Any day a team leaves Semple Stadium with a nine point win in an All-Ireland hurling quarter-final is a good one. That victory margin, though, flattered Kilkenny somewhat on Sunday, but there was no denying the superiority of the Cats against a Limerick side that did not possess the same craft and guile as the reigning champions.
Yet as we filtered out of Thurles there was a feeling from Kilkenny followers that we will need a big improvement to overcome great rivals Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final on August 19.
The breeze favoured Kilkenny in the opening half, but it was never going to be a big factor in the game. An earlier drizzle which left the pitch very greasy was a bigger problem for the players in this half.
Kilkenny opened nervously and three wides from Richie Power frees had Kilkenny supporters edgy in their seats. But any concerns the Cats’ supporters might have had were quickly dispelled by two excellent points from Henry Shefflin.
Limerick played with confidence and enthusiasm in the opening quarter and the pace of its attack was causing the Kilkenny rearguard lots of problems.
That was best epitomised by David Breen, who raced on to a pass from the flying Graeme Mulcahy to score a good goal. Limerick needed to maintain that momentum, but came unstuck within five minutes when defensive slackness was punished by Henry Shefflin for Kilkenny’s opening goal.
Badly needed score
Although Limerick responded well with two good points, Shefflin was again on hand minutes later to deftly flick the sliothar to the back of the Shannonsiders’ net follow a defence-splitting pass from Colin Fennelly.
It was a score that Kilkenny badly needed as Limerick was more than holding its own at that stage throughout the pitch.
Although Limerick levelled early in the second half that was as good as it got for them. By now Kilkenny was starting to control the midfield exchanges and an earlier hesitant defence was now dominating the Limerick attack.
The game swung decisively in Kilkenny’s favour in the 54th minute when a sublime cross field delivery from Michael Fennelly found an unmarked Aidan Fogarty. Nicky Quaid in the Limerick goal had no chance with Fogarty’s blaster.
A minute later the superb Colin Fennelly shot Kilkenny’s fourth goal, a score he had been threatening to deliver all afternoon. There was no way back from Limerick after Fennelly’s goal.
Kilkenny had grounds for concern when Richie Power departed with an injury late in the first half. T.J. Reid was an able replacement, however. The good news is that although Power was badly concussed, he will have recovered for the Tipperary game.
Kilkenny will be without Richie Hogan for that match if, as appears, he will receive a month’s suspension following his second half dismissal. It was most untypical of Hogan. He will be a big loss against Tipp.
Kilkenny’s play got very disjointed after Hogan’s dismissal, but there was never any chance Limerick might bridge the gap.
The form of Henry Shefflin was a revelation. It just goes to show that class is permanent. With little game time over recent months, Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice had a quiet opening half, but the duo were back to their brilliant best after the interval.
Bravery a highlight
By his own exceptional standards, Tommy Walsh had a disappointing Leinster final. But he too returned in style to his brilliant best on Sunday. His performance was flawless, while his bravery and utter determination provided some of the highlight of the entire game.
Once Kilkenny edged a couple of points ahead in the second half the ruthless streak kicked in. When that happens, no side can stick with the Cats.
This was a decent performance, and a confidence-booster after the Galway defeat. But we cannot forget that Tipperary is a significantly better side than Limerick.
I doubt if a repeat of Sunday’s performance would suffice against Tipperary, but I am certain that another three weeks training will have the Cats a lot sharper.