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'The first man that came over and shook my hand was Dan, Dillon’s father' - Hurling emotion in Tipp

Victorious Kilruane manager remembers the tragedy in their opening game of the 2022 season when Dillon Quirke passed away.

AFTER ENDING A 37-year wait to become Tipperary senior hurling champions, Kilruane MacDonaghs stepped away from the celebrations, kneeling in a circle around manager Liam O’Kelly on the 21-metre line at the Town End of Semple Stadium.

Kilruane Kilruane manager Liam O'Kelly with his players. Source: Twitter - Stephen Gleeson.

It was the spot where Dillon Quirke had collapsed during their group game against Clonoulty-Rossmore last August.

O’Kelly held a red helmet aloft, evocative of Quirke’s celebration on his greatest day for Clonoulty in this final four years ago, and said some words to pay tribute to the fallen Tipperary hurler.

“We’ll always remember the night we won but we’ll always remember the night we were all here, the night that poor Dillon passed away,” said O’Kelly.

“The game wasn’t over two minutes and the first man that came over and shook my hand was Dan, Dillon’s father.

“There’s a bond between Kilruane and Clonoulty that’s absolutely phenomenal. I knew nobody in Clonoulty, bar Declan Ryan, being familiar with the name, but now I’ve lads ringing me, texting me, it’s unbelievable.

“With Andrew Fryday and these guys in a club like Clonoulty, they’re only going to get stronger.”

That game has knitted the clubs together and it has brought this Kilruane group closer together too.

They have had their setbacks through injuries. Craig Morgan, their Tipperary starter, chief among them, having been as ruled out with a cruciate injury at the end of August.

But rather than have him sit in the background on game days, O’Kelly has brought Morgan into his inner circle.

“I’m not a genius in hurling, I’ve always said that. One thing I do know is I’ve a group of guys in the changing room that would go to war for me every day. The bond there is unreal.

“That’s why I had the moment there to remember Dillon Quirke. Since that tragedy in August, we’ve just gone from strength to strength.

“The following week we lost Craig Morgan, our talisman player. We were written off at that time but we came back stronger. It’s amazing.

“Craig Morgan was a massive loss but his loss inside the white lines was a massive gain for Liam O’Kelly outside the white lines. He ran the line there today with me. His knowledge of the game, while I would have a basic knowledge of back play, he was instrumental.

“I came from a rugby background and the dynamic of the game is a little bit different compared to hurling. I tried to implement a good lot of the rugby stuff I had in my brain into the hurling but hurling inside the white lines is just such a different game, the speed of the game now and everything else.”

craig-morgan Craig Morgan and Liam O'Kelly (file photo). Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

Morgan’s injury wasn’t the only one to manage. Niall O’Meara hobbled his way to the man-of-the-match award, ignoring the effects of a knee injury. Jack Peters, for the second week in a row, put a hamstring strain to the back of his mind. Séamus Hennessy, after the Peter Canavan substitution tactic in the drawn final last week, started on the bench. O’Kelly’s son Kian didn’t take part in the warm-up with an ankle knock before declaring himself fit.

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“There were two or three injuries there that didn’t train. My own son, Kian, didn’t even do the warm-up in Dr Morris Park. I’d the bike organised for him there on the side. I said, ‘Do you want to go?’ ‘I’m ready to go,’ he said. That’s the way he was and that’s the way these guys are all year.

“Jack Peters had a very, very serious injury a couple of weeks ago but I got him back for the Toomevara match and in fairness to Jack Peters, you saw it there today when I took him off, his helmet nearly hit me! That’s the way these guys are. That’s how passionate they are about it.”

It took a number of defensive switches until they got the formula right to halt the Kiladangan threat. Down 1-9 to 0-7 at the half, they won the second period 2-13 to 0-7.

“I’ll be honest about it, there wasn’t a whole pile said [at half-time] because I wanted to keep a calm changing room. There wasn’t a cross word said. I made two or three positional changes which I thought worked in our favour but it’s testament to those guys. I can’t say enough about those guys. I’ve been talking about them all year. I’m driving the bus with these guys. They’re phenomenal guys.”

It could’ve been gone from them before then but for Tipperary senior keeper Brian Hogan having a penalty saved by his U20 counterpart Páidí Williams.

“That was a massive turning point in the game. Páidí Williams, an outstanding keeper, has been our go-to man this year. He’s destined for big things, I’ve no doubt in my mind, but I’m not involved in that part of it.”

Underdogs don’t usually win replays. Did Kilruane’s tradition of success dating back to the 1970s and ‘80s play a role?

“They tell me, reading the media, Kilruane should’ve been there a long time ago. But look, we got here today. People would say they’re a team that’s gone by, I saw that in the media there lately, but today’s their day and they’ll enjoy the next couple of days.”

As for All-Ireland champions Ballygunner in a Munster quarter-final next Sunday: “That’s for another day. Let’s get over today and tonight and tomorrow first.”

About the author:

Stephen Barry  / Reports from Semple Stadium

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