The race has been run by a third Kilkenny team in the quest for All-Ireland glory. The effort came up short. There is a chance remaining.
Two weeks ago the seniors lost their grip on the MacCarthy Cup. Earlier the under-21 team lost out in the defence of the Leinster title. And on Sunday in Croke Park the sad hat trick was completed.
And with the season heading into the shorter days, the chances of Kilkenny finishing the 2013 hurling season with a trophy now rests firmly on the shoulders of the intermediate team who play Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final in on Saturday.
“It was a sad way to finish the season,” admitted disappointed Kilkenny minor team manager, Pat Hoban after his brave troops came up two points short against highly fancied Waterford in a tension filled All-Ireland minor hurling semi-final.
“Losing any match is not easy, but an All-Ireland semi-final is particularly hard to take. You are somewhere and at the same time you are nowhere because you miss out on participating in the final. It will take the players a while to get over this, but they can be proud of their efforts.”
With 10 minutes remaining the losers were in a very positive position after Waterford had strong wing-back, Shane Bennett, sent off after being shown a second yellow cards. The Cats were prowling. For a few minutes they dominated after smashing sharp-shooter, Alan Murphy rifled over his 10th point of the afternoon to cut the deficit to a fordable 0-15 to 2-11.
Suddenly their finishing power deserted them. A handy enough free on the right on the 20 metre line after Murphy was fouled following a neat move involving Luke Scanlon was driven wide.
Two more misses followed as Kilkenny’s extra man, James Maher, lorded it behind the half-back line and drilled ball after ball forward. The losers were in full flow, and the opposition were hanging on.
Strong willed Waterford centre-back, Austin Gleeson, then made a huge play, surging up field and drawing a foul as he edged near the opposing ‘50’. When the Mount Sion man dusted himself down, he gave the clenched fist salute to all around him. The determined burst was the tonic the team needed.
The foul cost Kilkenny’s Eoin Kenny his place on the field, because he was booked, his second of the game. He took the lonely walk, but with the contest at 14 against 14, Waterford regain a good rhythm.
They had the next score, a point from D.J. Foran in the 57th minute to halt Kilkenny’s gallop. In the dying stages the losers pulled back a small score through Liam Blanchfield, but the goal they needed to put back breaking pressure on the opposition never looked a possibility.
Young Maher and ace finisher, Alan Murphy turned in terrific performances as the Noresiders put in a valiant effort to knock the championship favourites. Darragh Joyce, John Walsh and Evan Cody were other top performers, but it would have to be admitted that Waterford were the better team.
The scoring of two first half goals was crucial to Waterford’s success, which qualified them for their first minor final since 1992.
They had a clutch of top performers, including the aforementioned Gleeson, Mark O’Brien, who was mighty in midfield, Kevin Daly, playermaker Stephen Bennett and ice cool free taker, Patrick Curran, who you would back to hit the target from anywhere in the attacking half.
Both teams tried to impose their game plan from the off. Kilkenny used the ball well out of defence; never posting a delivery without a forwarding address and attacking wide to avoid two potential destroyers in the heart of the opposing defence.
Waterford often employed the short puck-out and then arrowed long ball towards a full-forward line that they reckoned carried a huge threat.
Breeze assisted Kilkenny drew first blood. Eoin Kenny drilled a low ball up the field towards Hill 16 to Kevin Kenny, who was fouled. Alan Murphy, who was to have a 100% success rate up to the closing few minutes, popped the free over the bar. The same Murphy added a second point before the opposition got off the mark.
After Tom Devine had been bundled over, Patrick Curran pointed the free from 60 metres.
The next score was Waterford’s first goal. In the seventh minute a ball look to be going wide to the left of the Kilkenny goal. Stephen Bennett worked hard to keep it alive, and he managed to pop it across the opposing square.
In rushed Adam Farrell, and he batted the ball into the net from the edge of the square. A brace of frees from Murphy levelled (1-1 to 0-4).
The Cats hit the front in the 13th minute when a foul on Kevin Kenny was turned into a 0-5 to 1-1 lead by Murphy. Within a minute the ball was in their net, however, D.J. Foran scoring a super goal after getting in a fabulous strike when surrounded by four defenders. The ball flashed into the top left corner of the net as Waterford jumped back in front.
Kilkenny charged back. Another pair of points from the dependable Murphy squared it again, 0-7 to 2-1. A point further on they were still locked together.
The winners enjoyed the better of things from there to the rest, at which stage Waterford led by 2-5 to 0-9. The Leinster champions were going well, but the fact that Alan Murphy’s name was on six of the scores didn’t inspire confidence. John Walsh and Niall Mullins were the other scorers.
When Waterford opened the new half with back to back points from Michael Kearney, with an assist from Bennett, and Patrick Curran, a great effort from 45 metres virtually on the right sideline, they threatened to get away from the opposition (2-7 to 0-9).
The losers did as they had done all afternoon; they hung on. Murphy picked off a point. Then John Walsh did the same. It was back to a two point game.
Patrick Curran interrupted the flow when he converted a free for the Suirsiders. Back came Kilkenny again. Murphy was fouled after fielding a quick, smart delivery from Darragh Joyce and he slotted over the free. Liam Blanchfield then tuned his first shooting chance into a score.
It was a single score game - 2-8 to 0-13.
On and on the game flowed like that, with neither team able to gain a significant advantage. Austin Gleeson powered up the field and blasted over a point from a huge distance and moments later the Kilkenny defence escaped when Bennett threated the goal.
The losers kept the scoreboard ticking over, with Alan Murphy a constant contributor. When Waterford had a man sent off, the game looked to be there for the taking. The Cats tried to grab it, but defiant Waterford were having none of it.
“That was a good fighting display,” was the summary of Waterford manager, Sean Power. “People were talking about a mediocre Kilkenny team. That was no mediocre Kilkenny team. It was a hard match; hard fought and we are delighted to have come out on the right side of it.
“The win means a helluve lot to Waterford people. We in Waterford strive hard to get to All-Ireland final. We are delighted to get there.”