THE Kilkenny & District League’s Youths team are just 90 minutes away from an All-Ireland final - but first they must take on the Clare team standing in their way.
Ronnie Grace’s side go into Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final (kick-off in Derdimus is at 2.30pm) after what could only be described as a strange route - weather and cancellations decreed that all three of their group stage games against West Waterford/East Cork, South Tipperary and Waterford were all played away from home. However, since getting to the knockout stages, they have enjoyed home advantage, playing and beating Donegal and Wexford in Scanlon Park - they will move to Derdimus for the Clare game where, should they win, they will play host to either the Cork Youths League or Dublin’s DDSL in the final.
However, neither the team nor their manager is looking too far ahead.
“Clare are a formidable side,” said Grace. “Any team that can beat the Galway League would be good, and that 4-1 quarter-final result shows they are top class.
“However, if our lads can play to the levels I know they are capable of, I’m sure we’ll have a great chance. There is a great balance in the side, and given they have enjoyed success with their clubs I know they’ll come into the game with plenty of confidence.”
Kilkenny have only won the Youths title once - that was back in season 1983/84, when a side managed by Donie Butler and skippered by Simon Walton beat the Leinster Junior League. Given the League’s poor record at this level - the last time they got this far was when a side featuring the likes of current Freebooters keeper and Irish junior international Graham Doyle, Cormac Hickey, Philip Trehy, David Mulcahy and Liam O’Brien were beaten by Cork in the semi-finals almost 17 years ago - reaching the semi-final is an achievement in itself. However, Grace is determined his side will do their all in search of the silverware.
“Everyone is really looking forward to this game,” he said. “We can’t wait to get out there and play.”
Sunday’s game marks a busy seven days for Grace. As manager of the Kilkenny under-16s he will have a Leinster final to prepare for a week later. Fresh from their 5-0 win over North Dublin, a result achieved thanks to goals from Aaron Molloy (2), Jack McCarthy, Kieran Bowe and Killian Cantwell, the Cats will travel to Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday week to play Wexford.
The youths will have their final training session before the semi-final this evening (Wednesday) in Derdimus at 6.30pm. All players are to attend for 6.20pm, and to bring boots and astro-turf runners.
Kilkenny & DL Youths: Craig Cummins (Evergreen), Jack Deegan (Freebooters), Lee Delaney (Evergreen), Martin Doyle (Freebooters), Conor Gorey (Freebooters), Andy Hickey (Evergreen), Luke Hickey (Evergreen), Sammy Johnson (Evergreen), Ross King (Evergreen), Mark Lyons (Evergreen), Sean Maguire (Evergreen), Ian McLoughlin (Callan United), Declan McQuillan (Evergreen), Bill Phelan (Highview Athletic), Enda Purcell (Freshford Town), Peter Shaw (Bridge United), Robert Skehan (Thomastown United), Chris Valentine (Freebooters), Nathan West (Bridge United), Barry Whelan (Thomastown United), Nigel Keogh (Highview Athletic).