All-Ireland MHC Final: Kilkenny 2-16 Galway 2-15The odd point margin in an aggregate of 43 helps to tell part of the story of an exhilarating All-Ireland minor hurling final.
The drama of a roller coaster curtain raiser at Croke Park yesterday finally ended in unconfined joy for Kilkenny and total frustration for the battling Galway youths with a hard-earned injury time point by Richie Power, the gifted Kilkenny captain.
As minor hurling deciders go this one was top of the range, garnished with skills, tenacity and unrelenting resolve as well as individual battles for the man of the match tag.
Power scored with fluency and maturity and just about stole the man of the match award from nearest rival Niall Healy in a Galway attack that didn't quite live up to what had been expected of them.
Tenacity was the key word for the Galway performance. Despite having the game's top scorer in Healy (1-10) they were forced to play catch up for most of the time.
The Connacht representatives largely excelled in their enforced role so much so that team manager Mattie Murphy was strong in the belief that this was the best Galway under-18 team he had managed despite his double success of the last decade.
Kilkenny forged a four points lead by the 15th minute and were still in front with three minutes of the first half remaining thanks to the dazzling defensive work of half backs Donncha Cody David Prenderast and Peter O'Donovan, augmented as always by the inspirational Power.
From this point the match turned into a gripping spectacle and three goals were slotted within three minutes, Healy and Niall Callanan netting for Galway with an Eoin Guinan Kilkenny goal sandwiched in between.
It meant that Galway were ahead by 2-8 to 1-10 at the interval but a more serious aspect for Kilkenny was the manner in which Power and his front runners looked capable of being contained by an improving Galway rearguard.
Tadgh Linnane and Ger Mahon in the Galway full back line and John Lee, charged with the immediate task of curbing Power's influence, were principals in Galway's resurgence. Kilkenny, as a result, began to lose their shape.
The interval pep talks were of the utmost importance. Kilkenny manager Brother Damien Brennan was fortright, telling his charges that they were the better hurlers. Despite the closeness of the scoring in the closing stages, the Kilkenny manager still insisted that at no stage was his team prepared to settle for a draw.
The Leinster champions responded with verve and style to their manager's urgings and proceeded to outstrip Galway with a prolific spell that saw them turn their one-point deficit into a six points lead by the time the second half was seven minutes old.
And it was only fitting that Power was on the mark with another pointed free to spark off that Kilkenny spree.
Moments later Kilkenny, now very much on the rampage went four points clear with an opportunist goal from the hard to mark James "Cha" Fitzpatrick. Midfielder Mick Fennelly and Power again added points to leave Galway with an Everest to climb.
What followed was the type of Galway spirit largely responsible for making this a great contest for the specatator. A rejigged attacking formation with Healy moving out of his left corner berth, helped to bring about a procession of points. A huge point by Healy reduced arrears to a single point before Power briefly interrupted the trend with a badly-needed point for Kilkenny.
The chance to put the sides level fell to Healy but, for once, the Galway youth was off target with a 20-metre free from out on the right. Moments later, however, Donal Reilly levelled the scoring after collecting a great clearance by Linnane.
Substitute Austin Murphy inspired a number of Kilkenny attacks during injury time before Power got the winner. His first attempt was somehow blocked but the team captain was in the right spot to reclaim and strike a good winner from 40 metres.
KILKENNY: C Grant; J Dalton, J Tennyson, S Cadigan; D Cody, D Prendergast, P O'Donovan; P Hartley, M Fennelly (0-1); E McGrath, R Power (0-9 six frees), A Healy; M Nolan (0-2), J Fitzpatrick (1-2), E Guinan (1-2). Subs - A Murphy for McGrath (half time). R Wall for Healy (47 mins), D McCormack for Hartley (47 mins).
GALWAY: A Ryan; T Linnane, G Mahon, D Kennedy; D Ryan, J Lee, R Whyte; C Burke, D Kelly; N Callanan (1-1), D Garvey, N Coleman; D Reilly (0-2), A Callanan (0-1), N Healy (1-10 eight frees). Subs - K Gibney for Kennedy (33 mins), E Fenton (0-1) for Burke (40 mins), K Hynes for Coleman (43 mins).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).