Kanturk dreams become a joyous reality
KANTURK’S hopes became a joyous reality early last season, their meteoric rise landed All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship honours at Croke Park.
In doing so, Kanturk scripted another chapter in a rapid rise to prominence, that’s without parallel in the history of a competitive championship on becoming the first Duhallow club to obtain senior status. When the pressure came on en route, Kanturk underlined their unwavering resolve and conviction.
At various stages along the road, Kanturk faced a major test of their character but on each occasion, they responded magnificently that allowed team captain Lorcan O’Neill collect the silverware.
Time and again, many of the games were decided by the tightest of margins, territory that Kanturk exploited to hold their composure to turn the screw to collect narrow wins.
Mallow looked to had a county title on one hand when Gerry Hayes pounced for a lead goal. Kanturk refused to be ruffled, reasserting themselves to offer great character along with maturity for key men Aidan Walsh, Lorcán McLoughlin and Ryan Walsh to land closing points for Kanturk lay their hands on county silverware.
One could cut the tension during the latter stages, a Mallow goal, a Kanturk penalty miss before the latter yielded the match winning scores to seal the deal.
Subsequently Kanturk’s fairytale season continued, bettering St Marys Clonmel (Tipperary) and Ballyduff (Kerry) to reach a Munster Final and record a dramatic extra-time victory over Kilmaley (Clare). Another epic surfaced here, Liam O’Keeffe delivered a 1-7 tally to a contest deadlocked on no fewer than seven occasions. The winners were well served by Anthony Nash, Darren Browne, Aidan Walsh and Lorcan McLoughlin to trigger trademark determination.
Kanturk had built up a six points advantage into the second half yet they needed a last-gasp Paul Walsh point to force extra-time where they greater desire ultimately proved decisive.
Onto an All-Ireland IHC quarter-final, Kanturk bettered Kilburn Gaels, the Duhallow outfit faced a stiff test from the London senior kingpins and would have trailed at half-time had Cork ‘keeper Nash not saved a penalty. Thereafter, there was no stopping Kanturk, Liam O’Keeffe and McLoughlin netting goals to put daylight between the sides.
Inclement weather deferred the All Ireland semi final againt Ulster champions Middletown Na Fianna of Armagh where early goals from Alan O’Keeffe and inter-county keeper Nash laid the foundation for a decisive win.
The All-Ireland Final against Ballyraggett proved to be a marvellous occasion, a traditional Cork and Kilkenny pairing, that lived up to its billing, unrivalled in terms of quality, skill and excitement.
With Duhallow supporters thrilled with a Knocknagree victory, the previous day, there were optimistic hopes of a famous double laid in prospect. However no one left their seats ‘til the last shrill of the full time whistle to a game that remained in the melting pot until Kanturk’s hunger secured late scores.
Kanturk were the better team for much of the first half thanks to the dominance of midfielders Lorcán McLoughlin and Ryan Walsh, and the ball-winning ability of the attacking Walsh cousins Aidan Walsh and Ian Walsh upfront.
The Cork champions had opened a deserved 0-8 to 0-5 lead by the 24th minute, but three points in as many minutes from Ballyragget tied the game up. Just when it looked like the Kilkenny outfit were getting the measure of Kanturk, they were sent reeling just before half-time, the Duhallow side delivered a flourish, a goal came from the outstanding Ryan Walsh lit up the fare, charging straight at the heart of the Ballyragget defence, Walsh fired home a piledriver to the roof of the net.
The tempo of the game went up a couple of notches in the second-half as Ballyragget started to find their groove and returned with a couple of scores. Crucially, Kanturk were still keeping their noses in front because they were playing some great hurling of their own.
It looked like the Kilkenny side had a priceless momentum when Kevin Kelly followed up a goal with a pointed free to push his side two clear, but Kanturk rallied again, forced to dig into their reserves of skill, fitness and determination to overcome the odds. Having led for most of the game, Kanturk had sustained a real body blow when Ballyragget pounced for 1-1 in quick succession with six minutes of regulation time remaining.
Adding to the Kanturk concern was a dislocated shoulder injury picked up by Aidan Walsh in the closing minutes. Still Kanturk held the resolve and composure to remain in touch, holding a confidence that they could play their way out of trouble.
A point from Ian Walsh and two from McLoughlin edged the Cork side into the lead briefly before Kelly made it all square again with a pointed free on 63 minutes.
There were just two minutes of injuryleft to play now, so the next score was always likely to be the winner. And when it came, a classic surfaced, Ian Walsh angled over a sublime effort, a dream point fitting to win an All-Ireland Final.
In terms of meticulous planning and team preparation, Kanturk raised their profile to a new level and rewarded with the highest prize in the land. Little wonder, joyous hordes of supporters took a huge sense of satisfaction on coming out late in the Duhallow capital with a rousing parade.
Club Chairman Tom O’Callaghan applauded players and managements on completing a hectic schedule over the previous 10 months, going 16 championship games without defeat in football and hurling.
“Kanturk and Ballyragget lived up to the traditional Cork and Kilkenny clashes, I predicted a ferocious battle thus maintaining the great traditions between the two counties before we pulled it off. Thanks to our supporters in the Hogan Stand, the noise levels encouraged the team to sway the outcome,” said Tom.