Barry Harding played well for Birr against Drumcullen
IT was a satisfactory start for Birr but not a whole lot more than that as they recorded an expected win over Drumcullen in the opening round of the Offaly Senior Hurling Championship in Bord na Mona O'Connor Park on Saturday afternoon.
It was not a performance that will have them shouting from the roof tops about their championship prospects but it didn't need to be that and Birr will be very happy with a comfortable win, and particularly with the performances of some of their players.
The big thing for Birr here was that it was achieved without their star player Eoghan Cahill, who was out injured and they won't have minded seeing how they would get on without their ace sharp shooter. With his first cousin Lochlann Quinn making his senior hurling debut in the Birr attack, they had a ready made free taker, stepping up from minor level and he duly obliged with 0-7, two from play.
With both Quinn and Cahill in their attack, Birr will be capable of troubling most teams and this was a performance that suggests they have legitimate championship aspirations, even if there is a long road ahead of them and they are certainly a bit behind holders St Rynagh's in the pecking order at the moment.
Drumcullen were delighted to get back to top flight hurling last year but it will be a tough campaign for them and their target is to stay up. They were fiercely competitive here in the first half as they carried the game to Birr and forced them onto the back foot. Unfortunately for them, all their good first half work was undone in the 22nd minute when Kevin Fleury was red carded for a pull that left Barry Harding needing treatment.
They were 0-7 to 0-6 up at that stage and asking serious questions of Birr but by half time, the favourites were ahead by 0-10 to 0-9 and they outscored them by 2-9 to 0-6 in the second half for a facile win.
Even with a full Drumcullen quota, Birr would probably still have been able to win but the sending off made life way easier for them. In the first half, they had struggled to cope with Colm Gath who was brilliant for them. Gath gave the Birr defence a torrid time and he got four excellent first half points from play as they led by 0-3 to 0-1 early on. They trailed by 0-4 to 0-3 after six minutes but got back in front and were the hungrier, more committed team as Birr didn't get up to the pace of the game.
By half time, however, Birr were moving much better, picking off neat scores and they quickly ended it as a contest in the second half. A Quinn free was followed by a fine 33rd minute goal from Luke Nolan after a Morgan Watkins delivery. Birr were much sharper and intense in the second half and a soft Dylan Quegan goal when he got on the end of a Eoin Gath deflection put them 2-12 to 0-10 ahead.
The winners easily closed it out from here, firing over a further seven points though they will be disappointed at some of the wides they hit, especially as they weren't under huge pressure.
Still Birr will take this win and they had some excellent individual performances. Jimmy Irwin, Padraic Watkins and Rory Carty were outstanding in defence, Colm Mulrooney and Barry Harding got through very good work at midfield and Luke Nolan, Dylan Quegan, Lochlann Quinn and Morgan Watkins caught the eye in an attack that will be much better with Cahill on board – sub Paddy Mullins was very sharp when he came on.
It was a game that went more or less as expected for Drumcullen. They were honest and hugely motivated, they fought tenaciously. Their commitment put Birr on the back foot but ultimately they were not good enough to get the result. Colm Gath was their best player and Drumcullen's next match against Kinnitty is a huge one for them.
Birr: Lochlann Quinn 0-7 (5f), Luke Nolan 1-3, Dylan Quegan 1-2, Rory Carty, Colm Mulrooney and Paddy Mullins 0-2 each, Barry Harding 0-1.
Drumcullen: Colm Gath 0-8 (3f), Conor Gath 0-5 (4f), Dermot Gath and Eoin Gath 0-1 each.
BIRR: Brian Mullins; Jimmy Irwin, Brian Watkins, Padraic Watkins; Sean Ryan, Rory Carty, Eoin Pilkington; Colm Mulrooney, Barry Harding; Luke Nolan, Dylan Queegan, Morgan Watkins; Lochlann Quinn, Paul Cleary, Nioall Lyons. Subs – Brendan Murphy for Cleary (37m), Oisin Murphy for Ryan (40m), Paddy Mullins for Lyons (45m), Niall Lyons for Mulrooney (59m).
DRUMCULLEN: Padraic Cashin; Danny Maher, Donal Guinan, Sean Hynes; Barry O'Meara Raymond Gath, John Cashin; Kevin Fleury, Ciaran Guinan; Mark Kennedy jnr, Dermot Gath, Padraig Guinan; Sean Kinsella, Colm Gath, Conor Gath. Subs – John Murray for Kinsella (40m), Eoin Gath for (45m), Eoin Gath for Conor Gath, inj. (45m), Stephen Hanrahan for Kennedy jnr (45m).
Referee – Joey Deehan (Clara).
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jimmy Irwin (Birr): Colm Gath was the best player on the field in the first half but the man of the match has to be a Birr player. They had a number of contenders with Jimmy Irwin, Padraic Watkins and Rory Carty all staking claims in their defence. The choice is Irwin. There was something very impressive about the way he went about his business. He was tidy and efficient in his defensive duty while his distribution was generally flawless.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
The sending off of Drumcullen's Kevin Fleury eight minutes from half time changed this game. Drumcullen were leading by 0-7 to 0-6 and going very well when Fleury saw red after chopping down on Barry Harding. The Birr players reacted angrily to Fleury's stroke and Drumcullen never really recovered from the dismissal.
Joey Deehan had an excellent game. He was in control, he got most calls right and he allowed physicality but had no hestitation in showing red when he felt that was warranted.
With two groups of five, teams playing the teams in the opposing group and the top four overall going through, this is a format with a difference and it will take some weeks before predictions can be made about the four semi-finalists.
The O'Connor Park pitch was in sensational condition and was perfect for hurling. The early 2.00pm throw in meant that the County Board were a bit short of stewards and officials here. There wasn't the full quota of neutral officials and this is something that really must be got right in O'Connor Park.
Drumcullen play Kinnitty in a repeat of the recent senior “B” hurling final while Birr meet Seir Kieran.
Wides: Birr – 14 (6 in first half); Drumcullen – 9 (4 in first half).
Yellow cards: 0.
Red cards: Birr – 0; Drumcullen – 1 (Kevin Fluery).
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