An All-Ireland decider between the game’s modern superpower and the county which had held that status for so long before. At a grade which, in the past, has filtered a succession of stars through to both senior sides. And played out at hurling’s great cathedral.
What wasn’t to like?
This U20 final looked like having it all but, if a scrappy game never lived up to the billing, then that hardly mattered as the winning captain Padraic Moylan burst into his dressing-room with cup in tow and to a chorus of wild abandon.
Finals, as we know, are there for winning. This is exhibit A.
Derek Lyng knows all about getting over the line. The man won a cornucopia of league, Leinster and All-Ireland medals with the Cats in his own playing days but his reaction at the end was that of a man struggling to comprehend what had just transpired.
“Massive. Hard to get your head around it yet. The fight was there from the very first minute. We just kept going and I think overall we deserved it. At times we made hard work of it but that’s been our year. And we kept going.”
Brian Cody has managed to keep Kilkenny in and around hurling’s top table despite the fact that his current squad lacks the volume of luminaries of days gone by and there was more than a touch of that in this Kilkenny U20 side.
Plenty of the men who won their winning medals this time had banked the experiences of losing provincial and All-Ireland finals at the minor grade, to Wexford and Galway respectively, three years ago. Lyng felt that this stood to them too.
The manner in which they had to dig and scrape their way through the campaign speaks for all that with one-point wins over Galway and Wexford in Leinster now followed by another victory claimed by the slimmest of margins.
“We weren’t anybody’s favourites at the start of the year or anything. In fact, we were way down the list but we got working with them. Really good group. Brilliant attitude. The application was outstanding. And they were gutsy today.
“We worked the ball well,” said Lyng who spoke as if in a daze. “They made mistakes but they kept coming back. That’s been the way all year. To do it on the biggest day then takes serious guts. I’m delighted for them.”
Lyng described this U20 grade as an unforgiving level of hurling but both teams managed to stay in the fight right up until the very last second of the three added minutes despite a plethora of errors and missed chances that, on another day, would have been fatal.
Kilkenny were more guilty of the latter, a succession of points attempts flying wide or dropping short feeding into the three goal chances they managed to manufacture but all of which were saved by Limerick goalkeeper Conor Hanley-Clarke.
Timmy Clifford was denied at first, halfway through the first period, and it was Ian Byrne’s turn to be frustrated after the interval. Both of his shots at glory came and passed in the space of a few minutes not so long after half-time.
The Limerick stopper got his hurl to another effort after 20 minutes of the first period when meeting Paddy Langton’s point attempt just above his crossbar, but the umpire deemed it a score and no recourse was made to HawkEye.
That would be an obvious talking point afterwards.
Limerick, for their part, never looked like troubling the other net but the inability of both sides to generate a head of steam on a blustery and at times wet day was exemplified by the fact that they drew level with each other 14 times in the space of the hour.
Two men stood out.
Limerick’s Aidan O’Connor finished as the game’s highest scorer with ten points but seven of those came from frees. Kilkenny’s Billy Drennan managed two less in total but with six of his scores emanating from open play.
It wasn’t just Drennan’s numbers that made him the game’s best player. Known for his dead ball accuracy, he claimed a handful of beautiful points from open play and the majority of them came in a second-half when his side finally managed to get their noses in front.
For Kilkenny it is a first ever U20 title but a 12th at a grade that was bracketed at U21 for so many years. They now sit just one shy of Cork in that particular roll of honour but what this all means for them or for Limerick is anyone’s guess.
The next step can be the trickiest.
The last time they won this title was in 2008 with a team that produced TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and more. Limerick’s previous success was a 2017 crop that fed the likes of Cian Lynch, Tom Morrissey and Aaron Gillane into the men’s ranks.
“Look, the future is good,” said Lyng. Yesterday was pretty special for them too.
B Drennan (0-8, 2 frees, 1 ‘65’); T Clifford (0-3); D Walsh and I Byrne (0-2 each); P Langton, A Hickey and G Dunne (all 0-1); A Tallis (0-1 free).
A O’Connor (0-10, 7 frees); P O’Donovan and A English (0-2 each); C Coughlan, E Stokes, S O’Brien and P Kirby (all 0-1).
A Tallis; N Rowe, S Purcell, P Lennon; J Fitzpatrick, P Moylan, P Langton; K Doyle, A Hickey; D Walsh, T Clifford, P McDonald; B Drennan, G Dunne, I Byrne.
J Walsh for Hickey (43); E O’Brien for Fitzpatrick (50); J Doyle for Dunne (58).
C Hanley-Clarke; C Thomas, F O’Connor, E O’Leary; C Scully, E Hurley, C Coughlan; J Quilty, J Kirby; A English, A O’Connor, E Stokes; S O’Brien, P Kirby, P O’Donovan.
D O Dalaigh for O’Donovan (50); P Reale for O’Leary (55); J Sweeney for Scully (58).
T Walsh (Waterford).