Kilkenny have too much in hand for Cork
All-Ireland champions miss two penalties but still peg back Rebels
Kilkenny's Michael Fennelly is tackled by Paudie O'Sullivan of Cork at Nowlan Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Kilkenny 0-20 Cork 2-12 : Kilkenny booked their place in the semi-finals of the National Hurling League, but needed all of their champions’ calibre to get the better of Cork in a cracking Easter Sunday battle at Nowlan Park.
Thirteen minutes into the game an out of sorts Kilkenny seemed to be in trouble as the visitors, full of swift and direct play, had opened up a three-point cushion. Cork seemed in control in those early stages, Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan (free) striking the first scores before Paudie O’Sullivan and Stephen Moylan cancelled out Kilkenny’s opener, scored through an unlikely source in wing-back Tommy Walsh.
Kilkenny found it tough to break down the Cork defence in that opening half, relying on a brace of Eoin Larkin frees to help reduce the deficit. The Rebels had strong performances in their half-back line, with Lorcan McLoughlin, Chris Joyce and Stephen White doing plenty to shut down the Kilkenny attack and deny the Cats full-forward line much in the way of possession.
It looked like the game was slipping away from Kilkenny as Cork stretched their lead to four points (0-7 to 0-3) with 10 minutes left in the half, Lehane, Stephen Moylan and Daniel Kearney all splitting the posts after incisive breaks forward.
The Cats were forced into a change, bringing on Richie Power in an attempt to bulk up their attack. The ploy worked – they shut Cork down for the remainder of the half and worked hard to get themselves back on level terms by the break.
The comeback started with a Larkin free before impressive midfielder Lester Ryan chipped in with a minor score. They had a great chance to take the lead when referee Brian Gavin awarded a penalty after Colin Fennelly was hauled down in the square, but Richie Hogan’s shot was beaten away by Cork netminder Anthony Nash.
Kilkenny shrugged off that disappointment, pushing hard to make it a one-point game thanks to another Larkin free, before Colin Fennelly grabbed the injury-time score that saw the sides troop in all square at the break (Kilkenny 0-7, Cork 0-7).
The second half got off to a tight start, as both sides found it hard to shake off the opposition. They were level three times inside the opening 10 minutes of the new half, Richie Hogan leading the Kilkenny charge with two well-worked points while Cork posted solid scores through Paudie O’Sullivan and Conor Lehane.
An Eoin Larkin free pushed Kilkenny into a narrow lead by the 45th minute but the advantage didn’t last long – a clever Moylan hand-pass picked out Luke Farrell, who found enough space on the corner of the square to blast the sliotar past Eoin Murphy (1-10 to 0-11).
That could have been the turning point, but Kilkenny refused to buckle. Richie Power and Colin Fennelly picked off two valuable points to take the sting out of the goal, before Hogan, Fennelly edged their side in front by the 61st minute (0-15 to 1-11).
Kilkenny had another chance to raise the green flag when they were awarded a second penalty, following another foul on Fennelly, just 60 seconds later. Richie Power opted to take this one, but settled for the point that pushed his side two clear (0-16 to 1-11).
The game was in the melting pot when Horgan converted a free for Cork, but Kilkenny held their nerve. Three points in quick succession from Power, Hogan and Fennelly spurred on the team and their supporters, leaving Cork chasing a four-point gap (0-19 to 1-12).
Cork weren’t done for yet – Conor Lehane proved as much when he stole through and flashed the sliotar to the net in the second minute of injury-time, but midfielder Michael Fennelly settled Kilkenny nerves – and the game – with a long-range point just before the final whistle.
SCORERS: Kilkenny – Eoin Larkin (0-6, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65); Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly (0-4 each); Richie Power (0-3, 0-1 pen); Tommy Walsh, Lester Ryan, Michael Fennelly (0-1 each). Cork – Conor Lehane (1-3); Luke Farrell (1-1); Patrick Horgan (0-3, frees); Paudie O’Sullivan, Stephen Moylan (0-2 each); Daniel Kearney (0-1).
Kilkenny – E. Murphy, C. Fogarty, J.J. Delaney, J. Tyrrell, T. Walsh, B. Hogan, K. Joyce, L. Ryan, M. Fennelly, W. Walsh, E. Larkin, R. Hogan, G. Aylward, C. Fennelly, A. Fogarty.
Cork – A. Nash, K. Murphy, B. Murphy, C. O’Sullivan, L. McLoughlin, C. Joyce, S. White, D. Kearney, P. Cronin, C. Lehane, C. McCarthy, P. O’Sullivan, S. Moylan, L. Farrell, P. Horgan.
Referee – B. Gavin (Offaly).
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