilmallock cut loose to keep Limerick on upward curve

Kilmallock 2-19 Portaferry 0-12

A dejected Matthew Conlan, St Patrick's GAC, Portaferry, after the game
A dejected Matthew Conlan, St Patrick's GAC, Portaferry, after the game
Eoghan Sands, St Patrick's GAC, Portaferry, in action against Mark O'Loughlin, Kilmallock
Mark O'Loughlin, Kilmallock, in action against Conor O'Neill, St Patrick's GAC, Portaferry

Damian Lawlor

THERE are signs that Limerick hurling is set for big things, and Kilmallock played their part yesterday by ending the county's 22-year wait for a senior club hurling final appearance when they hammered Portaferry at Mullingar. The Munster champions are now in with a decent chance of ending Limerick's famine in this competition.

Great starts to the first and second halves were enough to see them through to the St Patrick's Day decider. A purple patch in the second half when they outscored their opponents by seven points within 10 minutes was the crucial difference.

The displays of Bryan O'Sullivan, Eoin Ryan and Graeme Mulcahy were out of the top drawer, while Portaferry were best served by Paul Braniff and John Convery. This was the easiest game of Kilmallock's campaign, but one can admire the effort, industry and work rate of the Down champions.

It was a scrappy affair, intense and dour at times. The Munster champions made a rapid-fire start to the game and, with the aid of the breeze, they looked like they might cruise home from the first whistle. Yet, by the break, there was just five points in it. By the end, however, 13 points split the teams.

There are two ways of analysing the game - Kilmallock shot 13 wides in total and forced Karol Keating into two great saves. So they could have won by much more. On the other hand, though, Portaferry's defence did a fine job for most of the game, and at the other end, when they attacked, they drew countless frees. Paul Braniff shot five frees in the first 30 minutes, and that kept them in the hunt.

Bryan O'Sullivan looked impressive from the start for the Limerick side. He hit the opening score from midfield and added another two from the same position later on.

As the half developed, however, Portaferry got to grips with the intensity and forced their opponents to clear long and high, which suited the Ulster side's defence. John Convery was especially to the fore, sweeping up, driving out and quenching countless opposition forays.

Before that, however, the Down men had been hooked and blocked way too often for their liking. When 17-year-old Paddy O'Loughlin goaled after two minutes, they looked like they would ease to the AIB All-Ireland final, but two Braniff frees kept the game alive.

With county star Gavin O'Mahony missing because of suspension, the Ulster champions knew they had to hang in there to have any hope of springing a surprise and, while they were caught in the headlights of this, their first All-Ireland semi-final, they gradually got to the pace required. Still, their 'keeper, Keating, was forced into making two great saves.

At the other end, the dangerous Eoghan Sands, who scored 1-3 in the Down county final, was kept quiet by the Kilmallock defence. That would have to change in the second half. The Ulster men would have to make a dent in attack if they were to reach their first All-Ireland final. Were they capable of that? Yes, however, they started the second half with a five-point deficit, trailing 1-8 to 0-6.

Paudie O'Brien, Eoin Ryan (three frees) and Graeme Mulcahy shot scores to extend their lead to nine points as Portaferry started dropping balls into the opposition square. Mulcahy had been held well until then by the Down men, but he cut loose again with a second point to put the game beyond reach. The purple patch was extended by Kevin O'Donnell, who pointed from 70 yards to make it 1-15 to 0-7.

From there, the Ulster side's resistance ended. The Limerick champions surged home, and they now face Ballyhale Shamrocks in the final.

Scorers - Kilmallock: E Ryan 0-7 (4f), G Mulcahy 1-2, B O'Sullivan 0-4, Paddy O'Loughlin 1-0, K O'Donnell 0-2 (1f), J Mulcahy, R Egan, P O'Brien, Philip O'Loughlin 0-1 each. Portaferry: P Braniff 0-9 (6f, 1'65), K McGarry, C Mageean, E Sands 0-1 each.

Kilmallock: B Hennessy; L Hurley, M O'Loughlin, A Costello; L Walsh, Philip O'Loughlin, K O'Donnell; P O'Brien, B O'Sullivan; J Mulcahy, Paddy O'Loughlin, R Egan; G Mulcahy, K Kennelly, E Ryan. Subs: R Hanley for K Kennelly (45), C Barry for J Mulcahy (65), A O'Shaughnessy for Paddy O'Loughlin (66), Donal Barry for M O'Loughlin (68), D Joy for L Walsh (69).

Portaferry: K Keating; C Taggart, C O'Neill, C O'Prey; M Conlan, J Convery, C Coulter; A Savage, C Mageean; K McGarry, P Braniff, A O'Prey; S Mageean, E Sands, R Magee. Subs: S Murray for R Magee (38), N White for C Taggart (50), B Trainor for K McGarry (65), B Coleman for S Mageean (68).

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow)

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