Kilkenny – 0-19 Galway – 0-18
There was a time, not so long ago either, when the Kilkenny public seemed like they had been numbed to the sensation of winning All-Irelands, such was their frequency.
The hurling world has turned. These are comparatively leaner times. The trophy hoarders are now giants dressed in green, rather than striped, jerseys.
All of which explains the exuberance of those Kilkenny fans who made the short trip to Thurles yesterday to watch their team win a first All-Ireland at the U-20/21 grade since 2008.
“It’s always important,” noted victorious Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng after his team’s tight, but fully deserved win.
“Especially at underage. I’m delighted. We haven’t had it . . . this is our first in a long time. I don’t know when was the last time we had it.”
As it happens, the last time Kilkenny did it their team contained TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy, while the seniors, with Lyng in midfield, had just won a third Liam MacCarthy Cup in a row.
Heady days indeed.
This, on the other hand, was Kilkenny’s first All-Ireland success of any hue in seven years. What made it all the more impressive was few expected it of them.
“We weren’t anybody’s favourites at the start of the year or anything. In fact, we were way down the list,” Lyng noted.
“But we got working with them. Really good group. Brilliant attitude. The application was outstanding. And they were gutsy today. We worked the ball well. They made mistakes. But they kept coming back.
“That’s been the way all year. To do it on the biggest day then takes serious guts. I’m delighted for them.”
For the Limerick hurling public, the disappointment of defeat here will wash quickly away when attentions revert to their pursuit of history at senior level.
For players and management, though, it will sting a little longer.
The 37th minute was the last time Limerick led yesterday and in a game without the sort of wild flow or high scoring of previous fixtures at the grade this year, it was Kilkenny that had the two best goal chances.
They came within three minutes of one another and both fell to Ian Byrne but on each occasion Conor Hanley Clarke pulled off an excellent reflex save.
Limerick, though, had chances.
Most obvious was Colin Coughlan’s in injury-time, pulled slightly, that would have forced extra-time had its flight started only slightly to the right.
“Colin did the right thing, he went for a score and fair play to him,” insisted Limerick manager Diarmuid Mullins.
“There would be no fear of him in terms like that. You can’t boil a game down to a last chance or anything like that. You have to look at all the factors up to that and maybe we should have been a point or two up by then.
“I have no complaints about any of the players.”
Limerick also had a legitimate gripe over a point awarded to Kilkenny in the 20th minute, ‘scored’ by Paddy Langton after Hanley Clarke controlled the ball with his stick over the crossbar.
The umpire at the Town End of Semple Stadium reached for his white flag without hesitation, but replays indicated the sliotar hadn’t passed beyond the Limerick crossbar.
“From where I was standing – and I was miles away and that made it difficult to see it – but it looked like he controlled it,” said Mullins.
“The umpire seemed to be very quick to decide that it was a point. He is closer to it than that.
“I’m not sure . . . Hawk-Eye will be in use for the second game here. I’m not sure was it in use for the first game. I presume it was. It would be disappointing if that was the case but I don’t think it boils down to that one decision either.”
Limerick came with understandably high hopes. The team was filled with Munster minor-winning players from 2019 and 2020.
Coughlan, the huge wing-back from Ballybrown, and Adam English, who scored two points and offered a brilliant aerial option at wing-forward, had both featured for John Kiely’s seniors in this year’s league.
In all, the teams were level 14 times by the time Kilkenny established a late two-point lead.
Limerick huffed and puffed but each time they took a point off Kilkenny’s lead, the Leinster champions nosed back ahead.
Billy Drennan was Kilkenny’s most industrious forward. The Galmoy man hit 0-8, five points of which came from play.
Late on, after Aidan O’Connor had chiselled Limerick’s deficit back to a point with his 10th point and seventh free, Coughlan had the chance to send the game to extra-time but his shot into the Town End goal was errant.
“Hard to get your head around it yet,” admitted Lyng, who won six All-Ireland SHC medals during his distinguished playing time with Kilkenny.
“The fight was there from the very first minute. We just kept going and I think overall we deserved it.
“At times we made hard work of it. But that’s been our year. And we kept going.”
SCORERS – Kilkenny: B Drennan 0-8 (2f, 1 ’65); T Clifford 0-3; D Walsh, I Byrne 0-2 each; P Langton, A Hickey, G Dunne, A Tallis (f) 0-1 each. Limerick: A O’Connor 0-10 (7f); A English, P O’Donovan 0-2 each; C Coughlan, E Stokes, S O’Brien, P Kirby 0-1 each.
KILKENNY – A Tallis; N Rowe, S Purcell, P Lennon; J Fitzpatrick, P Moylan, P Langton; K Doyle, A Hickey; D Walsh, T Clifford, P McDonald; B Drennan, G Dunne, I Byrne. Subs: J Walsh for Hickey (43), E O’Brien for Fitzpatrick (50), J Doyle for Dunne (57).
LIMERICK – C Hanley Clarke; C Thomas, F O’Connor, E O’Leary; C Scully, E Hurley, C Couglan; J Quilty, J Kirby; A English, A O’Connor, E Stokes; S O’Brien, P Kirby, P O’Donovan. Subs: D Ó Dálaigh for O’Donovan (50), P Reale for O’Leary (55), J Sweeney for Scully (57).
REF – T Walsh (Waterford).