IT WAS one of the finest days in decades for the sport in Kilkenny. All the group games - obviously a team is involved - were away from home and the daring Cats chalked up one win after another, seven in all, before landing the national title.
And the last time this particular crown came to Kilkenny was way back in 1984, all of 27 years ago.
However, there was no holding the roaring Cats this time as a talented group of young players beat all before them to win the FAI Umbro Youth Inter League Cup final.
The Hotel Kilkenny and Kilkenny People sports personality scheme celebrated the marvellous victory of the Kilkenny and District League squad. Not only did the team win the title, deadly striker Sean Maguire took the ‘man of the match’ award after bagging a hat-trick in the final against the highly fancied Cork Youth Leagues.
The final on Easter Sunday was a marathon affair, requiring extra-time before Kilkenny won 4-2. Manager Ronnie Grace and his backroom team of Peter Murtagh (the goalkeeping coach) and team medic George Culliton turned the players out in perfect order, primed for glory.
The journey to the top wasn’t without setbacks and disappointments, however. Mr Grace has been working with this group of players since the under-11 grade.
The trail of disappointment up to this was - beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists at under-12 level; sixth in the Kennedy Cup at under-13 level; beaten All-Ireland semi-finals at under-14, 15 and 16 level.
Ahead of schedule
The squad, when it did arrive, hit the top a season ahead of schedule, according to Mr Grace, who was unable to join us tonight because of work commitments.
Because of a change in the age grading to bring Ireland in line with the rest of Europe, the players were denied the opportunity to defend the title this season. A pity, because the majority would have been under-age again.
Kilkenny came through their group with a 100% record after playing all three games away from home, beating West Waterford/East Cork, the Waterford League and the TSDL (South Tipp).
They played their three knock-out games at home, seeing off Donegal, Wexford and Clare in Kilkenny before beating Cork in the final.
Kilkenny were big scorers in the competition, notching up 21 goals on the way to victory. Ross Kings and Sean Maguire, as well as scoring successive hat-tricks for the Cats, were joint top scorers with six goals apiece.
Declan accepted award
Attending Friday’s banquet in Hotel Kilkenny were goalkeeping coach, Peter Murtagh as well as team captain, Declan McQuillan, vice-captain Lee Delaney and Barry Whelan from Thomastown.
Team captain, Declan McQuillan accepted the Hotel Kilkenny and Kilkenny People Endeavour Award on behalf of the Kilkenny and District League, the FAI Umbro Youth Inter League Cup champions.