The Kilkenny minors lost their opening Leinster round to Dublin by 11 points. Now they find themselves in the All-Ireland final.
From the lowest of lows this minor team has reached the grandest of stages the hard way. Since that opening day loss they have played and won all four of their championship matches.
Even when nobody felt like looking anywhere but at the ground, manager Pat Hoban admits that back in April his side still dreamt of winning the All-Ireland.
“You have to dream,” he said following Sunday’s semi-final win over Waterford. “That’s what you keep telling the young lads. Every dream is to win the All-Ireland.
“On that day in Nowlan Park, the scoreline didn’t reflect the game,” he said of the opening day loss. “Dublin got the goals early and closed us out quickly on a very wet day. We knew we were better and we’ve proven it.”
Kilkenny certainly did that as they bounced back in style. Their fighting spirit was reflected by the sharp shooting Alan Murphy, who stepped up to the mark when the pressure came on.
“Alan is a really good player with a great head for the big day,” said Hoban. “The last free in normal time was a really massive score. There was good free-taking on both sides, with credit to Patrick Curran, but Alan really has the head for it.”
Another player who stood up when needed was Mullinavat man John Walsh. His goal in extra-time sealed the win for the Cats, his introduction proving vital.
“John’s goal in extra time gave us that cushion we needed and we pushed on from there,” said Hoban. “He’s a great player.
“He was in the team last year but this year we’re using him off the bench more so. He is a really good impact player.”
Having led at the break by four points Kilkenny looked to have a good advantage going into the second half.
Waterford put in a huge performance, however and clawed their way back into a game which Pat Hoban believed Kilkenny should have won by the 60th minute.
“It definitely felt like we had lost the game for a while, but fair play to Waterford they gave us a really good game in the second half,” he said.
“Goals play a big part in any game. I thought that in normal time Waterford’s goal really brought them back into it.
“We lost our good four-point lead and Waterford got it back to one, and drove on from there.”
On Sunday the work-rate by the minors was a factor in sealing their win. The constant blocking, hooking and harassing is something they try to do every time they play.
“The Kilkenny seniors’ game is based on work rate and that’s what we try to inject here as well,” Hoban explained, “We’re delighted when we see that work pay off.”
One player who embodies the concept is midfielder Luke Scanlon, whose neverending source of energy has been key to the team’s success this year.
“Luke is a really athletic player who drives the game forward,” said his manager. “He’s dynamic and he brings the pace of a game up a level. He’s an excellent player.”
When the teams met at this stage of the competition last year, it was Waterford who sealed victory by just two points. Given that loss, beating the reigning champions was sweet for the Cats - but not revenge.
“I don’t like using the word revenge but obviously we were very disappointed,” said Hoban. “Young lads get one, maybe two chances to get to an All-Ireland.
“On that day we had the chances but Waterford were the better team. We are delighted that it was our turn to get the win this year.”