DEFENDING champions Coolderry took a big step towards retaining their U-21 hurling title when defeating the Shinrone/Ballyskenagh combination, St Mary’s, at Birr on Saturday evening last.
The sides were level as the game entered the final five minutes and it could have gone any way but late points by Andy Connolly and a Kevin Connolly free saw Coolderry through.
Fielding ten of last year’s title-winning side (another was introduced as a sub), Coolderry will thank their defence for this win. Full-back Colm Larkin commanded his square well, fielding well under the dropping ball and making a number of vital interceptions.
Centre-back David King also hurled well, making a number of clearances which reached the inside attackers while Séamus O’Connor also did very well at wing-back.
Wins over neighbours Coolderry are cherished down Shinrone way and they will look back on this game as a chance lost. Not for the first time they approached the final fence and ultimately refused to jump. All that hurling style with little substance to match.
With their respective senior managers, Ken Hogan and Joachim Kelly prowling the sideline, both sides made a tentative start and this semi-final took some time to ignite. Neither side gained control, both persisting with that blight on Offaly hurling - that of tapping the dropping ball holding one hand on the hurl.
It wasn’t until Coolderry were awarded a 25th minute penalty, after Alan Bergin was fouled in the square by Daniel King that the contest began in earnest. With his side holding a 0-5 to 0-4 lead, Eoin Ryan’s well-struck penalty was deflected onto the crossbar before being cleared to safety.
The pace of the game increased immediately and though a Seán Cleary free levelled matters at 0-5 each, Kevin Connolly’s pointed free restored Coolderry’s slender lead for a 0-6 to 0-5 half-time advantage.
The approach of the respective sides became apparent soon after the restart. St Mary’s went on all-out attack as Shane McKelvey, and as the game wore on Eoin Cleary, dominated and launched attack after attack. Paddy Moylan’s pace caused some trouble for the Coolderry defence but despite the blitz, clear scoring chances were few as Colm Larkin and David King stood firm, while Stephen Corcoran made some fine saves in goal. Coolderry’s approach, on the other hand, was that of a lethal sniper, biding their time and making a more opportune use of the fewer attacks they mounted with Paul Maloney and Eoin Ryan taking good points in tight spaces.
Coolderry made a key move with the introduction of regular defender Brian Kelly to the full-forward slot. Kelly gained much possession, while the move also allowed Eoin Ryan to move further outfield in search of possession. Keeping their half-forward line well outfield also contributed.
Coolderry had moved into a three point lead midway through the second half, 0-11 to 0-8, and might have increased that but for the good defending of Daniel King in particular. Yet St Mary’s were level within seven minutes as Fearghus Hannon grew more influential as did sub Emmet Middleton.
Damien Maher pointed under pressure to restore Coolderry’s lead but Shane McKelvey equalised after Eoin Cleary cleverly tapped down Coolderry’s puckout and with less than five minutes remaining extra-time was a distinct possibility.
Yet with St Mary’s piling on the pressure, Andy Connolly gathered a loose ball at the other end and fired over the lead-point for Coolderry. Though St Mary’s attacked again, Coolderry cleared and drew the foul, Kevin Connolly duly obliging for the eighth time from the placed ball.
St Mary’s had a stoppage-time chance of redemption but in the chaos of a goalmouth scramble several attempts fired blank and Coolderry lifted the siege.
Coolderry: Kevin Connolly (0-8, frees), Damien Maher (0-2), Eoin Ryan (0-2), Paul Maloney (0-1), Andrew Connolly (0-1).
St Mary’s: Seán Cleary (0-3, frees), Shane McKelvey (0-3, 0-2 ‘65s), Jason Sampson (0-2), Damien Bevans (0-1), Paddy Moylan (0-1), Darragh Cleary (0-1), Emmet Middleton (0-1).
Coolderry 8 (2 1st half) St Mary’s 9 (5 1st half)
Red: None. Yellow (3): Michael Ryan (9 mins), Daniel King (25 mins), Declan Parlon (51 mins)
COOLDERRY: Stephen Corcoran; Stephen Connolly, Colm Larkin, Darragh Parlon; Liam Brady, David King, Séamus O’Connor; Michael Ryan, Declan Parlon; Paul Maloney, Kevin Connolly, Andrew Connolly; Damien Maher, Eoin Ryan, Alan Bergin.
Sub: Brian Kelly for A Bergin (35 mins).
ST MARY’S: Conor Cleary; Daniel King, Denis Coonan, Gavin Hannon; Shane McKelvey, Eoin Cleary, Joe Cleary; Michael Cleary, Fearghus Hannon; Seán Cleary, Jason Sampson, Damien Bevans; Darragh Cleary, Dónal Regan, Paddy Moylan.
Subs: Damien Murphy for D Regan (37 mins), Emmet Midleton for D Bevans (49 mins).
REFEREE: Martin Walsh, Birr.