A CHALLENGE that was expected to be ultra tough because of a serious loss of rich talent through injury was turned into the slaughter of the innocent, writes John Knox.
And Semple Stadium was no place for innocence.
A relatively new, fresh faced Cork team arrived in Thurles hungry for success. Well walked, well versed Kilkenny arrived ravenous.
The difference was the difference. Cork didn’t even get out of the blocks. The Cats savaged the dishes in front of them……..the opposition, and the Allianz National Hurling League title to boot.
“We played very well,” was the verdict from pleased Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody. “We got into the game early and got scores that helped us settle. We were competitive and strong throughout the field. We were very, very good.”
Cork boss, Jimmy Barry Murphy admitted the League was a testing ground for his squad, for a new bunch of players he was trying to mould into a force for the championship. He admitted Sunday’s mauling in the final was a setback, however.
“That was a reality check,” said the visibly shaken former star hurler and footballer who guided the Leesiders on an unbeaten run into the final. “It is very, very disappointing to be beaten by so much.
“We were comprehensively beaten all over the field. The reality was that from half-time on we were fighting for respectability.”
On days like this, and in form like this, Kilkenny can be irresistible, a blinding force like nothing fans have seen before. When you pare back all the levels of talent, all that goes into a dazzling performance like this, there is one basic driving force…..hunger.
For all they have won since Brian Cody took charge – eight All-Irelands and now six League titles to take their stock to 15 – the one consistent with Kilkenny has been what the boss often refers to as a “savage commitment”.
The Cork players never met anything like they faced on Sunday; constant in-your-face pressure, constant closing down, constant chasing, hooking, blocking and working.
During a whirlwind first half Kilkenny all but smothered the opposition. When a Cork player gained possession he was surrounded, often by three opponents. The losers melted under the heat of an intense pressure game.
To be honest, the game was over after about 10 minutes when Kilkenny had already galloped 2-6 to 0-1 ahead. Kilkenny of this generation simply don’t surrender leads like that.
If there was any lingering doubt about the outcome it had evaporated by half-time when the gulf between the teams had stretched to 3-11 to 0-6.
It was the All-Ireland final of 2011 all over again. Kilkenny were in blast off form the moment the ball was throw-in. You could sense they wouldn’t let go once they got a grip on things.
For the fans it was sit back, admire and enjoy time.
And one of the most compelling things about this latest success was the central role played by new members of the team, all of them…..Richie Doyle, Paddy Hogan, Cillian Buckley and I would include Matthew Ruth too, who finished the campaign with a very healthy 5-9 to his credit. Oh, Kieran Joyce was wonderful too during his 35 minute stint.
Cork aimed at lot of early puck-outs down on the head of young Doyle, perhaps hoping to exploit his inexperience. It was a futile exercise. The Barrow Rangers man held his ground.
When colleagues flooded the area to offer support, the Leesiders continued to waste ball by pumping it constantly into a zone that was lost to them. Cork didn’t appear to have a Plan B on puck-outs, and it has to be said the accuracy of goalie Martin Coleman was shocking.
Paddy Hogan caught hold of the game early, and hurled up a storm afterwards. He blasted over three long range points – one from 80 metres and another from 70 – before nine minutes had passed.
Dream starts don’t come any better than this!
Opened shoulders to the full
The more the game wore on, the better Cillian Buckley played. When he moved into midfield after the departure of Michael Fennelly through injury, he opened his shoulders to the full and out-performed all around him.
For a man who lost all of last season through injury, 2012 has opened with a bang for the Dicksboro man.
And then you had Matthew Ruth. He picked off three points this time. At the start of the campaign you could see by his feverish movement, his body language that he was one of the new arrivals.
He is now at ease with the pace of the inter-county game. He has crossed the threshold. He is a serious, serious contender for the championship.
He was part of a hard working line that amassed 2-11, a tidy take indeed in any game, never mind a national final.
Team captain, Eoin Larkin, was wonderful too, as were Brian Hogan, Tommy Walsh, Paul Murphy….heck the lot of them.
Larkin was special, however, as a winner of frees, a maker of space and scores, and finisher too. The range of his repertoire is so immense he has the ability to shape contests; to be a game changer.
Cork never got a look in. From the moment Michael Fennelly took a short pass from Paul Murphy and pointed in the second minute the game was going away form them. Within 45 seconds all action Kilkenny had another point, this time from Ruth, with an assist by Buckley.
Goal No. 1 arrived in the fourth minute. Richie Doyle blasted the ball out of the Kilkenny defence. Eoin Larkin claimed possession and was squeezed out to the left of the country end goal. Although he shot the ball into the ground, it had enough pace to beat the ’keeper.
On the one-way traffic rolled. Paddy Hogan put his name on three points in-a-row. Then he combined with Eoin Larkin to steal possession from Cork on the Kilkenny ‘50’ before delivering it up field. Colin Fennelly stole a goal.
The score was 2-5 to 0-1. A little over nine minutes had been played.
Before the 10th minute was reached Matthew Ruth took a short ball from a commanding, forward charging Brian Hogan before hitting the target from 60 metres. Ten points was the divide. Cork were being mauled.
Kilkenny were squeezing the life out of them, by not only winning primary possession, but by picking up about 95% of breaking ball too.
The losers’ only real threat of the half was in the 29th minute when Conor Lahane got a run at the Kilkenny goal from inside the 20-metre line. J.J. Delaney pulled him back, and earned a booking for his troubles. Patrick Horgan smashed the free low, but the ball was deflected over the bar.
Just on half-time the Cats plundered a third goal. The pressure was relentless. Larkin and Colin Fennelly had low shots blocked out. However, when the ball broke to the left of the goal, T.J. Reid picked it up and rifled it high into the net.
Half-time: Kilkenny 3-11, Cork. 0-6.
The game was over. Cork, as Jimmy Barry Murphy suggested, were chasing nothing more than respectability afterwards.
Kilkenny – David Herity, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Richie Doyle, Michael Fennelly, Paddy Hogan, Richie Hogan, T.J. Reid, Cillian Buckley, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, Matthew Ruth. Subs – Kieran Joyce for Delaney (inj) ht; John Mulhall for M. Fennelly (inj) 41st min; Mark Bergin for P. Hogan 61st min.
Cork – Martin Coleman, Shane O’Neill, Stephen McDonnell, Brian Murphy, Sean Og O hAilpin, Eoin Cadogan, William Egan, Lorcan McLoughlin, John Gardiner, Conor Lehane, Pa Cronin, Niall McCarthy, Ross Cashman, Paudie O’Sullivan, Patrick Horgan. Subs – Darren Sweetnam for L. McLoughlin ht; Conor O’Sullivan for S. McDonnell ht; Luke O’Farrell for P. O’Sullivan 45th min; Jamie Coughlan for N. McCarthy 49th min.
Referee – James McGrath (Westmeath).
Attendance – 16,171.
Frees – Kilkenny 11 (7 and 4); Cork 14 (7 and 7).
Wides – Kilkenny 11 (7 and 4); Cork 14 (5 and 9).
What next - Leinster senior hurling championship semi-final against Dublin/Laois/Carlow in Portlaois on June 23.