Holders respond to challenge

 

Not quite the comfort of victory that most St Kieran's supporters were expecting and had Dublin Colleges got a few more rolls of the dice then this Leinster hurling title may well been more delicately balanced than the final sixpoint margin.

There were occasional periods when the Leinster champions certainly showed their worth yet the willingness and determination of the Dublin Colleges side made sure that it was a real battle right to the end. All six St Kieran's forwards made the scoresheet and they needed to because Conal Kearney was exceptional for Dublin Colleges at midfield.

Kearney finished as the game's top scorer with his seven points although the more significant combination of Eoin Kelly, Brian Carroll and Peter O'Neill made sure that the St Kieran's scoring was frequent enough to keep their advantage relatively safe. They were seven points clear at half-time, 1-7 to 0-3, and while that was briefly reduced to three midway through the second half, Dublin just couldn't capitalise on the breaks to make it closer.

Still, it demanded some key responses from St Kieran's to keep Dublin Colleges at bay. Kearney wasted no time in impressing and after 10 minutes had Dublin in front for the first and only time, 0-2 to 0-1. For that opening period, Dublin looked well able for the Kilkenny students but then, almost without warning, St Kieran's opened their stride.

Shane Hennessy shot the first of his long-range frees from midfield and Kelly, the superb Tipperary minor, started to make his presence felt in the half-forward line. All the forwards started picking up whatever loose ball there was and Patrick Reid and Michael Rice added to the range of scoring options so that after a five-minute spell, St Kieran's pulled four points clear.

And there was an even bigger blow for Dublin after 20 minutes. Derek O'Reilly paid the ultimate price for his slack clearance in front of goal when Carroll fired the ball straight back into the net to put St Kieran's 1-7 to 0-2 ahead. Captain Tim Murphy was also leading by example so that the St Kieran's half-back line made things increasingly difficult for a Dublin counter-attack. Sean McCann managed one more score before the break but it was looking increasingly ominous at that stage.

A good response after the restart was now going to be crucial and Dublin managed exactly that. Kearney and then David Callaghan fired two of the best points of the game and suddenly Derek Brennan found himself blocking a succession of shots in the St Kieran's goal. Callaghan's close-range shot was dangerous and St Kieran's were lucky to escape.

Dublin continued to press forward but just couldn't make it count. Hennessy added two more for St Kieran's but just as they seemed to be cruising, Kearney stepped up his game further with another succession of points and 10 minutes from time, Dublin finally got their deserved goal.

Stephen Fee started the move from full forward and after a confident pass from Shane O'Neill, substitute Ciaran Regan drilled low into the net. Cillian O'Driscoll then scored his first point to reduce the gap to three.

Dublin still needed a little more luck but St Kieran's responded immediately. In a charge downfield, Peter O'Neill got the last sweep at goal and the margin was back to six points. Kearney and Kelly exchanged the final scores and the only consolation for Dublin is that the losing margin was closer compared to the 10 points when the sides met at a similar stage last year.

St Kieran's must now defeat Connacht champions Gort CS in the next month's semi-final if they are to get another crack at the All-Ireland champions, St Flannan's. And judging on this performance, they'll have to improve a few steps more if they are to gain revenge.

St Kieran's College: D Brennan; D Connery, J Moran, T Walsh; T Murphy, J Tyrrell, B Doyle; B Hogan, S Hennessy (0-3, two frees, a 65); P Reid (0-1), M Walsh (0-1), E Kelly (0-5, one free), B Carroll (1-2, one free), P O'Neill (1-0), M Rice (0-1). Sub: S Dunne for Walsh (55 mins).

Dublin Colleges: K Hannafin; N O'Driscoll, L Og O hEineachain, D O'Reilly; C Casserly, I Franzoni, G Bennet; C Kearney (0- 7, four frees), S Hyland; S McCann (0-1), K Elliott, S O'Neill; C O'Driscoll (0-1), S Fee, D Callaghan (0-1). Subs: C Regan (1-0) for Casserly, R Meade for Franzoni (45 mins).

Referee: P Delaney (Laois).