Hungry Cats not giving up on League

THEY may be four points down in the Allianz National Hurling League, but defending champions Kilkenny haven’t given up hope of making the semi-finals, writes John Knox.

THEY may be four points down in the Allianz National Hurling League, but defending champions Kilkenny haven’t given up hope of making the semi-finals, writes John Knox.

“We want to make the semi-finals, and we can still do it,” insisted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, after the Cats lost a lively, well contested and high class second round clash against Tipperary at bitterly cold Semple Stadium.

“We haven’t thrown in the towel,” he added after losing by 1-19 (22) to 2-17 (23) against Tipperary.

Joyce did well

The losers were six points down at the interval (1-8 to 2-11) but thanks to a thoroughly determined effort during the second half when backed by the wind, when Kieran Joyce was called off the bench to make a significant contribution at centre-back, they pared the divide back to the minimum at the finish.

There was no near miss or narrow escape during the tight finish when Tipp, who led from the 26th minute after John O’Dwyer appeared to ‘head’ the ball into the net to put them 1-7 to 1-6 in front, held on for a morale boosting first win.

The Premier County had been shaken by a listless showing when losing to Cork in the earlier round. The same day Kilkenny lost to Galway.

However, thanks to a reasonably favourable run of results on Sunday when one of the first round winners (Galway) were beaten and two more (Waterford and Cork) played a draw, Kilkenny could still make the shake-up, even if they prop up the League table at the moment.

Honesty and passion

“It was a very honest game,” insisted Tipp manager, Eamon O’Shea. “We just came out on the right side of it. It was really competitive. There was a great honesty and passion to the play. Fans couldn’t have asked for better on the day.”

The teams ended up with 14 men each, Tommy Walsh (60th minute) and Tipperary’s Noel McGrath (61st minute) having been sent off in separate incidents, both for second yellow card offences, it appeared. The dismissals were out of character with an otherwise competitive fixture that was tough at times and which threw up fare that nearly made – it was too cold to forget it altogether - the 5,697 crowd forget about the biting wind.

Kilkenny may have been beaten again, but fundamentally there is little wrong. The work-rate was good. The attitude was healthy too. Hurling wise the players were even more in the swing of things.

While management are not offering excuses, the loss through injury of a bevy of talent like Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Michael Rice, Jackie Tyrrell and Michael Fennelly has to be a factor, significant or otherwise. We are not trying to paint a pretty ‘no problem’ picture, but rather to put things in context.

To a large degree, the League can be about letting new talent fly. Of the new arrivals, Lester Ryan flew very high in Thurles. He turned in a powerful performance, both as ball winner and striker. He was possibly Kilkenny’s best man.

Eoin Larkin, Tommy Walsh, Richie Power and Richie Hogan, although he didn’t see much of the ball in the closing half, were very good too. Larkin was able to win the hard and dirty ball and his power and strength when driving forward earned several frees which brought valuable returns on top of the three scores he contributed.

Much sharper

Walsh was much sharper breaking to, and when on the ball, relative to his showing against Galway. The sending off was harsh. He had to put up with the jeers of opposing fans when making his way along the sideline to the Kilkenny dug-out after being shown the red card.

It appeared as if someone near the Tipp dug-out made some remark to the Tullaroan man, because Walsh went back and exchanged words with a man wearing a blue bib. Brian Cody subsequently walked down the ’line to, apparently, confront the individual too.

Mr Cody had no comment to make about the matter afterwards.

The two Richies’, Power and Hogan, continued as the main score getters. In the current situation, they will probably continue to carry the can. They are both hurling well generally, which is a big help.

Kieran Joyce made a considerable impact when put on at centre-back in the 46th minute in place of the out of sort Brian Hogan. The touch of the O’Loughlin Gaels man was off. Ball work and training will sort that for a man I would consider hugely important and central to anything Kilkenny might achieve this season. Give him time!

Joyce, though, did the business here, stopping the flow of ball in the first instance and turning the momentum in the other direction. You see around at the time of his arrival that Kilkenny were playing well and were slightly on top, but they needed an extra push to pile the pressure on the opposition that could ultimately bring scores.

The scoring returns after Joyce’s arrival went 0-4 to 0-8 in Kilkenny’s favour. Enough said!

Two other relatively new guys, Paddy Hogan and Mark Kelly, did fine as well, the former landing two vital second half scores. The challenge for them now is to build on this effort.

Wet and cold

The match opened in wet and cold conditions, with the wind blowing from the town end. Tipp had first use of the elements and they opened well, landing unanswered points during the opening three minutes through Eoin Kelly (2) and Lar Corbett.

They operated with a 3-man midfield, with wing-forward Noel McGrath supplementing the work of Adrian Ryan and Brendan Maher. Indeed, McGrath claimed a lot of possession, and he appeared to be the ‘drifter’, and a most able one, to take well directed puck-outs from goalie Darren Gleeson.

Despite all of this, by the 13th minute the losers were back level at 0-4 each thanks to scores from Aidan Fogarty, Eoin Larkin, Matt Ruth and Power (free). Their next score was a goal from Richie Hogan. A quick ball from midfield by Lester Ryan broke goal side of the last line of the Tipp defence, almost on the 20 metre line. Hogan was first away, and he picked his spot when finishing with authority.

Kilkenny led 1-4 to 0-4.

They held that lead for 13 minutes until Tipp goaled through O’Dwyer. Conor O’Mahony lofted a ‘Garryowen’ type ball towards the opposing goal, and as the Killenaule man battled for possession with a defender on the edge of the square the sliotar appeared to hit some part of his helmet and it ended up in the net (1-7 to 1-6).

Lar won race

Their second goal arrived in the 32nd minute. Padraic Maher appeared to travel far with the ball before sending a delivery towards the left inside the 20-metre line. ’Keeper David Herity darted off his line. Lar Corbett darted in fast. The latter won the race and flicked the ball one handed into the net (2-9 to 1-7).

By half-time the losers were slightly worse off when 1-8 to 2-11 behind.

Kilkenny upped the tempo after the turn, but for the main part the divide swung between four and five points. Three scores on the trot in the 55th, 56th and 58th minutes from Larkin, Power (following a foul on Larkin) and Paddy Hogan from a huge free on his own half-back line piled the pressure on the opposition (2-14 to 1-16).

Tipp grabbed a badly needed point from Seamus Callanan to settle the nerves. The sending offs followed. Power converted a free after the McGrath incident to leave the divide at the minimum again.

The action during the closing 10 minutes was hard and close, but Kilkenny just couldn’t bridge the gap. They had to give second best to the excellence of Padraic Maher, Conor O’Mahony, Noel McGrath, Lar Corbett and deadly free taker, Eoin Kelly, on this occasion, which was the first time since the All-Ireland final of 2010.

Scorers: Tipperary – Eoin Kelly (0-9, seven frees, one 65); Lar Corbett (1-1); John O’Dwyer (1-0); Pa Bourke (0-2, one free); Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Shane Bourke, Seamus Callanan (0-1 each). Kilkenny – Richie Power (0-9, eight frees, one 65); Richie Hogan (1-2); Eoin Larkin (0-3); Paddy Hogan (0-2, frees); Matt Ruth, Colin Fennelly, Aidan Fogarty (0-1 each).

Kilkenny – David Herity, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Conor Fogarty, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Paddy Hogan, Lester Ryan, Richie Power, Mark Kelly, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, Matthew Ruth, Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty. Subs – Kieran Joyce for B. Hogan 46th min; Tomas Breen for Ruth 51st min; Ger Aylward for Kelly 64th min.

Tipperary – Darren Gleeson, Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, Padraic Maher, Conor O’Mahony, Conor O’Brien, Adrian Ryan, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Lar Corbett, John O’Brien, John O’Dwyer, Eoin Kelly, Pa Bourke. Subs – Shane Bourke for A. Ryan 50th min; Seamus Callanan for J. O’Dwyer 56th min; Tomas Hamill for C. O’Mahony 57th min; Jason Forde for J. O’Brien 66th min.

Referee – Michael Wadding (Waterford).