Battle-weary champions Kilkenny finally reach the end of the line
Cork and Clare the deserving winners of their respective quarter-finals in Thurles
Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin recieves a second yellow card and then a red from referee Barry Kelly at Thurles
Kilkenny have raged against the dying of the light all season. Yesterday in Thurles it was finally extinguished.
There’s a fine line between being battle-hardened and battle weary and the championship road this season has been long and hard for the Cats.
Injury has denied them some key personnel. They rolled the dice on several players who lacked match sharpness, Michael Fennelly and Henry Shefflin from the start, and TJ Reid from the bench. You couldn’t fault the team’s work ethic but Kilkenny will be very disappointed they didn’t reach the standards they so often set for themselves and by extension everyone else.
They were poor in touch, in thought and in execution and for large periods they were outrun and outhurled by Cork. In free-taking, a staple diet in terms of scoring for most teams, Kilkenny were profligate. Eoin Larkin, Richie Power and Shefflin all took a turn but too many chances slipped the wrong side of the uprights. In a match they lost by five points it was a huge stumbling block.
They also hit some dreadful wides from general play and every little aberration gave Cork more belief. It took corner back Paul Murphy to come up and show his forwards how to take a point.
Shefflin’s sending off was an obvious turning point. Kilkenny were struggling to cope when it was a 15-a-side contest but despite showing character in refusing to lie down their chances of winning became impossible when a man down. Shefflin is a talisman. While not at his best he takes responsibility for shaping the way that Kilkenny play and his departure put serious pressure on others to step up on the day.
His team-mates couldn’t do that in sufficient numbers. The two yellow cards were technically correct but with Brian Gavin in charge I doubt those two cards would have been brandished in the second game. Shefflin was unlucky. Kilkenny could legitimately complain about a number of other decisions that didn’t go their way but it cannot camouflage their shortcomings in performance terms on the day.
They didn’t chase down the ball as they normally would, were guilty of dithering in possession and too often the first touch was a poor one.
Cork were deserving winners. They made better use of possession. The ball into the forward line was intelligent and accurate and the pace of the Cork forwards proved to be a real handful for their markers.
They drew fouls and Patrick Horgan’s free-taking kept the scoreboard ticking over at a reasonable lick. His general play wasn’t too shabby either. Kilkenny’s tenacity in defence got them to this stage of the championship but this was a bailout too far. Jackie Tyrrell, Walsh and Murphy battled manfully but ultimately in vain. The ball came back as quickly as they sent it down the pitch. The variety and pace of Cork’s attacking patterns provided rich dividends.
The Cork full-back line, particularly the outstanding Shane O’Neill, kept a tight rein on their men and even on the rare occasions that a Kilkenny player slipped the leash, they discovered an impenetrable wall in Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash.
He made a brilliant double save in the second half and also got down smartly to deny Michael Fennelly. Daniel Kearney had a superb game in midfield, a real bundle of energy.
Cork know that there is scope for improvement. Several of their forwards drifted in and out of the game with Lehane and O’Farrell still short of their best form. They’ll need a more sustained contribution from everyone if they want to topple Dublin the next day. This was a huge step though in taking Kilkenny’s scalp and a major redemption for the Munster final.
There was a totally different atmosphere for the second game in Thurles. For much of the first half it was a lifeless affair.
The concerns about Galway’s form throughout 2013 surfaced pretty quickly after an initial opening flurry on the scoreboard. Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald’s decision to drop Pat Donnellan back in front of Joe Canning had a major bearing on the outcome.
Canning became frustrated as the supply of possession was pretty meagre and his frustration was palpable and possibly a contributory factor in missing those four placed balls. David Burke took over the responsibility. It was interesting to note how the free-takers struggled when striking into the town end goal. Paudge Collins was outstanding, particularly in the first half and he was well supported by Conor McGrath and Darach Honan.
Clare won the match three times by my reckoning. There didn’t seem any way back for Galway when they trailed by seven points at the interval.
The second half goals gave them lifelines but they couldn’t quite surmount a general sloppiness in possession. Clare were slicker and at crucial times players stepped up to provide a buffer on the scoreboard when Galway tried to clamber back into the contest. The fitness of the Clare players was also striking, manifest in the points scored by the excellent Colin Ryan and Collins in the second half as they scampered clear of their pursuers.
There were some great individual moments, Pat O’Connor’s point just before half-time, Tony Kelly robbing Canning and firing the sliotar over the bar from long range.
Galway couldn’t match their opponents’ composure in possession or the accuracy of their distribution. Too often the ball was fired aimlessly into areas where Clare dominated numerically.
Clare will take a lot from this match. It will bring them on as a team and indeed a squad based on the contributions from bench.It promises to be a pulsating local derby against Limerick.