By Jimmy Rhatigan
ANOTHER half minute of play or even less and Kilkenny could have pushed bookies’ favourites Galway to one side.
The black and amber was that close to Leinster ecstasy.
But fairytales are not commonplace and as result there was agony for both finalists who must now face an extra game neither would have wished for.
League kingpins Kilkenny went within a Cat’s Whisker of getting sweet revenge for the Battle of Salthill.
It looked as if Galway had repeated the dose as they led by three points with the Croker clock reminding that Kilkenny had a matter of minutes only to activate a survival kit.
Then in a sensational finish that made up somewhat for the tense and nervous play that had gone before, Kilkenny snatched a second bite at the Leinster senior hurling apple when points by John Donnelly, Enda Morrissey and an unbelievable TJ Reid score from the middle of the park left the game at a cliff-hanging 18 points apiece.
After 70 minutes, Galway still led 18-17.
Injury time gave Kilkenny extra vim and vigor.
Resilience and passion were rewarded.
The teams were together after 71 minutes but neither could grab a glory score and the referee whistled for time after a midfield throw ball that followed a hurling scrum.
On the basis of what had gone minutes before, had the Cats been able to snatch the ball from the throw-in, they could have been rivals for The Great Escape to Victory title.
Kilkenny was in the ascendency and Galway was in hanging-on mode.
The replay in Semple Stadium, Thurles on Sunday will bow to Michael Buble who is the star attraction in Croker.
All kinds of every possibility came to mind as we mused on what might have been.
We watched as the Russians sent the Spanish tumbling out of the World Soccer Cup in a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw.
For whatever crazy reason our minds wandered to grandmasters of chess, including Russia’s Boris Spassky, a
one-time king of the board game.
And we pondered on how proud Boris and his great rival of another time, America’s Bobby Fischer, would have been had they been rival managers in the Kilkenny and Galway dugouts.
For long spells the hurling was akin to a world battle between Boris Vasilievich Spassky, who was the 10th World Champ and the USA’s Fischer who won the 11th World Crown.
Neither would have given an inch, every possible move by an opponent would have been shadowed and after God only knows how many hours the game would still have been as tight as the proverbial tuppence.
Both sets of forwards prodded and poked at defences but as so often happens in chess challenges the result was stalemate.
Futile efforts were made to prize open doors that were firmly in lockdown.
There was some great high fielding, both goalkeepers were superb and for Kilkenny, Padraig Walsh, Paul Murphy and TJ Reid in particular were awesome.
In contrast the Munster Final between Cork and Clare in Thurles was scintillating and at times as wide open as the mouth of Dunmore Cave.
Naturally, neither side wanted to lose in Croker. But perhaps it went deeper than that.
Both appeared to have a fear of going under, uncertainty that may have triggered errors, some enforced.
That neither team could score a goal was down to a combination of stubborn defending, brilliant goalkeeping and over eagerness in front of goal.
The 40,000 plus crowd will have got value for money. Okay, Galway may not have been at their best, particularly in the first half when Kilkenny could have been much further ahead had they not wasted chances, and, worryingly scored so little from play.
With the wind in their sails, Galway improved in half two but, uncharacteristically, Joe Canning was for once not meticulously accurate nor as alert as usual, although he did score wonder points.
God only knows what the replay will conjure up.
Only certainties are that it will be tough, tense, tight and hopefully exciting.
It remains to be seen who will blink first.