Timmy Clifford (Dicksboro) was man of the match in the Kilkenny versus Limerick All-Ireland MHC semi-final. He was presented with the award by Maeve Galvin, Electric Ireland
Defiance in defeat paved the way to future rewards as the Kilkenny minor hurlers booked their place in the All-Ireland final.
Things may have looked grim when the Cats fell 12 points down against Galway at one stage in their last match, but their resilience to hit back gave them a newfound confidence that rebounded with a stellar showing against Limerick in the semi-final.
“I would say this semi-final performance came from that Galway game,” said manager Richie Mulrooney as he watched his young team celebrate earning their place in the final.
“That second half provided massive confidence in the team. The lads might have been unsure how good they were going through Leinster, but we (the selectors) kept telling them they have been getting better and better throughout. To be back in the All-Ireland final with them is fantastic.”
Mulrooney had every reason to be pleased with the display from his team, who never let Limerick settle into the game.
“We were delighted with that performance,” said the Dicksboro clubman. “The first half was about staying with Limerick, but we got a great start with Jack Doyle’s goal.
“There was a significant breeze, which we said we’d play against in that first half. When we turned around two points in front the game was just about driving on from there.”
Kilkenny’s speed of play was a key factor in their win, the manager reckoned. That pace is something which has come to the fore as the season has progressed.
“We do have pacy forwards and a lot of pace throughout that team,” he said. “The one significant strength we picked out from the group at the start of the year was that we do have pace.
“Maybe we forgot to use that pace in earlier games, particularly in Leinster, but as young lads they won’t get everything right every day – but they certainly got a lot right out there.”
The team’s pace was one thing - their composure, and the confidence a young side showed on the big stage, was something else!
“It was a great performance, from the hooking and tackling to the blocking,” Mulrooney said.
“They might have been the traditional qualities you would have mentioned in the minor championship when it was under-18, but when it was brought down to under-17 level you might think these lads have another year to develop.
“One of the worries when they regraded the minor championship to under-17s is that there might be a lot of nerves on the players’ part but I thought the performance from both teams was outstanding.
“I thought our performance against Galway in the second half was just as good, while (the other semi-finalists) Wexford and Galway have been just as impressive.
“The performance of these players, who are 16 and 17 across all the counties, have been exceptional,” he added. “They should be very proud of themselves as they’re a credit to themselves.”
Jack Doyle’s first minute goal paved the way to victory for Kilkenny, but the roots of the win went a lot further back than Saturday’s game.
“We turned 1-12 to 0-13 ahead I thought we had a great chance but you still have to go out and do it,” said Mulrooney.
“The workrate has improved immensely over the summer; the first touch has improved.”
And key to that success were some big performances from young players.
“Liam Moore started his first game in midfield and was so strong there - ran his heart out for the team from the middle of the field, as did James Aylward - while Timmy Clifford was a revelation at centre-forward,” the manager said.
“There were no nerves, he’s a calm character – he just wants to go about his business. It’s hard to believe that he’s only 16, but he was immense.”
Everyone needed to be on their game, especially as Cathal O’Neill’s influence grew.
“He’s an excellent hurler,” Mulrooney said of the Limerick captain, who dominated for long spells in the first half. “We spoke to the lads about Limerick, about how they had so many good hurlers who would score but that we wouldn’t panic. We had to outscore them at the other end. The move of Padraic Moylan on to O’Neill – he had the physical size to go with him – helped.”
The new look to the championship may have meant a lot more games for young teams - the All-Ireland final will be Kilkenny’s ninth championship game of 2019 - but going the long way round has helped get more from the team.
Games to Learn From
“That’s two years in a row that we’ve come through the back door, two years where we’ve had games to learn from – and when you lose you learn far more,” the manager said.
“The game against Galway we were so far behind at half-time that we had to make changes. We went with our gut.
“When we got back on to the training field we concentrated on what Limerick might do with their puck-outs and how they’d use O’Neill.
“They were successful at times but we knew he couldn’t keep going at the pace he was going at. We grew into it as a team,” he said.
“There’s been serious work since January and, while we’d love to have been Leinster champions, if you can come through the back door you meet very good teams.
“Clare, as they showed against Galway, had an excellent team. Limerick weren’t going to be able to train with the same intensity that we were provided with by Galway and Clare.”
And that intensity has paid off with a place in the August 18 final. Many may have written the minors off at the start of the year, but they have earned their place on the big stage.
“We might not have thought we’d get this far earlier in the year,” finished Mulrooney, “but huge credit to the 33 players in our squad – they really performed.
“We’ll enjoy this, come back down from the high of this game in the coming days and get back to training for what will be a serious battle against Galway in the final.”
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