THE other side of sport was on show as a dejected Kilkenny under-21 team trooped back into their dressing-room following their Leinster final loss to Wexford.
Manager Richie Mulrooney was the first to break the silence, but admitted that defeat had been hard to take. “We probably deserved a replay,” he said. “Coming up to the end of normal time we were ahead and they got a free - I’ll have to look at that again as our backs were adamant that there hadn’t been a foul but these things happen.
“I thought we had it again when we went 0-21 to 0-20 up but we conceded a very needless free,” he added.
“I felt it was going to end up a draw but as everyone saw it didn’t. We can only give our heartiest congratulations to Wexford and wish them the very best in the All-Ireland series.”
It was typical of the man to pass congratulations to the winners, even after such a defeat, but Mulrooney couldn’t hide the pain he felt for his team.
“It’s terribly disappointing, particularly for this group of players,” he said. “They have done the county so proud at minor level, winning the All-Ireland in 2010 then lost the under-21 final in a thrilling game against Clare last year.
“We’ve been working so hard towards getting back to that level again, but unfortunately we had to give second best to a very, very good Wexford team.”
Winning and losing. Both are part of the game, but can be tough to take.
“It’s tough - there’s no point in saying anything else,” he said. “It’s very disappointing. I’ve had some great times with the lads and some tough times too.
“I’d have to say that this is probably been the toughest of them, all,” the manager continued.
“To lose in an All-Ireland final you can always look back with a tremendous sense of achievement for the whole group, the players and management, that you got that far, but that wasn’t the case this year. We’re bitterly disappointed that our season has ended so early.”
And to lose to a goal scored in injury-time after 20 minutes of extra-time really rubbed salt into the wounds.
“It’s just the way the history of sport is written sometimes,” was Mulrooney’s viewpoint. “Wexford will look back on this night with joy. We’ll remember it for a long time too, only for the wrong reasons.”
The Kilkenny manager felt no regret at not being to avail of a second chance to go on to the All-Ireland championships. For him, the lack of a back door in the under-21 championship was a risk every team had to take.
“To be fair to the fixture makers the under-21 championship is so closely aligned to senior hurling that maybe there just isn’t room for that situation,” he said. “You enter any competition, whether it has a back door or not, in good faith.
“I don’t have any regrets that there isn’t a back door,” he added. “We knew coming down to Wexford Park that was it winner takes all. All we can say now is the best of luck to Wexford from here on.”
SCORERS: Wexford - Jack Guiney (0-9, frees); Ian Byrne (0-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 65); Niall Murphy (1-0); Conor McDonald, Rhys Clarke (0-2 each); Gary Moore, Barry Carton (0-1 each). Kilkenny - John Power (0-9, 0-8 frees); Kevin Kelly (0-7, 0-4 frees); Richie Reid (0-3); Ger Aylward (0-2).
Kilkenny - A. Duggan, P. Carroll, W. Phelan, B. Kennedy, P. Walsh, L. Harney, O. McGrath, J. Langton, O. Walsh, J. Power, R. Reid, K. Kelly, C. Martin, G. Aylward, M. Brennan. Subs: D. Bourke for Brennan, 31 mins; C. Buckley for Langton, 47 mins; S. Donnelly for Martin, 48 mins; C. Prendergast for Bourke, 67 mins.
Wexford - B. Murphy, G. Foley, C. Goff, E. Conroy, A. Kenny, S. O’Gorman, D. O’Leary, L. Chin, J. Hobbs, J. Guiney, I. Byrne, G. Moore, C. McDonald, B. Carton, R. Clarke. Subs: D. Wright for Hobbs, 27 mins; N. Murphy for Wright, 47 mins; C. O’Leary for Carton, 76 mins.
Referee - P. Murphy (Carlow).