THERE was a tale of two sides of the Kilkenny character to be told following this concern prompting and yet impressive victory in the All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-final in Thurles (4-16 to 1-16), writes John Knox
The concern centred around an edgy, unsure opening half during which the defending All-Ireland champions looked ill at ease, prompting thoughts that maybe they had been scarred by the recent collapse in the Leinster final against Galway.
However, for all the ills and shortcoming of their opening half play on Sunday, the Kilkenny hurling during the second period was compelling, full of fire and brimstone, slick and clever movement of ball and personnel; deadly in the execution of the game plan, plus the opposition.
This was the prowling Cats of old as they clinched a place in their 16th consecutive All-Ireland semi-final!
The closing half performance in its entirety was so compelling from a Kilkenny point of view that an earlier threatening Limerick were reduced to the role of also rans from a long way out as the winners strolled home, even when playing with 14 men during the closing 13 minutes.
“The better team won, no doubt about it,” conceded Limerick manager, John Allen afterwards. “We put it up to Kilkenny during the first half and we looked to be in a good position at half-time, but they dominated us after that.”
Not overly convincing
The teams went to the dressing-room for the rest with the Cats a mere 2-7 to 1-9 in front after playing with the stiffish breeze blowing into the town end. Take the strong scoring contribution of 2-3 from Henry Shefflin from the equation during that period, and you had to wonder about Kilkenny.
Convincing they were not! However, all was to change after the turn.
A stinging blast of 2-5 from revitalised, all action, all moving Kilkenny without reply between the 42nd and 54th minutes quenched the fire in the Limerick bellies that had threatened to burn down their house. Really, from the moment a flying Aidan Fogarty buried the third winners goal in the net in the 54th minute the Munster challenge looked destined for but one end.
When Limerick heart breaker, Colin Fennelly, put his name on the fourth goal 30 seconds later it was ‘good night Irene’ as far as the challengers were concerned.
“That was a decent performance, but we will have to improve,” said Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody. “The Leinster final had no bearing on this game. Limerick played very well in every sense. It was a game that took a lot of winning.”
And so will the next one, the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary in Croke Park, which is sure to be a house filler on Sunday, August 19.
Whole new ball game
“That is some game to be looking forward to,” smiled Mr Cody. “That will be a whole new ball game.”
It was hard to know what to make of Kilkenny’s weaker than expected opening half performance, because for all the shortcomings, the players laboured well and put in the effort. The shooting was off early on, but even taking that into consideration they looked unsure as Limerick hustled and bustled and knocked them out of their stride with their sharp physical approach.
Apart from J.J. Delaney and Tommy Walsh, whose game came to the boil sharply, the defence looked shaky for much of the way; midfield was only so, so but there was no cutting edge up front apart from that provided by Shefflin, while the work-rate of Aidan Fogarty was another big plus.
Limerick were allowed create space too often and in too many places, and again too often, they drew the opposition to the ball before releasing to a colleague running on to a pass. It was all so un-Kilkenny like to allow opponents create or make such space, as the super charged Richie McCarthy, Donal O’Grady, Wayne McNamara, Shane Dowling, Declan Hannon, James Ryan and company simply tore into the opposition.
Of course, the losers received the fillip of scoring the first goal, a splendid effort by David Breen who beat ’keeper, David Herity, although the guardian did everything he could to smother the angle. That score in the 12th minute put Limerick 1-2 to 0-2 in front, and their fans all but raised the roof with delight.
The winners caught up at 1-3 each in the 16th minute when Shefflin, profiting on good approach work by Michael Fennelly and Eoin Larkin, bagged a goal. His second big score in the 19th minute, this time with an assist by Colin Fennelly, rescued his team from arrears again (2-3 to 1-5) as they failed to make any worthwhile use of the elements.
The Shannonsiders were still there going toe-to-toe by the half hour mark when the score was 2-4 to 1-7, but an inspiring high catch first, and then a point minutes later form Tommy Walsh helped inject some bit of life into the winners. Kilkenny hit half-time with a slim lead of 2-7 to 1-9 after losing Richie Power through injury.
Manager Brian Cody denied when asked that there had been any harsh words or anything like that said in the dressing-room at half-time. Whatever happened, Kilkenny were a new dynamic force when hostilities resumed.
Limerick couldn’t win ball; at midfield where Rice and Fennelly took over completely; anywhere in the opposing defence and they were run ragged up front when the likes of Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin cut loose, joining the already trouble causing Shefflin and Fogarty.
Early in the half Eoin Larkin and David Breen, and then Sean Tobin and Fogarty traded points (2-9 to 1-11). There was nothing, in a scoring sense, during the following 14 minutes for Limerick.
Kilkenny ran riot, in terms of their finishing and the way they dragged the opposing defence asunder. The points fell to Shefflin (2), Colin Fennelly and Fogarty (2).
Fogarty’s goal in the 54th minute typified how fortunes had changed. Limerick tried to work the ball out of defence, and after three players handled the ball, Michael Fennelly stole it from them on the left at midfield.
His quick, angled delivery found the Emeralds man all alone, 18-metres to the right of goal.
Fogarty simply took aim and let fly. The ’keeper had no chance!
Within a minute Colin Fennelly repeated the act in somehwat similar fashion (4-13 to 1-11). The game was definitely over then.
Richie Hogan was red carded in the 57th minute after being reported by a linesman for apparently striking an opponent. The team sailed on smoothly without him, but he will be suspended for the semi-final.
Any day you qualify for an All-Ireland semi-final is a good one. Kilkenny won this day knowing they can do better! Not a bad way to be!
Kilkenny - David Herity; Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie tyrrell; Tommy Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Richie Doyle; Michael Rice, Michael Fennelly; Eoin Larkin (capt), Richie Power, Henry Shefflin; Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty. Subs - T.J. Reid for 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 Downes for Breen 53rd min; Paul Browne for S. Dowling 59th min; Tommy Quaid for Tobin 63rd min.
Referee - Michael Wadding (Waterford).
Attendance - 38,116.