It MAY be difficult to erase the 2012 Leinster senior hurling final from the memory, but Sunday week’s victory over Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final will have put a smile back on the faces of the Kilkenny players and team mentors. And the Kilkenny supporters also!
We may not have witnessed a vintage Kilkenny display, but it was a highly satisfactory performance nonetheless. We certainly saw enough from the demeanour of the players to know that Tipperary will face a mighty challenge on the August 19.
After the Galway setback Kilkenny needed a stiff test and for three quarters of the game there was little between the sides. But as so often happens to a side trying to overcome more experienced opponents, the Shannonsiders made a couple of basic errors and paid the penalty.
Any team which adopts a short ball game had better make sure the deliveries come with pinpoint accuracy. Kilkenny’s third goal was a perfect example of where Limerick lost possession very tamely from an ill-judged puck out.
Not a big surprise
Michael Fennelly quickly spotted that Aidan Fogarty was all alone 30 metres from the Limerick goal. An attacker of Fogarty’s calibre was never going to miss such a gilt-edged opportunity with the resultant goal the defining moment in the game.
The Kilkenny defence experienced a number of anxious moments during the first half, but it was very much a case of shutting up shop after the interval. The selection of Kieran Joyce as Brian Hogan’s replacement was not a big surprise as he has been hovering close to the first fifteen for some time. He deserved this overdue opportunity.
He can be well pleased with his display, particularly in the second half where he commanded the centre of the defence very impressively.
If Brian Hogan overcomes his injury he will start against Tipperary, but it is comforting to know that Kilkenny now has another very capable defender available should the need arise.
It was good to see Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly getting 70 minutes of action in advance of the Tipperary game. That was crucial given their recent injuries. Both will have benefitted greatly from the intensity of the encounter and their hurling will be honed even further in training.
The manner in which the players approached the Limerick game will have really pleased supporters. These players are proud individuals and they were very flat after that Galway defeat, more so with their performance than the result.
Limerick was coming off a solid championship campaign and Kilkenny expected a stern test. For 45 minutes the Cats knew they were in a real contest, but then in a couple of minutes the contest was put over.
The result will be a confidence booster for the players. I expect that training will be very competitive in advance of the Tipperary game. While the performance and the result will have pleased everyone involved with the team, the reality is that Kilkenny must improve if they are to defeat Tipperary. The players are smart enough to know this. So, too, are the team mentors.
Nothing will focus the minds of this Kilkenny side and its mentors more than knowing a major challenge lies ahead. Right now there is no bigger challenge than playing your greatest rivals in an All-Ireland hurling semi-final. This time last year Tipperary was on a high after a highly impressive Munster championship campaign. While the provincial title was retained, performances were not as impressive as in 2012.
The reality from a Tipperary perspective is that they must also improve. They will, particularly now that they know Kilkenny is lying in wait.
The banter will once again be mighty between rival fans.enjoy every moment.