THEY had to survive a little scare, but the Kilkenny minor camogie team came through a pulsating battle to earn a place in the All-Ireland final.
The Cats were tested by Galway in an epic encounter in McDonagh Park, Nenagh on Saturday, but held off a late rally from the Westerners to set up a showdown with Cork this Saturday.
Galway, who had a number of last year’s All-Ireland-winning team present, were strongly fancied for success but dogged determination and strong defending during the final quarter saw Kilkenny surge to victory.
The Galway girls made the brighter start, taking control when an Orlaith McGrath goal shot them 1-2 to 0-1 in front after just seven minutes.
Kilkenny replied with points from Aisling Nolan and Megan Farrell - a superb effort - while two Lydia Fitzpatrick frees drew them level by the end of the quarter.
Orlaith McGrath and Miriam Walsh exchanged points, before the prolific Ciara Ni Churraoin (Galway’s top scorer with 0-10) added two frees to restore Galway’s lead.
However, Kilkenny finished the half strongly as substitute Mary Corcoran and Lydia Fitzpatrick added points to draw their side level (1-5 to 0-8).
Corcoran was awesome when introduced late in the first half. She played the super sub role to great effect, scoring 0-3 from play.
The St Anne’s club player added another point within seconds of the restart. Then, after Lydia Fitzpatrick and Maria Breheny exchanged points, a significant moment occurred. Goalkeeper Noelle Murphy performed heroics to deny Maria Breheny a certain goal, pulling off a wonderful save from point-blank range.
The save inspired Kilkenny. They proved as much within a matter of seconds as Miriam Walsh broke through the Galway defence, setting up Ciara Holden to blast the sliotar to the net and give Kilkenny a four-point lead (1-10 to 1-6).
Galway, to their credit, refused to wilt. Ciara Ni Churrain pointed a superb free from a narrow angle, before Lydia Fitzpatrick cancelled out that effort with a similar result as Kilkenny maintained that lead entering the final quarter (1-11 to 1-7).
Two Ni Churraoin frees halved the deficit, keeping Galway very much in contention entering the final 10 minutes. However, Mary Corcoran struck over a brilliant point from an acute angle to calm Kilkenny nerves.
Galway kept plugging away, and Ni Churraoin pointed a free before adding one from play to narrow the gap to just the bare minimum entering the closing few minutes (1-12 to 1-11).
Lydia Fitzpatrick stepped up to the plate, firing over a vital point from play with just two minutes left as a determined Kilkenny held on to pole position. Ni Churraoin pointed a late free to leave one between the sides again. Galway had a chance to bring proceedings to extra-time but Ni Churraoin’s attempt from a free went wide of a target, and Kilkenny held out for sheer delight and relief.
Kilkenny defended superbly during the closing quarter despite been under persistent pressure.
Megan Farrell was magnificent in playing a captain’s role, while Catherine Foley, Mary O’Connell, Michaela Kenneally, Ciara Farrell and Ailish Butler all worked well.
Kilkenny now have an All-Ireland final to look forward to on Saturday. This year’s minors will take on Cork attempting to become the first Kilkenny camogie team at inter-county level to win national silverware since the last minor All-Ireland success back in 2009.
SCORERS: Kilkenny - Lydia Fitzpatrick (0-7, 0-6 frees); Ciara Holden (1-0); Mary Corcoran (0-3); Megan Farrell, Aisling Nolan, Miriam Walsh (0-1 each). Galway - Ciara Ni Churraoin (0-10, 0-8 frees); Orlaith McGrath (1-1); Maria Breheny (0-1).
Kilkenny - Noelle Murphy (Lisdowney), Ciara Farrell (Thomastown), Catherine Foley (Windgap), Michaela Kenneally (Windgap), Megan Farrell (Thomastown, capt), Mary O’Connell (Clara), Ailish Butler (Thomastown), Lydia Fitzpatrick (St Lachtain’s), Aisling Nolan (Clara), Miriam Walsh (Tullaroan), Sarah Whelan (St Anne’s), Aine Gannon (Rower-Inistioge), Niamh Donnelly (Thomastown), Ciara Holden (Mullinavat), Alice Talbot (Piltown). Sub: Mary Corcoran (St Anne’s).
Galway - Tara Murphy, Sinead Cormican, Rachel Bannon, Catriona Murphy, Maria Cooney, Michelle Dunleavey, Niamh Hannify, Ciara Burke, Ciara Ni Churraoin, Maria Breheny, Lisa Hynes, Sinead Gaffney, Orlaith McGrath, Cliodhna Walsh. Sub: Breda Hanlon.