Kilkenny corner back does what every defender is supposed to do to win All-Ireland under-20 1 month ago

Kilkenny corner back does what every defender is supposed to do to win All-Ireland under-20

Kilkenny 0-19 Limerick 0-18

The All-Ireland under-20 final turned into a shoot-out between Billy Drennan and Aidan O'Connor.

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O'Connor barely missed a trick, neither did Drennan but the Kilkenny man had better back-up and that's why, after a game that went point for point for point from pillar to post, Kilkenny are All-Ireland under-20 champions for the first time since 2008.

There were scenes of utter jubilation among the Kilkenny players and fans when, standing on the Semple Stadium steps, Padraic Moylan lifted the James Nowlan cup and it's no wonder why. It's hard to believe it, but the facts are that this was their first All-Ireland in any grade since their senior hurlers beat Galway in 2015.

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It took a fair bit of Drennan magic to bring them back. It took Sean Purcell's defiance in defence and, just as pivotal as that, it took Denis Walsh's cold-minded composure in attack. But games like this one, games that are as tight as they are tense will always come down to small margins and little moments.

Some people hate to see it but his Kilkenny team-mates certainly loved to see it. They held the most dangerous lead in hurling at that stage - a two point lead in injury-time - when Eddie Stokes was released into the green grass by a brilliant Adam English pass.

Stokes was about to eye up Aidan Tallis' goals but he never got the chance. The next thing he saw was the Semple Stadium sod because, like the corner back that he's supposed to be, Carrickshock's Padraig Lennon took him out of the game with the most cynical of slide-tackles.

O'Connor slotted the free but the chance had come and gone. Kilkenny held on, if only by the skins of their teeth, but that was the moment that saved them. And it was the moment the moment that, as the dust settles, Limerick will look back on. They will also look back on Paddy Langton's phantom point, because, even though the umpire raised the white flag, it certainly didn't look like it had passed the cross-bar.

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It was always going to be a tight affair, in fairness, given the grit Kilkenny had shown in Leinster and the class Limerick had shown in Munster. But this, as the teams literally went blow for blow the whole way through, took the biscuit.

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We were waiting on that moment, that break, that goal but the goal never came. Instead, what Kilkenny had was a game-changer and that game-changer was Billy Drennan who, with his razor-sharp wrists, was just a flick quicker and a step ahead of everyone else.

For a while, Adam English had looked like he could have been that man for Limerick.

All around him, they were breaking tackles and hitting scores but, during the Limerick warm-up, he strolled around at his leisure.  You couldn't help but notice the sense of restrained energy about the man and, right enough, as soon as the ball was thrown in, he went from zero to ninety like a coiled spring.

He had a lovely point scored after 15 seconds of the game.

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That was the perfect start for Limerick but, from there to 30, it was like a curtain-raiser to a certain-raiser. It was like an un-lit cigarette, as the teams went point for point the whole way through, neither of them able to break away from the other. The whole thing just waiting on a spark.

If anyone could do it, to be fair to him, Timmy Clifford looked the most likely. He's the Kilkenny centre forward but he runs more like a Jamaican sprinter and, as he broke free for two early points for Kilkenny, he used that acceleration to devastating effect.

Down the other end, the jinky and skilful Patrick O'Donovan clipped a pair for Limerick but it was 0-10 to 0-9 the Cats led at the break. And despite O'Connor's best efforts, and English's occasional bursts, Kilkenny held that margin until the final whistle.

The industrious Ian Byrne and the no-nonsense Padraig Lennon were his supporting cast, but Billy Drennan was the man.

Kilkenny

Aidan Tallis (0-1f), Niall Rowe, Sean Purcell, Padraig Lennon, Joe Fitzpatrick, Padraic Moylan, Paddy Langton (0-1), Killian Doyle, Andy Hickey (0-1), Denis Walsh (0-2), Timmy Clifford (0-3), Peter McDonald, Billy Drennan (0-8, 0-4f, 0-1 65), Gearoid Dunne (0-1), Ian Byrne (0-2)

Subs: James Walsh for Andy Hickey (42)

Limerick

Conor Hanley-Clarke, Chris Thomas, Fergal O'Connor, Evan O'Leary, Cian Scully, Ethan Hurley, Colin Coughlan (0-1), Jimmy Quilty, John Kirby, Adam English (0-2), Aidan O'Connor (0-10, 0-7f), Eddie Stokes (0-1), Shane O'Brien (0-1), Patrick Kirby (0-1), Patrick O'Donovan (0-2)

Subs: Patrick Reale for Evan O'Leary (55)