There was nothing but heartbreak for a talented Kilkenny team as their All-Ireland hopes came up agonisingly short on Saturday.
The Kilkenny & District League’s under-13 side had blazed a trail all the way to the final, but their fire was extinguished by a hot Cork side.
The fast-moving Rebels struck once in either half to end Kilkenny’s proud unbeaten record and make off with the spoils at a rain-soaked Cahir Park. It was a harsh result on the Kittens, who were undone by some nerves on the day.
There was little in the game early on, but just as Kilkenny were beginning to find their feet they were caught by a swift Cork attack. Trying to work up a move with a ball out of defence, a Kilkenny pass was seized upon by the lightning-quick Tyreik Wright. With the black and amber defence stretched, Wright had space in which to race in and, from the edge of the box, smash home a fine shot into the top right corner.
The goal was a real shock to the system for Kilkenny, who had to work hard to prevent Cork from quickly adding to their new-found lead. The defence worked smartly to clear a dangerous Wright cross which was fizzed in from the left, while netminder Cian Rowe showed good hands to take control of a testing Adam O’Reilly delivery soon after.
The Cork defence held a high line in the first half, pushing Kilkenny back and limiting their time on the ball. Success Edogun, Jim Ryan and Elvis Azah did their best to drive their side on, but Cork were quickly in to challenge every Kilkenny touch and restrain their rivals, while also limiting the supply of ball to the dangerous Ciaran Brennan.
Growing in confidence
Cork continued to look for another goal to settle the game, but came up against a Kilkenny side growing in confidence. They did give their opponents a fright when Mikey Foley tried a long range shot after his 17th minute free-kick came back to him, but the defender’s effort screamed wide.
That was the sign for Kilkenny to up the ante. Driving from defence, Conor Clarke set them going when he dispossessed Jamie O’Sullivan and worked the ball on to Edogun, but his 26th minute shot was straight at Cork netminder Matthew O’Connor.
The Munster side, who won the under-12 title last year, had another pop at the target as half-time loomed. The link-up play of their strike force was most impressive throughout, as they strung the passes together for some dangerous moves. One such instance saw Adam O’Reilly and Jamie O’Sullivan combine before teeing up Adam Isah to whip in a cross. O’Reilly raced on and got his head to the delivery, but couldn’t keep it on target.
The final say of the first half went to Kilkenny, but they couldn’t find that precious equaliser. Edogun got them going when he won possession and worked it on to Brennan. With the Cork defence scrambling to meet him, Brennan cleverly laid possession off to the unmarked Jack Morrissey on the left, but his shot flashed agonisingly wide of the goal.
That chance spurred Kilkenny on to better things in the second half. With their defence getting on top they forced Cork on the back-foot, but couldn’t get the break needed to draw level. Azah had the ball nicked off his toe when poised to strike, while Morrissey hooked a shot that had netminder O’Connor backpedalling frantically, but the ’keeper got back to make a 35th minute save.
Just when it looked like Kilkenny had Cork in trouble, disaster struck. After stopping a dangerous Diarmuid Phelan break the Kittens failed to deal with the resulting corner. Wright’s 43rd minute effort was allowed to bounce in the box, giving O’Reilly time to steal in and head home at the back post.
Kilkenny refused to give in. Ciaran Brennan had a great chance to get them back into the game with seven minutes to play when he raced on to Cian Rowe’s booming clearance and broke through on goal, but somehow O’Connor stopped his powerful shot.
The game became an uphill task when Azah was harshly red-carded for a second yellow, but to their credit Kilkenny refused to yield. With 60 seconds left they showed what they were capable of when sub Tim Corkery raced on to a half-cleared corner and unleashed a half-volley that screamed into the top right corner of the Cork net.
On any other day that goal would have been good enough to win a final. This time, it just wasn’t to be for the valiant Kilkenny.
Kilkenny & DL: Cian Rowe, Conor Kelly (Daire Quinn, 58 mins), Conor Clarke, George Murphy, Jamie Harkin, Jason Byrne, Jim Ryan (Tom Corkery, 41 mins), Success Edogun (Cathal O’Leary, 50 mins), Ciaran Brennan, Elvis Azah, Jack Morrissey.
Cork: Matthew O’Connor, Diarmuid Phelan (Sean McDonnell, 56 mins), Mikey Foley (Luke Casey, 58 mins), Jake O’Brien, Scott Philpott, Adam Murphy (Eoin Ryan, 41 mins), Oran Daly (Dylan Twomey, 36 mins), Adam O’Reilly, Jamie O’Sullivan, Adam Isah, Tyreik Wright.
Referee: John Lyons. Linesmen: John Walsh, Billy O’Donoghue (all TSDL).