DEFENDING champions, Kilkenny, mixed the average with the very good, and the mixed bag of form proved enough to upend fiercely determined Limerick in a physically tough and draining All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-final in Thurles today, writes John Knox.
In the end the Cats won by a comfortable 4-16 to 1-16 to put the disappointment of the Leinster final defeat against Galway behind them, and to set up a mouth-watering semi-final against old foes Tipperary in Croke Park on Sunday, August 19.
“That was a decent performance. That game took a lot of winning,” satisfied Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody said afterwards. “The Tipperary game is one to be looking forward to.”
A semi-final place looked more a possibility than a probability for the winners at half-time after they had played with the wind and their lead was a mere 2-7 to 1-9. Limerick’s hurling during this period was superb, full of energy and passion play, and with Richie McCarthy, Donal O’Grady, Shane Dowling and Wayne McNamara leading the charge, they were creating open spaces all over the field that they were able to exploit.
They were lifted by a well taken sixth minute goal by David Breen that gave them a lead of 1-2 to 0-2, and with Kilkenny missing chances, from frees and play, the losers certainly looked the real deal.
The Kilkenny attack lacked cohesion and a cutting edge, and but for a smashing take of 2-3 by Henry Shefflin, the challengers could easily have been in front.
However, after the rest normal service was resumed with the Cats. They roared! Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice, who has been all but anonymous earlier, charged into the game and overwhelmed Limerick in midfield. Tommy Walsh thundered into the match and there was a real power, force and menace to his play.
And with a better supply of ball going to the front line, the likes of Colin Fennelly, Aidan Fogarty, Henry Shefflin and sub T.J. Reid, who replaced the injured Richie Power just before the break, inflicted severe damage on opposition that was barely given a look in during the third quarter.
Early in the second half the teams shared equally in four points per Eoin Larkin and Aidan Fogarty against replies from David Breen and Sean Tobin. It was Fogarty who hit the fourth score in the 42nd minute. During the following 14 minutes the Shannonsiders were held scorelss and they lost ground at an alarming rate as the oppositing hounded them, chasing them down and all but suffocated them all over the field.
The Kilkenny scorers flowed. Points from Colin Fennelly, Henry Shefflin (two frees) and Aidan Fogarty took them 2-13 to 1-11 clear before Fogarty scored the goal that more or less broke the opposition.
It was the 54th minute. Limerick tried to work the ball up the field, and after three players had handled possession up the right, possession was stolen on them at midfield by Michael Fennelly on the old stand side. The Shamrocks man’s angled drive into the 20-metre line found Fogarty all alone on the right. A quick aim was followed by a venomous drive. The green flag was sent flying.
Kilkenny were 3-13 to 1-11 ahead, and they were flying. Within a minute the ball was in the Limerick net again, this time Colin Fennelly blasting home from 14-metres after Eoin Larkin created the opening. The winners gains during those 14 devastating minutes amounted to 2-4; the sort of effort that breaks teams.
Shortly afterwards Kilkenny’s had Richie Hogan shown a red car after being reported by a linesman for apparently striking an opponent. The Danesfort man will be suspended for the semi-final.
Limerick pulled back a bit of ground during the closing stages, out-scoring Kilkenny by 0-5 to 0-3, but they never threatened the Kilkenny goal because the defence was water tight. Any ball that did leak through was dealt capably by in-form goalie, David Herity, whose handling of short dropping ball was superb all afternoon.
Scorers: Kilkenny - Henry Shefflin (2-6, three points frees); Colin Fennelly (1-3); Aidan Fogarty (1-2); Richie Power (0-1, 65); Tommy Walsh, Richie Hogan, Michael Fennelly, Eoin Larkin (0-1 each). Limerick - Shane Dowling (0-4, frees); Declan Hannon (0-4, one free); David Breen (1-1); Graeme Mulcahy (0-2); Niall Moran, Paudie O’Brien, Sean Tobin, Kevin Downes, Tommy Quaid (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - David Heirty, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Richie Doyle, Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice, Eoin Larkin, Richie Power, Henry Shefflin, Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty. Subs - T.J. Reid for R. Power (inj) 35th min; Cillian Buckley for Fogarty 65th min; Matt Ruth for Larkin 65th min.
Limerick - Nickie Quaid, Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon, Wayne McNamara, Donal O’Grady, Gavin O’Mahony, James Ryan, Paudie O’Brien, Shane Dowling, David Breen, Declan Hannon, Graeme Mulcahy, Niall Moran, Seanie Tobin. Subs - Seamus Hickey for Condon (inj) 36th min; Kevin Downey for Breen 55th min; Paul Browne for S. Dowling 59th min; Tommy Quaid for S. Tobin 68th min.
Referee - Michael Wadding (Waterford).