Richie Hogan was the star man for Kilkenny
The importance of the so called ‘big players’ performing was seen to be absolutely crucial in Nowlan Park.
When Kilkenny got off the mark in the Allianz National Hurling League, the strong showings of the longer serving players was central to the effort.
Following two defeats, one a close shave and the other a diabolical effort, left the Cats needing to perform big against Cork.
They did, with well walked players like Richie Hogan, T.J. Reid, Walter Walsh, Conor Fogarty, Cillian Buckley, Colin Fennelly et al doing ever so well.
The strong showing of that crew led the way and took some of the burden off the younger guys, establishing a good platform for those trying to establish themselves to perform.
And the new kids on the block did!
Young Richie Leahy danced an impressive jig. He was at his best in the closing straight when the team was motoring well.
The team moving smoothly offered him opportunity. He took it.
Wannabes need the lift a good performance can bring, but they can’t be expected to do the heavy lifting as they attempt to find their way on the seriously demanding inter-county stage.
Hence the importance of the longer serving, more experienced players performing, showing leadership and making plays for the others.
Leahy impressed in the good environment created by the big players playing well, as did Paddy Deegan, who excelled in keeping plays simple, while there was much to admire about the gutsy, try, try performances of Conor ’Shea and Conor Martin too.
O’Shea fumbled a few balls and got on the wrong side of his man on a couple of occasions racing to the contact point of aimed deliveries, especially in the first half, but heck, he is on a steep learning curve. Sunday was progress!
Centre-back Jason Cleere didn’t feature all that much, the game virtually passing him by during the first half. He survived Cork’s smart, keep ball game which was employed very well as they stretched the opposition during the opening half.
Survival in a new style, faster game than Cleere would be used to was good.
And so Kilkenny now head to Semple Stadium and a meeting with fire breathing All-Ireland champions, Tipperary on Saturday. They could easily get scorched, but had they not beaten Cork, they would be facing a pasting.
In the slightly changed environment, hope replaces dread!
Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, and his backroom team are trying to get a new shape on a new team. Experimentation is a must.
The return of ‘Mr Energy’ himself, Colin Fennelly, to lead the attack shook up things nicely up front. His fast, direct running unnerved the opposition, and if he can improve his finishing, he could be a key figure in helping slot other parts of the jigsaw in place.
Paul Murphy’s part in that jigsaw could be at No. 2. He was tried elsewhere earlier, but he looked much more comfortable, and was much more effective, in his customary position.
The experiment of Padraig Walsh at full-back looks a slow burner. Seamus Callanan probably awaits in Thurles.
That’s the ultimate test!
Kilkenny fans will breath much easier this week now that the slide has been arrested, and in impressive enough fashion too. After all, their team was never headed.
They out-scored Cork by 11 points to 5 during the closing half, putting six points in-a-row together during a game defining period between the 41st and 46th minutes.
Cork hit that stage in the match in threatening fashion. Their 12th points from a 65 by free taker, Conor Lehane, in the 39th minute was preceded by a brilliant block by home goalie, Eoin Murphy, from a blast by Cormac Murphy.
The score was 0-12 each.
On 41 minutes Walter Walsh raced off the left edge of the square to collect an aimed delivery from Colin Fennelly. Bang. Point. The fuse was light.
A blast of points followed from T.J. Reid (free when Deegan was fouled), Walsh, Richie Hogan, with Reid and Walsh involved in the build-up, Conor Martin and Hogan again after a lovely play in which the direction of the attack changed three times.
Kilkenny hit the 46th minute 0-18 to 0-12 clear.
Dean Brosnan halted the charge when shooting a point for Cork in the 50th minute. That drew a double reply from the fine shooting Richie Leahy.
There was an exchange of points after that before Cork had Cormac Murphy red carded in the 60th minute.
In different space
The game was definitely up then for the visitors. An exchange of points rounded off proceedings.
You could see from the throw-in that Kilkenny were in a different space this time than they were against Clare. They were simply busier, adopting a ’more in your face’ approach.
Within two minutes T.J. Reid (free following foul on Martin) and goalie Eoin Murphy blasted over points, the latter from around midfield. The Cats were chasing, chasing, chasing.
Cork were being hounded all over the park, and they looked troubled early on.
To be fair, when Cork got their running game going they looked dangerous. Team formation?
There wasn’t any, really. Both had a two man full-forward line at times, a spare man here or there.
It was all so utterly confusing, with ‘markers’ having to survive largely on skill and instinct.
When Conor Lehane landed Cork’s four point in the 10th minute it earned them parity (0-4 each).
Twice subsequently the scores were level, but after the deep lying Richie Hogan put T.J. Reid in space to shoot a great point from 70 metres in the 19th minute, the winners edged it up to the break.
Kilkenny hit half-time 0-11 to 0-10 in front. Who had played with the wind?
Cork opened with it, but it appeared as if it backed Kilkenny at the finish. It was that sort of swirling wind.
Conor Lehane added two points to Cork’s total by the 39th minute, but from there to the finish they added a mere three scores. Kilkenny refused to give them a look in!
This effort was in a different league to the Kilkenny effort in Ennis.
New and older players alike will have benefited greatly from the feel good factor afterwards.
Kilkenny - T.J. Reid (0-7, six frees); Richie Hogan (0-5); Richie Leahy, Walter Walsh (0-3 each); Eoin Murphy (0-2, frees); Conor Martin, Cillian Buckley (0-1 each). Cork - Conor Lehane (0-10, four frees, three 65s’); Alan Cadogan (0-2); Bill Cooper, Dean Brosnan, Seamus Harnedy (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, Padraig Walsh, Conor O’Shea; Conor Fogarty, Jason Cleere, Kieran Joyce; Cillian Buckley, Paddy Deegan; T.J. Reid, Colin Fennelly, Richie Leahy; Richie Hogan, Conor Martin, Walter Walsh. Subs - Shane Prendergast for Joyce ht; James Maher for Leahy 63rd min.
Cork - Anthony Nash; Killian Burke, Damien Cahalane, Colm Spillane; Christopher Joyce, Mark Ellis, Mark Coleman; Bill Cooper, Daniel Kearney; Dean Brosnan, Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston; Alan Cadogan, Seamus Harnedy, Luke Meade. Subs - Cormac Murphy for Kearney (inj) 20th min; Patrick Horgan for Kingston 56th min; Stephen McDonnell for Burke 56th min; Luke O’Farrell for Meade 63rd. min.
Referee - J. McGrath (Westmeath).
Attendance - 6,906.