Thursday 22 March 2018

Gaels blow up a storm to capture first crown

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

O'LOUGHLIN GAELS 1-17 GRAIGUE B'CALLAN 1-6 HISTORY wasn't so much written as burned across the winter sky at Nowlan Park yesterday as city club O'Loughlin Gaels won their first ever Kilkenny senior hurling crown.

Specks of blood tattooing his shirt, captain Andy Comerford celebrated an astonishing demolition of Leinster champions Graigue Ballycallan by declaring: "No-one can look down on us as third class citizens anymore."

Roughly 8,000 witnessed this startling, sometimes fractious game, in which a team that came within a murmur of winning the All-Ireland title last spring failed to raise a solitary flag from play.

It was a remarkable rebuttal of the form-book.

And an even starker contradiction of supposed logic.

Ballycallan looked to have all the advantages.

Vast experience, superior semi-final display, an attack boasting no fewer than four All-Ireland senior medallists.

By comparison, the boys from John's Park appeared to have just Comerford and the ache of last year's final defeat to Jim Neary's men.

But O'Loughlin's wrote their own tumultuous script, bawdy roars of "C'mon the Loughs" soaring high above the old stand, and wheeling towards their own piece of real estate, just 300 yards down the road.

Comerford spoke afterwards of the personal emotions rasping within.

"You know, we were a junior club six years ago," he reflected.

"And for me, going to county training with the likes of Carter, Carey ... all these big names from senior clubs ...

"Well, it means a lot in Kilkenny to be able say you're up there with them.

"We went in as underdogs today, and that didn't do us a bit of harm.

"I tell you, I don't know a lot about bookmaking.

"But I think I'd make a good living out of it at the moment."

An 11 point margin just about recognises the amazing co-ordinates of battle.

Ballycallan looked at sea from the outset.

Their tactic of bringing corner-forward Tomás Dermody out the field succeeding only in giving O'Loughlins' number four Brian Murphy licence to hurl on the offensive.

There was, it must be said, a belligerence in the air from first whistle.

Damien Cleere and Brian Kelly got ticks against their names for butt-of-the-hurl-style high jinks which Brian O'Meara discovered to be interpreted differently in different towns.

Referee John Guinan dispensed just three bookings and a blur of finger-wagging, despite the contest lurching, occasionally, towards danger.

That it never quite degenerated into anarchy was either down to one man's masterful discernment, or his blessed good fortune.

Still, in hurling terms, this was a straight, uncomplicated equation.

O'Loughlin's led 0-7 to 1-2 at half-way.

They were no doubt cursing the sniper's eye of Adrian Ronan, who punished a heavy and rather late 14th minute challenge from Johnny Holohan by spearing the sliotar home from a 21-yard free.

Neary already clearly sensed a worrying current.

Throughout that half he was conspicuous on the line, seeking to re-arrange and energize. He might have succeeded but for the attentiveness of O'Loughlins' goalkeeper Paul Cleere.

He made impressive fetches from Dermody and Ronan as well as a fine instinctive save from the former.

The champions hoped to claim some impetus on the resumption, but they were suffocated.

The intensity of the city boys was personified in the 49th minute when Ballycallan corner-back Johnny Butler collected possession in space only to find himself suddenly trapped in a copse of white shirts.

Butler is no dud but, soon he spilled the sliotar, enabling Brian Kelly to notch a peach of a point from the left-wing.

That put O'Loughlin's 1-13 to 1-5 clear and safely home, the real damage already inflicted by Barry Power's goal-line stop from Ronan's 35th minute penalty, and Nigel Skehan's spooned 44th minute goal after Cleere's initial save from Martin Comerford.

Another of the Comerford clan, Jimmy, had vacated his corner-forward berth to profit handsomely around midfield, though the strength of his helmet was tested by Michael Hoyne's flying hurl in the 40th minute, an aberration for which Hoyne received a yellow card.

It was all academic now though, as O'Loughlin's, nourished by Skehan's accuracy and Andy Comerford's willingness to go toe to toe with county colleagues, stretched imperiously clear.

By the finish, they were taking points for fun, Alan Geoghegan celebrating the occasion with a glorious 80-yard free which closed the scoring.

History then for the city boys and no excuses from the departing champions.

"People are saying we were a tired team at the end of a long journey, but I wouldn't wear that," observed Neary graciously.

"We were just walloped out of it, no excuses.

"You couldn't say anything but that O'Loughlin's deserve it.

"They were the poor relation for donkeys' years in the city.

"Fair play to them. We didn't get a single score from play today, which is incredible."

SCORERS O'Loughlin Gaels: N Skehan 1-9 (0-7 fs), J Comerford 0-2, A Geoghegan 0-2 (1f), A Comerford, B Kelly, M Comerford and B Dowling 0-1 each. Graigue Ballycallan: A Ronan 1-5 (all fs), D Cleere 0-1 (f).

O'LOUGHLIN GAELS P Cleere; B Power, M Holohan, B Murphy; J Holohan, B Hogan, S Dowling; A Comerford, A Geoghegan; N Skehan, M Comerford, B Kelly; J Comerford, C Furlong, B Dowling. Subs: D O'Dwyer for J Holohan (58).

GRAIGUE BALLYCALLAN P Dermody; J Butler, P O'Dwyer, J Ryall; D Cleere, T Comerford, A Hoyne; D Hoyne, E O'Dwyer; D Byrne, J Hoyne, E Brennan; T Dermody, M Hoyne, A Ronan. Subs: J Young for T Dermody (43), G Cleere for Comerford (44).

REF J Guinan (Lisdowney).

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