Galway glee as minors turn on style in epic final
GALWAY 0-16 KILKENNY 1-12 All-Ireland MHC Final replay AN outstanding second-half performance encompassing tremendous character and exceptional intensity proved the key factor as Galway edged past Kilkenny by just a point in a thrilling All-Ireland minor hurling final replay at Tullamore yesterday.
In a contest which arguably surpassed last Sunday's excellent drawn tie at Croke Park for it's quality and entertainment value, Galway's prospects of lifting their first under-18 title since 2000 looked far from favourable at half-time.
Despite having elected to play with the wind in the first half, they only went in on level terms, 0-9 to Kilkenny's 1-6.
But on the restart the 8,500 crowd witnessed a much more purposeful and fired-up Galway side, and three points on the trot by the Connacht champions in the opening six minutes set the tone.
Indeed, Kilkenny, who were bidding for a hat-trick of All-Ireland minor titles, needed three successive points in the last five minutes to finish just the minimum margin adrift.
"It wasn't a great position for us at half-time," said Galway boss Mattie Murphy. "But we would have been a few points in front, but for a number of questionable decisions.
"We asked the lads to win the throw-in at the start of the second half and to get the first score. But thankfully they managed to do better than that, by scoring the first three points, and that obviously had a detrimental effect on Kilkenny's morale.
"Today's win is all about the heart and character of the lads. A major motivating factor was that they wanted to ensure that all the hard work they put in over the year, including a very wet day training at Inveran after the semi-final against Cork, was not going to be in vain.
"As well, they felt they were a better side than Kilkenny and they wanted to make that count on the field. In four or five years' time, a lot of these lads will be big names on the senior scene."
Just how much winning the All-Ireland minor title meant to the Galway players could be seen by their over-joyed reactions when Offaly referee Brian Gavin blew the final whistle, with Kilkenny desperately chasing the score which would send the match into extra-time.
Kilkenny supremo Brother Damien Brennan was impressed by Galway's second-half performance. "They really upped their game after half-time," he said. "Particularly in the first 10 minutes. We were hoping to gain a foothold in that period, but Galway held their nerve and made it very difficult for us.
"They were the better team on the day, and we have no complaints about the result. Last year we beat Galway by one point in the final and today it's their turn."
Defenders Gerard Mahon, Ciaran O'Donovan and team captain John Lee, midfielder Andrew Keary and forwards Kevin Hynes, Keith Kilkenny, Kerril Wade, and Joe Canning, who shot two points from line-balls, particularly caught the eye for the winners, but their all-round solidity was their biggest trump card.
A blow for Kilkenny was that Gavin Nolan, who shot four points, including the equalising score, in the drawn tie, was held scoreless on this occasion.
But defenders Kieran Joyce, Neal Prendergast and Ronan Maher, midfielder Patrick Hogan and forwards Morris Nolan and Eoin Guinan can feel happy with their performances.
Galway's three early second-half scores came from two frees by Wade and one from play by Hynes. And when Kilkenny hit back with two points from Maurice Nolan, Hynes and Keith Kilkenny responded with a point each to put Galway 0-14 to 1-8 up after 47 minutes.
The Connacht side seemed to be in the driving seat when points from Wade and Finian Coone stretched their lead to four points with five minutes remaining.
But Mattie Murphy's side had to endure a torrid closure to the contest, with scores from Patrick Hogan, Neal Prendergast and Maurice Nolan reducing the deficit to just one point.
The Cats squandered two opportunities to force the game into extra-time, with sub Eddie O'Donoghue and Guinan driving wide.
Galway made the more promising start to the match, Canning firing them ahead after only 15 seconds.
After five minutes, Galway led by 0-3 to 0-2, but then an opportunist goal by Guinan put the Leimster champions 1-2 to 0-3 in front. An excellent line-ball from Richard Hogan was met perfectly in mid-air by Guinan, whose bullet shot gave 'keeper Mark Herlihy no chance.
The Cats were 1-6 to 0-6 ahead after 23 minutes, but Galway finished the opening half the stronger, firing over three unanswered points, the second a 40m line-ball from Canning, and the third an 80 metre free from Wade.
SCORERS - Galway: K Wade 0-7 (6f), J Canning 0-4 (2 lineballs, 1f), K Hynes 0-2, F Coone 0-2 each, K Kilkenny 0-1. Kilkenny: E Guinan 1-1, M Nolan 0-4 (3f), P Hogan 0-3 (2f) '65', N Prendergast, E O'Donoghue, R Hogan and M Ruth 0-1 each
GALWAY - M Herlihy; P Loughnane, G Mahon, C O'Donovan; M Ryan, J Lee, J Hughes; A Keary, D Kennedy; K Kilkenny, K Hynes, F Coone; K Wade, J Canning, B Hanley. Sub: D White for Ryan (22).
KILKENNY - L Tierney; J Maher, K Joyce, P Cahill; N Prendergast, R Maher, S Prendergast; P Hartley, P Hogan; G Nolan, M Nolan, N Kenny; R Hogan, E Guinan, M Ruth. Sub: E O'Donoghue for Kenny (48).
REF - B Gavin (Offaly)