A youthful Connacht team advanced to the M Donnelly Inter-Provincial Hurling Final following a 3-13 to 1-16 win over a star-studded Leinster side.
On paper, Leinster looked like the much stronger side with nine of Kilkenny’s All-Ireland winning side from last September in the starting line-up. However, Connacht proved more than equal to their opponents and went on to win by three points. Although the scoreline may suggest differently, the game was of a low-standard and had connotations of a junior challenge match. The attendance of just 489 people added to the dreary atmosphere in Tullamore.
Leinster were dominant early on and raced into a 0-06 to 0-01 lead, thanks in part to four Shane Dooley frees. The lead could have been much larger if it wasn’t for the crossbar, with Dooley unlucky not to add a goal to his ever-increasing tally. Niall Burke, often a star for Galway, kept Connacht in the game as he began to tack on the scores. Burke had six points at the interval, with the teams going in level at eight points apiece.
The introduction of Damien Hayes and Davy Glennon gave Anthony Cunningham’s Connacht side a major boost, with the latter landing an early second-half point to give Connacht the lead for the first time. However, Leinster stepped it up a gear and scored six consecutive points, including two apiece for both Joe Bergin and Richie Hogan.
The game turned on two Paul Dooley misses, as he failed to hit the back of the net from promising positions. This served as a wake-up call for Connacht as they began to display a clinical side that was clearly lacking in their Leinster opponents.
Their first goal came courtesy of their goalkeeper, Colm Callanan, as he made no mistake from a twenty metre free. The effective Jonathan Glynn then set up Damien Hayes and he struck the back of the net with a composed finish. The Westerners now found themselves in front and added a third goal through Glennon with just five minutes remaining.
In Eoin Larkin, Leinster have one of the best hurlers in the country and he brought his side back into it with a well-taken goal in the 68th minute. A nervous last few minutes ensued, with Tommy Walsh dropping a free into the opposition goalmouth.
However, the resilient Connacht side cleared the ball and advanced to a final match-up against Munster. It was a great win for Anthony Cunningham’s side, as Leinster’s wastefulness in front of goal came back to haunt them.
Scorers – Connacht: N Burke 0-9(4fs, 1 65); D Glennon 1-1; C Donnellan 0-3; C Callanan (f), D Hayes 1-0 each
Leinster: S Dooley 0-8(7fs); R Hogan 0-3; E Larkin 1-0; A Fogarty, J Bergin 0-2 each, C Fennelly 0-1
Connacht (all Galway): C Callanan; B Flaherty, S Kavanagh, P Killeen; T Óg Regan, J Cooney, N Donoghue; A Harte, P Brehony; P Gordon, J Glynn, C Donnellan; S Maloney, N Burke, A Callanan. Subs: D Hayes for Gordon (ht); D Glennon for A Callanan (ht); J Grealish for Brehony (44); R Cummins for Maloney (54)
Leinster: G Maguire (Dublin); P Murphy (Kilkenny), JJ Delaney (Kilkenny), J Tyrell (Kilkenny); T Walsh (Kilkenny), B Hogan (Kilkenny), R Hanniffy (Offaly); M Fennelly (Kilkenny), D Redmon (Wexford); D Sutcliffe (Dublin), J Bergin (Offaly), C Fennelly (Kilkenny); S Dooley (Offaly), R Hogan (Kilkenny), A Fogarty (Kilkenny). Subs: P Kelly (Dublin) for Redmond (47); E Larkin (Kilkenny) for Bergin (53); C Keaney (Dublin) for C Fennelly (56); P Morris (Wexford) for Sutcliffe (69)