First-timers hopes are not entertained

 

In Kilkenny terms, Graigue-Ballycallan are pretty much akin to the nouveau riche, but, like lottery winners, they seem intent on feasting on their new-found status. Yesterday, at Nowlan Park, they took their second county title in three years with a no-nonsense, and ultimately comfortable, win over first-time finalists O'Loughlin Gaels.

The match itself, especially given that it took place in the current home of the Liam McCarthy Cup, was a poor one. That won't worry the winners' too much, however.

If Graigue-Ballycallan proved anything yesterday, it is that they possess the stomach for a fight. Midway through the second half, when O'Loughlin's - with the wind on their backs - inched to within two points of them, their response was to fire over six of the game's remaining seven points.

Joe Young, the younger brother of team captain James, was the talisman for this period of supreme authority. Thrown into the fray at full forward as a substitute with just 17 minutes of the game remaining, Joe contrived to score three points from play to stave off any ideas that Gaels might have possessed about actually winning the game. It also quietened the growing expectations of the city club's supporters in the crowd of 10,200.

In truth, Graigue-Ballycallan shouldn't have required such late heroics as they had the opportunity to finish the match almost as soon as it had begun. After just 10 minutes, they were 0-3 to no score ahead, but, as if to hint at some frailty, they had also struck seven wides in that same period with five different players guilty of such wastefulness.

Luckily for them, O'Loughlin Gaels weren't much better in front of the posts. They relied on the free-taking of Nigel Skehan to keep them in touch and, in fact, O'Loughlin's had to wait until the third minute of the second half for one of their forwards to finally score from play when Brian Kelly, near the sideline beside the new stand, fired over a superb point from an acute angle.

Generally, though, O'Loughlin's were always chasing the game. Andy Comerford at centre back did raise his team's spirit with a number of inspirational catches.

Graigue-Ballycallan accumulated 11 wides in the first half, after which they led by double scores, 0-8 to 0-4, however their forwards always had a greater dynamism about them than their opponents.

In particular, the introduction of Joe Young, which enabled Adrian Ronan to move to the corner, impacted hugely on the match while Micheal Hoyne, who scored three points from play, was always lively.

It was only when O'Loughlin's second-half burst of four points in a 12-minute spell - two frees from Skehan, Kelly's fine score and a point from Brian Dowling - enabled them to draw to within two points that Graigue-Ballycallan finally let loose with their best play.

In defence, Johnny Butler in particular made some important interceptions and, everywhere, the poor ball-striking that had been prevalent was replaced with purer striking, no doubt brought on by the urgency of the occasion.

The result was a spell of almost total dominance during which Joe Young had a dream spell, contributing three points from the 49th minute.

As far as Kilkenny finals go, it wasn't a classic. For Graigue-Ballycallan, however, it was an occasion to savour. After last year's final defeat, it reminded them of the sweeter side to championship hurling.

Graigue-Ballycallan: J Ronan; J Butler, P O'Dwyer, J Ryall; T McCluskey, T Comerford, A Hoyne; James Young, E O'Dwyer; D Byrne, J Hoyne, M Hoyne; T Dermody A Ronan, E Brennan. Sub: Joe Young for Dermody (43 mins).

O'Loughlin Gaels: P Cleere; B Power, M Holohan, B Murphy; J Holohan, A Comerford, S Dowling; D O'Dwyer, A Geoghegan; M Comerford, C Furlong, B Kelly; N Skehan, J Daly, B Dowling. Subs: J Comerford for O'Dwyer (21 mins), B Hogan for Dowling (43), N Bergin for Skehan (55).

D Byrne 0-4 (three frees); A Ronan (two frees), M Hoyne, Joe Young 0-3 each; E Brennan 0-2; James Young 0-1. N Skehan 0-5 (four frees, one 65); S Dowling, A Geoghegan, B Kelly, B Dowling 0-1 each.

Referee: E Mahon (Cloneen).