YOUNG Cork player Cathal Naughton scored a late point to earn the 2008 team a draw in the exhibition game in Buenos Aires on Saturday afternoon which was the centrepiece of the tour by the GAA Hurling Allstars sponsored by Vodafone. Naughton, who was a late replacement on the glamour trip to Argentina for his Newtownshandrum clubmate Ben O’Connor, levelled the game in the 56th minute after a fighting comeback inspired by goals from Galway star Joe Canning and Waterford’s Eoin McGrath.
The Allstars had previously played in the Hurling Club venue in Hurlingham in January 2002, when Brendan Cummins (the 2008 captain) gave an exhibition of goalkeeping and two other players who lined out then – Ollie Canning (Galway) and Eoin Kelly (Tipperary) – were also involved. However, the occasion was especially notable for two reasons. It was the last representative game before it will become compulsory for hurlers (from next January) to wear helmets and secondly All-Ireland football referee Marty Duffy from Sligo took charge of the game for the last fifteen minutes. Interestingly, apart from the two goalkeepers (Kilkenny’s P.J. Ryan captaining the 2009 team), only five other players didn’t wear helmets. Afterwards, Brendan Cummins said he was willing to abide by the new regulation, joking: “my good looks are safe…..! I think all inter-county players are role models for young players and it’s only right that they should show the way.”
Teams were thirteen-a-side, with three players – Michael Walsh (Waterford) and the Kilkenny pair Eoin Larkin and Eddie Brennan unable to take part. The 2008 team made the better start, with Martin Comerford getting the opening point and Brian Carroll following with a goal in the seventh minute. Within minutes the teams were level for the first of only two times after a point from Tommy Walsh and a goal from Lar Corbett and that marked the beginning of a dominant period which was to see the 2009 team lead 2-9 to 1-7 at half-time. P.J. Ryan, one of several candidates for man-of-the-match was prominent from an early stage with them, while at the other end of the field his vastly experienced Kilkenny team-mate Michael Kavanagh was another to make an early impression.
Additionally, Alan McCrabbe (Dublin’s third Allstar winner in the history of the scheme) was fitting in well at midfield for the 2009 side with Michael Rice. Overall, defences were holding sway in perfect conditions for hurling, in front of an appreciative crowd of close to a thousand, who witnessed Galway star Joe Canning demonstrate one of the great skills in the game when pointing with a sideline shot from near the centre of the field. The second half proved to be similarly close, with the 2009 Allstars staying in front thanks to goals from McCrabbe and John Mullane.
But, a strong finish by the 2008 side was rewarded with a share of the spoils. Their recovery started with a shot from Eoin Kelly which was deflected into the net off Joe Canning’s hurley and finished with Naughton’s leveller. And, while there were up to four minutes remaining on the clock (the game was decided over 60 minutes), nobody questioned Duffy’s decision to call time when he did. GAA President Christy Cooney was delighted that the game had lived up to its promise, commenting: “it was a very enjoyable occasion.
We had the Irish Ambassador here, as well as the British and Bulgarian ambassadors. Overall, it was a wonderful day for the Irish Diaspora in Argentina.” 2008 manager Brian Cody was equally pleased with the exhibition, saying that it showed off the skills of the game and undoubtedly pleased the attendance. “There were some great scores and great goalkeeping,” he commented. Liam Sheedy, the 2009 manager agreed: “the crowd got a very good flavour of how the game is played back home – and that is what it’s all about. And a draw was the perfect result.”
Meanwhile, All-Ireland hurling final referee Diarmuid Kirwan was delighted to see Marty Duffy being given the opportunity of refereeing what proved to be his first ever hurling game. The Sligo man described it ‘a fantastic honour’ to be on the same field as some the best hurlers in the country. He had hurled himself at minor level with his home club Enniscrone and for a while in the senior grade with neighbouring team Easkey.
Scorers: 2009 Allstars – M. Rice, A. McCrabbe and L. Corbett 1-2 each; J. Mullane 1-1; N. McGrath 0-2; T. Walsh, R. Power and E. Kelly 0-1 each. 2008 Allstars – B. Carroll 2-1; J. Canning and E. McGrath 1-1 each; E. Kelly 0-4; C. Naughton and T. Browne 0-2 each; M. Comerford 0-1.
2009 ALLSTARS: P.J. Ryan (Kilkenny, captain); P. Maher (Tipperary), O. Canning (Galway); T. Walsh (Kilkenny), B. Hogan (Kilkenny), S. Hiney (Dublin); M. Rice (Kilkenny), A. McCrabbe (Dublin); N. McGrath (Tipperary) R. Power (Kilkenny), L. Corbett (Tipperary); E. Kelly (Tipperary), J. Mullane (Waterford). Sub: A. Fogarty (Kilkenny).
2008 ALLSTARS: B. Cummins (Tipperary, captain); M. Kavanagh (Kilkenny), J. Tyrrell (Kilkenny); M. Foley (Limerick), J.J. Delaney (Kilkenny), F. Moore (Galway); T. Browne (Waterford), S. Og O hAilpin (Cork); J. Fitzpatrick (Kilkenny), M. Comerford (Kilkenny), E. Kelly (Waterford); B. Carroll (Offaly), J. Canning (Galway). Subs: C. Naughton (Cork) and E. McGrath (Waterford).
Referees: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork) and Marty Duffy (Sligo)