THE Kilkenny under-17s showed great composure to get the better of an absorbing South-East League encounter against Carlow and book a home semi-final in the South-East League.
Played under lights in ideal conditions on Friday, the Cats took the game to hosts Carlow from the off. Despite some superb rugby from the pack Kilkenny’s lead was just 6-0 at the break, two well-struck Sean Moran penalties their only reward as their good build-up play was frustrated in the Carlow 22 by the slow delivery and lack of urgency from the base of ruck and maul.
After a good first half Kilkenny, who also had to defend well to hold a Carlow maul up when over their line, were under the cosh for the early part of the second half. Carlow dominated the first 22 minutes of the second half and drew level with Kilkenny, who made a string of errors, when Joe Hanley kicked two penalties to tie the scores.
The visitors, who made several try-saving tackles in succession, were finally undone when Carlow outflanked the Kilkenny back line and scored a try in the corner through winger Joe Daly. Hanley rubbed salt in the wounds when he added the conversion from the touchline, giving the hosts a deserved 13-7 lead with 13 minutes remaining.
Rather than let their heads drop Kilkenny upped their game after that. With the forwards getting their second wind they latched on to the restart, forcing Carlow backwards in lineouts and rucks with Sean Moran driving hard at the midfield defence.
Kilkenny finally started to generate quick ball with the Carlow defence, which had closed off in the first half, under pressure to realign. After a lineout maul had sucked in the defence Paddy Mullen was released for the first time in space and expertly rounded two defenders to score in the left corner with seven minutes remaining.
Chasing the game Kilkenny were rampant, but some brilliant tackling kept them at bay until Moran called a well-executed sequence of moves from a scrum in the Carlow half which left Mullen one on one with his opponent. His finish was clinical, leaving Kilkenny three points ahead with 90 seconds left on the clock.
In typical youth fashion, after gathering the kick-off Kilkenny tried to run out of defence. The ball was turned over in the tackle, with a double tackle by Gary Dunne and Colin Corcoran stopping the last gasp attack metres from the Kilkenny line.
Kilkenny’s reward for their good win is a home semi-final against Leinster kingpins Gorey or all-conquering Wexford. That match will be played later in the year. Next up for the team is a home game against Athy on Saturday. Kick-off in Foulkstown is 11.30am.
Kilkenny: Will Bergin, Colin Hamilton, Peter Hutchinson, Sean Moran, Paddy Mullan, Cormac Connolly, Matthew McWey, Nick Feehan, John Curtin, James Rafter, Conor Quinlan, Ciaran Martin, Tom Cuddihy, Craig Murphy, Gary Dunne. Reserves: Cian Smith, David Kennedy, Matty Cassin, Luke Rafter, Jack Drew, Shaun Fitzgerald, John Downey.