It was all White on the night

All-Ireland Minor hurling champions. How sweet it is. It’s a strange phenomenon, the way we can get so het up over what my mother-in-law described, innocently but perfectly accurately, as ‘the kids’. We’ve won an All-Ireland in my lifetime, gloriously so. And it’s probably fair to say that the All-Ireland for Under 18’s would not have the same resonance were it not coupled with the Senior final. However, there it is, and it’s telling about its stature that TV3 were quite happy to give it such lavish treatment. In short, it matters. And for 2013, it’s ours.

I was sceptical about our chances, feeling that the old hands like Mattie Murphy who have guided Galway to a further seven Minor titles since they beat us in 1992, would come up with a strategy to cope with what seemed like our lack of strategy based on the games I had seen.

*****TANGENT ALERT*****

Thinking of the final in 1992, it brings back memories of the summer drivetime show on RTÉ which was in the hands of a chap called Jerry (I don’t think it was Gerry) Foley. He was proudly Waterfordian and bigged up the city and county whenever he could, which was nice. On the Friday before the game, he asked the sports presenter who he would rather see win. ‘Galway’ was the answer, because wouldn’t it be great to see them win since it was a whole nine years since they had won the Minor All-Ireland. It was probably a generational thing, to see Waterford as the traditional power and Galway, who hadn’t won a Senior All-Ireland in all of four years, as the innocents abroad. Either way, Jerry got right huffy, justifiably so, pointing out that Waterford hadn’t won the Minor title since 1948. Jerry, wherever you are, you can be sure the sports presenter in question, wherever he might be, would have been cheering for the Déise this time around.

*****END TANGENT ALERT*****

Dermot Keyes was having none of this defeatism:

A fair point, and we both agreed that Waterford had plenty of match winners. If they brought their A game, Waterford would win. My concern was that there wasn’t a coherent strategy to get the best of those match winners. Which team would turn up? The one that bulldozed Clare, or the one that flattered to deceive against Tipperary? The one that went toe-to-toe with Cork for 80 minutes in their own back yard and came away with a genuinely famous win, or the one that let slip an eight-point lead in the Munster final?

I needn’t have worried. Two years ago I expressed angst about the powder-puff nature of our underage teams. It was clear against Kilkenny that there was nothing fragile about this Waterford team as they repeatedly burst onto to loose balls and drove the play up the field. On two occasions during yesterday’s game TV3 showed a statistic about the amount of puckouts won. On both occasions they showed Galway were ahead. On both occasions I thought ‘so what?’ The team had picked up where they left off against Kilkenny, brushing off Galway markers with ease and powering forward. But for some tremendous goalkeeping by Cathal Tuohy we could have had two goals from such teak-tough play which might have broken Galway there and then in the first half. As it was it took a spectacular point from DJ Foran with the last puck of the half to give us the three-point lead we deserved. Having cut out the alarming propensity for giving away frees in the Kilkenny game, it was looking very good indeed.

I’m the world’s biggest worrier, especially when watching games on the telly. I’m always convinced the viewer is being deceived, that something is happening stage left that is about to ruin your day – the decisive moment in the game would typify this idea, although in this case it wasn’t our day that was about to be ruined. So when someone like me was watching and not having a complete nervous breakdown, it was a sign that Waterford were on top. Even when Galway put together four unanswered points to draw matters level, I didn’t feel . . . okay, I was very nervous, a couple of tough free chances being missed not helping. But no decent team, and Galway Minor teams are always decent, is going to be completely bereft of periods of dominance. A lot of energy would have been expelled in that period and it was so obvious enough that even I could see Waterford still had the winning of this. We were soon back in the groove, stretching the lead back to four points and keeping Galway on the back foot.

Then came the moment. It happened off-screen as the director showed the replay of a Waterford point, although kudos must be given to Mike Finnerty for keeping up with the action on the field rather than concentrating on his monitors, so we missed Patrick Curran brilliantly dispossessing the Galway back from a short puckout. We didn’t miss him bearing down on goal and finally ramming one past Tuohy. Jesus. It was about to happen. Waterford were going to win the Minor All-Ireland. Sure, you couldn’t help but recall the implosion in the Munster final, but there was less time for Galway to come back, momentum was now decisively with us, and there weren’t 20,000 Tribesmen in the stands giving them a gee-up. It would have been the comeback to beat all comebacks for Galway to save this and the team gratifyingly kept the boot down on maroon necks to ensure that there was a not-particularly flattering eight-point margin of victory when Cathal McAllister blew the final whistle.

All-Ireland winners in Croke Park. There were times when I thought I wouldn’t see the day, which is a terrible thing for a 36-year-old to say. And in case anyone in Waterford was worried that too much weight is being put on the success of a team of chisellers, the post-match interview with Seán Power would have soon put them right. He was in no doubt that this was a Big Deal, emotionally spelling out just what this means to a county like Waterford. Even during this period of sustained competitiveness for the county, the season has always ended on a downer. You win things during the season but come September you always look back at what might have been. Not this year. For only the fourth time ever (the 1929 Minor final was not played until February in 1930) we can look back on the last Championship game and say “we did it”. The future is bright too, with so many players looking the real deal. But as chief Vitalstatistix said, tomorrow never comes. Today, we’re All-Ireland winners and my own little chiseller, barely two months on this planet, gets to see an open-top bus down the Mall this evening. Not that he’ll appreciate it; I’ll have more than enough enthusiasm for two of us. Final word today to the ever-dependable Dermot Keyes:

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