This format of this year’s National Hurling League may not have found favour with many of the strong hurling counties, but what an exciting climax we had to the fifth round of the competition.
A bitterly cold day in Nowlan Park did not deter Kilkenny and Cork from serving up a great game that delighted the good attendance.
Kilkenny held the upper hand on many occasions, but two excellently executed Cork goals in the second half hauled the Cats back on both occasions.
Make better use
Cork started well but should have made better use of their first half possession. Poor deliveries into the attack and some wrong options did not help their cause.
Kilkenny mastered the high ball with consummate ease and it may have helped Cork had they ran more with the ball.
The first touch from the Rebels out the field was very good, but not so close to the Kilkenny goal where a tenacious Kilkenny defence played superbly for most of the game.
When it came to converting possession into scores in the first half Cork will be disappointed with their return. Based on possession alone the Rebels should have been ahead at the interval.
Cork’s first goal could have been decisive had Kilkenny not responded well. The Cats upped their game considerably from the middle of the second half helped in no small way by the influence of Michael Fennelly and Lester Ryan in the middle of the field.
Richie Power, introduced in the first half, was highly efficient after the break, as was Colin Fennelly whose penetrating runs caused many problems for the Cork rearguard.
Just when it looked like Kilkenny has finally closed out the game Cork struck for their second goal. It was a well-worked score and it made for a very nervous closing three minutes.
It was fitting that Kilkenny’s best player on the day, Michael Fennelly, should get the final score, a majestic effort from ninety metres.
Now in semis
So, after a poor start to the League, Kilkenny now find themselves in a semi-final clash with Galway! From a Kilkenny perspective this year’s League has been very noticeable for the excellent contributions from the newcomers.
Eoin Murphy has looked very confident in goal but needs lots of game time in the position to be ready for the championship.
Conor Fogarty is enjoying an excellent league. He may start in the championship, but if he does not his versatility gives Kilkenny excellent cover in many defensive positions.
The star of the League for Kilkenny has been Lester Ryan. He is looking more confident with every outing. Despite being substituted on Sunday, Ger Aylward has shown excellent form and it was good to see Walter Walsh return to action.
Kilkenny will be delighted to have reached the league semi-final and after such a disappointing start against Galway retaining the title is now a real possibility.
Cork is making very good progress. This is a young team with lots of ability, but equally with a lot to learn. Sunday’s game, despite the result, will have served the team well.
Despite losing to Galway, Waterford retains its League status but they will be disappointed not to have reached the knock-out stages.
Tipperary’s defeat of Clare was not unexpected but the comprehensive manner of their victory will have left both counties with very conflicting feelings.
The Premier County is back on track and are serious contenders for the League and championship. For Clare the result was a huge setback and they must now battle with Cork to stay in Division 1A.
A relegation final is a game neither side wants and dropping back to Division 1B will be no help to two young teams eager for regular top flight hurling.