Kilkenny 2-19 Offaly 0-21
Laois 0-20 Wexford 0-18
Galway 3-27 Westmeath 0-20
Kilkenny, Laois and Galway all picked up home victories in the first round of the Walsh Cup this afternoon, there was cause for encouragement for all three losing sides after an entertaining series of contests.
Derek Lyng’s first game in charge of the Cats was closely contested in the early stages, but the home side at John Locke Park in Callan received a huge boost when Ian Byrne’s long range shot was fumbled to the Offaly net. With Billy Drennan knocking over scores from frees, Kilkenny led by 1-8 to 0-3 after 18 minutes and looked comfortable.
Offaly rallied however, and new manager Johnny Kelly was given a huge boost by the decision of Cillian Kiely to return to the panel this year. The Kilcormac-Killoughey man was excellent from frees in this game, scoring ten along with two from play, and he helped retrieve the gap to make it 1-11 to 0-10 at the interval.
Ross Ravenhill, John Murphy and David Nally got some good scores for the midlanders to help draw them level midway through the second half, but they couldn’t get their noses in front and with Cillian Buckley performing very well as the anchor in an inexperienced backline, Kilkenny held out until Tom Phelan’s excellent 59th minute goal gave them enough breathing room to see out their win.
Enda Rowland was the late hero for Laois as the O’Moore County got off to a fantastic start to the season, edging out Wexford by 0-20 to 0-18 in front of a lively home crowd at Mountrath.
At the end of a nip and tuck encounter where there was never more than three points between the teams, with Laois leading the whole way through the second half, Lee Chin set up Josh Shiel for what looked like a game-winning chance in stoppage time.
Rowland denied the young Faythe Harriers player with a brilliant save, before stepping up to fire over an insurance point from a long range free.
“We got what we wanted out of it, it wasn’t so much about the win, thought it’s nice to get it at the same time, but we wanted to test ourselves in terms of where we were and where the group are operating at” said new Laois boss Willie Maher to Midlands Radio Three afterwards.
“It’s Walsh Cup, we’re well aware of that, but we’re very happy to get the win”.
Both sides gave plenty of game time to relatively unheralded faces, particularly Wexford, with James Duggan and James Keyes leading the scoring for Laois while Kyle Firman and Ross Banville were consistent threats for Wexford. However Laois held their nerve and disrupted the Wexford attack sufficiently to ensure they kept their noses in front to the end.
The first game of the year was much more straightforward for Henry Shefflin and Galway, who stepped up the pace in the second half of their clash with Westmeath at Ballinasloe to record a 3-27 to 0-20 victory.
Loughrea’s Martin McManus, who impressed in his club’s run to the Galway senior hurling final a couple of months ago, fired in the goal that separated the sides at half-time, 1-11 to 0-11.
Despite not getting on the scoresheet in that spell, Conor Whelan’s experience and maturity was crucial for Galway as he controlled the game and set up a range of scores, including McManus’ goal.
On the Westmeath side, Killian Doyle continued the form that saw him win an All-Star nomination in 2022, and his eight point haul left Westmeath within a puck of a ball as the sides changed ends.
However McManus and Mark Kennedy found the net in the second half as Galway moved through the gears, with Evan Niland eventually racking up 0-16 over the course of the contest, including 14 frees.