Kilkenny and Galway are the market leaders at this grade in recent times and both offered the usual sprinkling of individual talent yesterday, with nine starters mined from St Kieran’s and Presentation Athenry alone.
Those schools contested a standout Croke Cup semi-final last March and, though the Kilkenny side triumphed then, their county minors have so far failed to cut loose, despite the capture of another Leinster title and their continuing All-Ireland ambitions.
There is another way of looking at that, of course. Teams that punch through when not at their best tend to earn respect for their character and grit and both sides showed plenty in that respect even if they were equally guilty of letting winning positions slip from their grasp.
“Against Wexford we forced a draw and put it into extra-time in the last minute,” said Kilkenny manager Pat Hoban.
“Here against Dublin we were a couple of points down with time almost up and they pushed on and won it so they are definitely well up for the battle. They don’t give up.”
Neither do Galway. Jeffrey Lynskey’s side were marginally the more impressive in the opening half, evidenced by a scoreboard that had them 10 points to 8 ahead at the break.
But they almost paid the price for a lengthy no-show on the restart. Nineteen minutes it took them to register a score in the second half. Kilkenny were no world beaters in that same spell, but they did at least peel off five points.
Kilkenny had opened the contest by chasing goals without success in three of their opening attacks, but Galway were more successful in finding the route to the rigging when they needed to — and they really did need to do just that with 11 minutes left.
Thomas Monaghan provided the green flag, finishing off a move that blossomed into something of intricate beauty long before he finished low to the left post. Ten minutes later and it was Monaghan whose point secured the draw and extra-time.
Then Galway went missing again as Kilkenny hit half-a-dozen points to begin extra-time, yet they demonstrated a distinctly unKilkenny-like inability to provide the coup de grace and Galway wormed their way back in with three points scattered either side of the second interval.
The improbable began to look likely when substitute Cian Salmon doubled a long free into the Kilkenny net for a second Galway goal with just two minutes left and a quick pair of subsequent points left them, somehow, holding the most slender of leads.
Back came Kilkenny. Andy Gaffney landed his tenth point with a free and there was still time for the Dicksboro man to send one last dead ball wide of the Galway posts.
A break, then, for Lynskey’s side, especially given their tendency to fade out of the game on two occasions. And as for why that was? “They are minors,” said Lynskey matter-of-factly.
“A lot of them are only 17. People fail to realise that it is a huge occasion for them. We didn’t score for 15, 20 minutes. Then we surged back into it again and that’s down to their heart and fight and character. And that’s down to the jersey, their clubs, their mams and dads. They all played their part in that.”
Lynskey was more bullish about next week’s replay, when they will make up a triple-bill at HQ with the other minor semi-final and the senior meeting of Galway and Tipperary. “There was 40,000 Kilkenny supporters there,” said Lynskey. “We’ll get the whole of Galway up next week. The races are over.”
A Gaffney (0-10, 8 frees, 1 ‘65’); R Leahy (0-4); C Hennessy (0-3); J Donnelly (0-2); M Cody, C Doheny, J Connolly, D O’Connor, S Mahony, J Cuddihy and B Sheehan (all 0-1).
E Niland (0-8, 6 frees, 1 ‘65’); T Monaghan (1-3); C Salmon (1-0); B Concannon (0-2); C Connor, J Grealish, F Burke, M Lynch, S Loftus, C Fahy and L Forde (all 0-1).
S Murphy; M Cody, T Walsh, C McGrath; D Mullen, D Joyce, C Doheny; R Leahy, J Connolly; D O’Connor, S Mahony, J Donnelly; A Gaffney, J Cuddihy, T O’Dwyer.
E Delaney for Donnelly (HT); C Hennessy for O’Connor (43); R Bergin for Joyce (52); N Walsh for Connolly (59); B Sheehan for O’Dwyer (61). T O’Dwyer for Mahony (70); J McEvoy for Donnelly (80).
D Gilligan; C Connor, J Fitzpatrick, S Bannon; C Mulry, I O’Brien, A Greaney; J Grealish, J Coyne; B Concannon, T Monaghan, F Burke; M Lynch, E Niland, S Loftus.
C Fahy for Concannon (39); C Salmon for Burke (43); K Cooney for Lynch (57); B Concannon for Grealish (65); L Forde for Coyne (67); F Burke for Monaghan (73).
J O’Brien (Tipperary).