KILKENNY held their nerve and produced a big finish to beat defiant Galway in the All-Ireland under-21 hurling championship semi-final in Thurles on Saturday, winning by 4-16 to 2-15.
The Cats grabbed the closing three point of the match through Kevin Kelly (free), following a foul on Ger Aylward, then Aylward after the ball was moved the length of the field by Ollie Walsh and Cillian Buckley before Walter Walsh shot the 16th point to wrap up the ticket into the final against Clare.
Galway, who had 17 of their senior squad involved, looked threatening entering the closing 10 minutes after they scored 1-1 in quick succession to slice the divide to 4-12 (24) to 2-15 (21).
However, the Cats regrouped strongly and when match star Aylward was fouled on the 20-metre line in front of the town end goal, the score that resulted brought Galway’s charge to a sudden halt.
There was an unruly opening, and four players, two from each side, were shown yellow cards for pushing and shoving before the ball was even thrown-in.
The exchanges were generally close during the opening 10 minutes or so, although Galway did lead by 0-6 to 0-3 thanks to some fine shooting by free taker Niall Bourke. The Cats caught up in the 11th minute. Ollie Walsh charged through from midfield, and after catching the ball twice, he unleashed a powerful off the hurling drive from 18-metres that took the ball into the net, 0-6 to 1-3.
The winners drove on smartly and points from Padraig Walsh and Kevin Kelly (free) helped them move things up a gear or two. A good goal from John Power followed in the 18th minute after a powerful drive up the field by centre-back, Richie Doyle.
With the addition of a third goal from Ger Aylward in the 22nd minute, Kilkenny carried a 3-9 to 0-11 advantage into the break after conceding the closing three points of the half to Bourke (2) and Tadhg O’Halloran.
The new half was only one minute and 47 seconds old when Kilkenny had the green flag flying again. This time Ger Aylward was fouled in the big square, and John Power smashed the penalty shot into the net.
Galway were under pressure all the way after that as Doyle hurled up a storm, with powerful support from a flying Ollie Walsh and Cillian Buckley and midfield and the ever dangerous Ger Aylward in attack.
The Tribesmen looked booked for a bad defeat when they fell 1-13 to 4-12 behind in the 50th minute after Kevin Kelly posted his fifth point. They managed to get back to within three points of the Leinster champions, but when Kilkenny cut loose again they ran out good winners.
Manager Richie Mulrooney must have been very pleased with what was an assured performance from his squad.
Scorers: Kilkenny – John Power (2-1); Kevin Kelly (0-6, three frees); Ger Aylward (1-3); Ollie Walsh (1-0); Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, Walter Walsh (0-2 each). Galway – Niall Burke (0-8, five frees); T. Haran (0-3, two frees); Joe Cooney (1-0); J. Glynn (0-2); R. Cummins, D. Glennon (0-1 each).
Kilkenny – D. Walsh, J. Corcoran, W. Phelan, B. Kennedy, L. Harney, R. Doyle, J. Lyng, O. Walsh, G. Brennan, K. Kelly, P. Walsh, C. Buckley, W. Walsh, J. Power, G. Aylward. Subs – M. Gaffney for M. Walsh.
Galway – F. Flannery, B. Flaherty, D. Burke, J. Grealish, J. Coen, D. Burke, J. Cooney, P. Brehony, T. Haran, R. Cummins, S. Moloney, N. Bourke, J. Regan, C. Cooney, J. Glynn, D. Glennon. Subs – P. Hoban for Grealish; D. Fox for Brehony; S. Moloney for R.Cummins.