Kilkenny are through to the 2017 Leinster U21 hurling championship final after seeing off a Westmeath team who really gave the Cats a test.
The hosts had eliminated their illustrious opponents from the same competition at the quarter-final stage last year and they gave it a good rattle again last night. The men in maroon lead at the break and level with 20 minutes left but in the end the Cats took a hold of the game and pulled away ominously to seal a date with Wexford in the provincial decider on July 5th.
Alan Murphy (1-8) top-scored for Eddie Brennan’s team, who will now prepare for a third Leinster final meeting with the Model County in five years, having lost the previous two in 2013 and 2015.
Killian Doyle’s free in the third minute of injury time ensured the Lake lads of a narrow 1-7 to 0-9 interval lead, with his Raharney clubmate James Goonery delivering the loser’s goal in the 18th minute.
The sides shared eight points during the opening quarter and Murphy edged the visitors ahead before Goonery hit the back of the Kilkenny net to propel the Lake County into a 1-4 to 0-5 lead as the match exploded to life.
The Black & Amber refused to panic, however, and were soon level thanks to scores from Pat Lyng and Sean Morrissey getting his second.
Niall Mitchell had registered first for the hosts inside eight seconds before Kilkenny hit back through Morrissey, Murphy (free) and full forward Liam Blanchfield. But three points from centre forward Killian Doyle drew the underdog’s level by the 14th minute, with Man of the Match John Donnelly on target in between for the Cats.
A Mitchell point from the sideline seen Westmeath take the lead again four minutes from the break and the Clonkill clubman struck again two minutes later to make it 1-6 to 0-7. Lyng replied within 50 seconds and a Murphy free deep into injury time ensured that the sides were level again only for Doyle’s fourth of the night to edge his team in front before the short whistle.
The Cats outscored their opponents by six points to three in the third quarter and were two points ahead by the three-quarters stage, 0-15 to 1-10. Murphy and Doyle traded the first two points of the second half and the winners moved ahead thanks to half time substitute Richie Leahy and Luke Scanlon, only for Doyle to equalise from a free.
But Murphy (free. ‘65’) and sub Eoin Kenny hit three more Kilkenny scores before Doyle clipped over another free. When a Donnelly brace stretched the gap to three, the response was another Doyle free, 0-17 to 1-11 with ten minutes left and everything still to play for.
The Cats were well on top now but had missed some glorious goal-scoring opportunities as Sean Maher made some great saves. However in a tense finale, Glenmore ace Murphy tagged on further frees in the 57th and 59th minutes before helping himself to the match-clinching goal in the final seconds of normal time, 1-19 to 1-11.
Leahy and Morrissey tagged on injury-time points as the favourites won comfortably in the end.
Kilkenny – D Brennan; M Cody, C Delaney, J Burke; C Doheny, J Cleere, T Walsh; L Scanlon (0-1), P Lyng (0-2); A Murphy (1-8, 0-7f, 0-1’65), J Donnelly (0-3), S Morrissey (0-3); S Walsh, L Blanchfield (0-1), B Ryan. Subs: D Mullen for C Doheny, R Leahy (0-2) for S Walsh, E Kenny (0-1) for L Blanchfield, R Bergin for J Burke, C Hennessy for J Donnelly.
Westmeath – S Maher; S Quinn, C Shaw, D Giles; N McKenna, D Egerton, J Rabbitte; M Daly, S Clavin; D Clinton, K Doyle (0-8, 6f), N Mitchell (0-3); J Goonery (1-0), C Doyle, J Galvin. Subs: D Finn for J Rabbitte, J Bermingham for J Goonery, A Loughlin for D Clinton.