KILKENNY 2-16 GALWAY 2-15 All-Ireland MHC final GALLANT Galway were agonisingly deprived of a second chance in yesterday's thrilling All-Ireland minor hurling final when Kilkenny captain Richie Power fired over a last-gasp point to give the young Cats a dramatic victory in the curtain-raiser at Croke Park.
The sides were deadlocked at 2-15 apiece when the Cats broke up the field. And, after his first shot had been blocked, the son of former Kilkenny senior great Richie Power made no mistake when the ball rebounded kindly to him.
But even the most partisan fans of Kilkenny, who now join Cork at the head of the All-Ireland minor hurling title race with 18 triumphs, must have felt a slight twinge of sympathy for a gritty Galway side.
Indeed, Galway would have earned a replay had prolific scorer Niall Healy, who shot 1-10, including 1-2 from play, not squandered a relatively simple 20 metres free two minutes from time.
Healy, who previously had shown radar-like accuracy, drove the ball wide of the left post to leave the Cats holding a 2-15 to 2-4 advantage.
But a minute later, Healy's corner-forward colleague Donal Reilly landed a wonderful point from 55 metres to level the scores.
However, just when it seemed that the tie would end in stalemate, Carrickshock clubman Power emerged as the hero as Kilkenny - the reigning champions - snatched victory to bring the title back to Noreside again.
After seven minutes of the second half, it seemed most unlikely that Kilkenny would be forced to endure such a nerve-wracking finale to this fascinating roller-coaster battle.
At half-time, the Leinster side trailed by 2-8 to 1-10, with Galway's two goals coming from Niall Callanan and Healy in the last four minutes of the half.
But the Black and Ambers came out for the second half with all guns blazing and rattled their opponents by hitting 1-4 without reply.
The goal was registered by full-forward James Fitzpatrick after Galway full-back Ger Mahon was found guilty of ball-watching. Mahon allowed Fitzpatrick to gain possession three metres goalside of him, and with only goalkeeper Aidan Ryan to beat, the Kilkenny man took full advantage.
That scoring blitz left the Connacht side 2-14 to 2-8 adrift, but they courageously stormed back with five unanswered points between the 42nd and 50th minute.
And then, when Kilkenny moved 2-15 to 2-13 ahead, Reilly hit two points to level the scores.
The first quarter of the match followed a similar pattern to the early stages of the second half, with Kilkenny racing into a 0-7 to 0-3 lead after 15 minutes.
But a hat-trick of points from Healy between the 16th and 18th minute - one of them a glorious effort from play after a deft pass from Niall Callanan - kept Galway in touch.
And Galway then took the lead for the first time four minutes before the break, when Healy found the net after good work from Declan Garvey and Reilly.
Almost immediately, Kilkenny responded with pacey corner-forward Eoin Guinan finding the net.
But their 1-10 to 1-8 lead lasted only two minutes, with Healy once more playing a vital role by setting up Niall Callanan with a defence-splitting pass.
One of the crucial differences between the sides was that Kilkenny's scoring threat was more widely spread than Galway's.
Power, Fitzpatrick and Guinan consistently troubled the opposing defence, but Healy - a member of the Galway Under 21 side which faces Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final at Thurles next Sunday, and surely a future member of his county's senior side - was too often left to plough a lone furrow for the Connacht side.
SCORERS - Kilkenny: R Power 0-9 (5f), E Guinan, J Fitzpatrick 1-2 each, M Nolan 0-2, D Cody 0-1. Galway: N Healy 1-10 (0-8fs), N Callanan 1-1, D Reilly 0-2, A Callanan, E Fenton 0-1 each.
KILKENNY - C Grant; J Dalton, J Tennyson, S Cadigan; D Cody, D Prendergast, P O'Donovan; P Hartley, M Fennelly; E McGrath, R Power, A Healy; M Nolan, J Fitzpatrick, E Guinan. Subs: A Murphy for McGrath (ht); R Wall for Healy (51); D McCormack for Hartley (51).
GALWAY - A Ryan; T Linnane, G Mahon, D Kennedy; D Ryan, J Lee, R Whyte; C Burke, D Kelly; N Callanan, D Garvey, N Coleman; D Reilly, A Callanan, N Healy. Subs: E Fenton for Burke (38); K Hynes for Coleman (44).
REF - D Kirwan (Cork).