Cool Kittens reach
All-Ireland semi-finals

Cavan/Monaghan 0

Cavan/Monaghan 0

Kilkenny & DL 0

(AET - Kilkenny won 5-4 on pens)

SHOWING experience beyond their years, the Kilkenny under-12s stayed cool under pressure as they moved into the All-Ireland semi-finals on Sunday.

The Kittens, managed by Gary Maher, held their nerve to beat Cavan/Monaghan on penalties and bring the Leinster title home after a thrilling regional final.

From the outset they pushed Cavan/Monaghan back, working the ball around the hosts on the astro-turf pitch at Gortakeegan. The first chance fell to Craig Hayes after a swift move involving Peter Hennebry and Emmett Coakley on the left. Hayes found himself in a good position on the left hand side of the penalty box and his well struck shot from close in was well saved by the Cavan/Monaghan netminder.

This set the trend for a large portion of the first half. Dominating proceedings, Kilkenny limited the hosts to long range chances. Up front Cavan/Monaghan looked lively, despite playing operating with a lone striker. They looked to hit Kilkenny on the break, but the defence of Joe Banville, Victor Costello, Eoin McCormack and Edward Moylan were very disciplined and performed to a high standard throughout. Behind them goalkeeper Tom Whitty had an excellent game with solid handling all through.

The second half began in similar fashion to the first with Kilkenny taking the game to their opponents. In the centre of midfield Dara Keane and Dean George continued to work very well together and won most of the 50/50 balls in that area. Out on the right hand side of midfield Chris Nolan worked as hard as anybody on the field and kept the pressure on the Northern outfit. With both teams finding chances hard to come by and the humid weather taking its toll on the young 22 players on the field the match ended up 0-0 in regulation time.

After a short break the first ten minute period of extra-time began with Kilkenny continuing to force the pace. Chances were few and far between, fewer still after the visitors were reduced to ten men in the second period of extra-time. This served to galvanise the Kilkenny team, however, and from there to the final whistle they played superbly.

After a huddle in the middle of the field and some great words of encouragement from their coaches the sides faced the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Cavan/Monaghan were dealt a blow when their first effort was brilliantly saved by Tom Whitty in the Kilkenny goal. When Kilkenny captain Dara Keane slotted the first Kilkenny kick the excitement around the ground was palpable. The second Cavan/Monaghan player coolly placed his spot kick to put the pressure back on the Kilkenny boys. However with the second kick successfully converted and a second Cavan/Monaghan miss Kilkenny were going well.

Another miss by Cavan/Monaghan meant a success by the next Kilkenny player would make it 3-1 in penalties however the opposing keeper produced an excellent save from a very well struck penalty to keep it at 2-1. Two further successes by Cavan/Monaghan and one miss by Kilkenny meant that the result at the end of the regulation 5 penalties was 3-3.

As if the excitement and tension could not get any worse, both teams faced into sudden death. Cavan/Monaghan was up first and scored to heap the pressure back on the Kilkenny boys. Not to be out done and showing nerves of steel Kilkenny scored to make it 4-4. The next penalty by the hosts was excellently saved by the Kilkenny shot-stopper Whitty, giving the boys from the South East a chance at victory. Up stepped Eoin McCormack who, with the calmness of a veteran, fired past the Cavan/Monaghan goalkeeper to crown Kilkenny the new Leinster champions.

It was a dramatic and absorbing contest from start to finish and for all in attendance a great advert for the game. The Kilkenny boys now face into a home All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford on the May Bank Holiday weekend.