Alley back in the big time
TWELVE MONTHS after being relegated, Buffers Alley dug it out to make an immediate return to Senior ranks with a thoroughly-deserved five-point victory over a battling Naomh Eanna side in The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate hurling championship final at Wexford Park on Saturday last.
Buffers Alley did what was asked of them in digging out a win against a dogged and determined Naomh Eanna outfit. The superior experience of the Alley side proved crucial through several passages of this game, particularly when Naomh Eanna made their second-half surge, as they held their composure and bounced back for crucial scores to maintain the gap which they had created with a dominant opening 30 minutes.
Showing the greater maturity when it mattered most, the Alley also had an ace attacker in corner-forward Andrew Kenny who struck a marvellous 1-5 from play. It was a classy display from the 19-year-old who must surely have caught the eye of Wexford manager Liam Dunne as an attacker of real potential. He played the classic corner-forward role, making himself available for the quick ball in from outfield, but more importantly firing over some tremendous scores which helped to create the gap that Naomh Eanna could not pull back.
Buffers Alley streaked out from the start with two points inside the opening four minutes from Keith Burke frees. It was an energetic rather than spectacular opening, as Naomh Eanna, despite a sixth-minute Michael Murphy point, were struggling to impose themselves on the game.
The Alley's Tomas O'Leary struck over a fine point before Naomh Eanna launched an attack, leading to Conor McDonald being fouled, with Padraig Doyle pointing the ensuing free which left the minimum separating the sides (0-3 to 0-2) at the end of the opening quarter.
The game was still on a knife edge at this stage, but gradually the Alley began to improve as Andrew Kenny shot an excellent point under pressure. It was the signal for the Alley to up the tempo as they followed with unanswered points from Andrew Kenny, Keith Burke and Kenny once again to lead by 0-8 to 0-2 after 23 minutes.
Naomh Eanna then hit a couple of wides as they strove to remain in touch but they were finding it difficult to crack the opposing defence where Bobby Kenny, Ciaran Kenny and Kevin Roche were playing outstandingly well.
Still the town side continued to battle as captain Darren Kelly attempted to inspire his side from centre-back, while Padraig Doyle and Conor McDonald where trying everything in an effort to unhinge the opposing defence. They were given a brief respite from pressure when Michael Murphy lofted over a fine point, but crucially the Alley hit them with a flurry of scores approaching the break.
After Keith Burke pointed a free one minute before the end of normal time, they launched a series of attacks in additional time, leading to a huge Sean Og Whelan point off the sideline, before Andrew Kenny blazed a ground shot to the net in the 33rd minute, leading to his side going in with what appeared a comfortable ten-point interval lead (1-10 to 0-3).
On the resumption it looked as if the Alley dominance was set to continue as they opened with three unanswered points from Pat Doran and two from the excellent Andrew Kenny to extend into a 13-point lead after 36 minutes, leaving Naomh Eanna with a huge task just to put a respectable look on the final scoreboard.
Ten minutes into the second-half, Padraig Doyle - who was now beginning to win more outfield ball - sent over a great point from outfield. Then after eleven minutes Conor McDonald was fouled, and from the resulting 21-metre free to the left of goal, the young attacker blazed an unstoppable shot to the net, making it 1-13 to 1-4.
Naomh Eanna were now beginning the nudge the outfield duels. Padraig Doyle pointed a 60-metre free, following almost immediately with a great point from play. Naomh Eanna were rallying as they were at this stage playing some quality hurling, with the Alley becoming somewhat concerned as they started to make the positional switches in an effort to arrest the flow of attacks.
Naomh Eanna, to their credit, were refusing to die, as Eoin Conroy shot a huge point out of midfield, and then the inspirational Brendan Travers showed wonderful first touch in pulling a high ball down back deep in defence, before going on a mazy solo run and firing over the score of the game, a 50-metre point, leaving five separating the sides (1-13 to 1-8) with eleven minutes remaining.
The Gorey side had hit a patch of dominance, but a Robert O'Leary point helped to lift the siege for the Alley. Still Naomh Eanna responded as Eoin Conroy, who was now dominant in midfield, scored another excellent long-range point.
As the game moved into additional time, Keith Burke had an Alley point, before Naomh Eanna in a late desperate attack saw Conor McDonald fouled. This time his shot for goal was deflected for a '65 that saw Sean Doyle's effort just drop over the bar for the closing score of a game that provided a torried closing 20 minutes.
Buffers Alley will be happy to return to the top flight and while Naomh Eanna's late surge may matter little in defeat to the players, they showed through that closing 20 minutes that they are a side with real potential to succeed in the future.