Larkin ensures Kilkenny are masters of the penultimate endgame
Limerick go very close to an upset but areultimately undone by lack of composure
Kilkenny’s Mark Kelly is tackled by Limerick’s Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’Mahony. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Kilkenny 2-13 Limerick 0-17
IT WAS after half-time in yesterday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final and as a Biblical downpour crashed onto Croke Park, it looked like the end of the world, let alone the end of Kilkenny – but it definitely looked that too.
Limerick surged through the rain, implacable and ready to seize the hour.
They would outscore their opponents by six points to one between Colin Fennelly’s point at the start of the second half and the 55th minute. Leading 0-16 to 1-11 they looked on the way to a first All-Ireland final in seven years.
By the end though it was a more familiar outcome: Kilkenny’s 13th semi-final win in 15 under the baton of Brian Cody.
Victory can be explained by two familiar phenomena, a trademark killer goal and the extraordinary willpower of many players whose motivation levels by now should be so depleted that they would find it difficult to get up on the morning of an All-Ireland semi-final let alone go about winning a 13th, as Henry Shefflin was doing.
The goal was still in dispute long after the match, not because it was in any way invalid but because Richie Power appeared to get the touch and then Eoin Larkin celebrated it. The balance of probabilities was tilting in Larkin’s favour last night.
For Limerick it was as pointless as wondering whether they’d been shot by a Colt or a Winchester. One was or another they were badly wounded.
Strangely for a team that showed so much fight and enterprise throughout, Limerick managed just one point in the final 16 minutes but they conceded two. It wasn’t that their heads dropped but more they went into a spin and looked to be trying to contrive goals in conditions that were treacherous in the extreme after the monsoon when points were both more easily available and still highly valuable in a tightly balanced contest.
The one area where they were always going to struggle to match Kilkenny also helped to damage Limerick – composure.
The rushing around and overanxiety led to poor decisions. Donal O’Grady terminated a barnstorming 58th-minute run by catching the ball twice as he careered in on goal when a point would have equalised the match.
Shane Dowling’s missed free – in fairness, not an easy one – in the 70th minute condemned Limerick in the closing stages to chasing a goal simply because there was no choice with time running out and two points in it.
Last throwThe last throw of the dice was a well-flighted ball dropped in by Richie McCarthy but for the second time in the dying moments Kilkenny corner back Paul Murphy swooped and gave the ball protective custody until James McGrath blew the final whistle.
Kilkenny only used two replacements but the roles were more in the nature of guest stars than extras with Shefflin and Richie Power adding substance and guile to the forwards. The latter was particularly menacing and when through on goal in the 66th minute was swept off his feet by O’Grady’s diving stroke of the hurl.
The Limerick captain was lucky not to red as the referee declined to show him a second yellow but the free – a borderline penalty –- was swept over by TJ Reid to give Kilkenny the precious two-point leeway.
Although O’Grady’s first yellow could have been a red card for a wild foul on Joey Holden it nonetheless came with a significant price-tag, as it led to the free Richie Hogan dropped in for Larkin’s goal.
Hogan had another outstanding display at centrefield with a big possession count and another critical Kilkenny goal just before half-time, which overturned the good work Limerick had done to claim a narrow lead.
It came from a well-judged advantage play by referee McGrath, allowing Hogan take on the ball, move across goal, take a full-blooded challenge and crack the ball into the net.
Limerick had one of a number of half-chances of goal just before the break when David Herity, who looked less than assured under dropping ball, batted out a Graeme Mulcahy shot and somehow the defence kept the bobbing ball out of the net.
Mulcahy had an excellent game, popping up everywhere, shooting two points and contesting everything with Jackie Tyrrell.
Exceeded expectationsIn fact the forwards as a unit exceeded expectations. Their economy was striking and it took until the 42nd minute before Declan Hannon – who erased the unhappy personal memories of last year’s semi-final with a display of leadership and accuracy, yielding five points from play – fired their first wide.
Corner back Séamus Hickey was handed the surprising task of marking Reid, who with Richie Hogan has been Kilkenny’s best player this year.
The Ballyhale forward looked imprisoned on the inside line and Hickey made sure he didn’t get opportunities to hurt Limerick with goals. Eventually Reid was moved to the half forwards.
His clubmate Colin Fennelly did most to keep Kilkenny on life-support in the first half when Limerick’s accuracy and dynamism were threatening to make off with the result. Ultimately though Kilkenny knew how to win matches like this and Limerick could only watch and, they will hope, learn.
KILKENNY: 1. David Herity; 2. Paul Murphy, 3. JJ Delaney, 4. Jackie Tyrrell; 5. Joey Holden, 6. Brian Hogan, 7. Cillian Buckley; 8. Richie Hogan (1-0), 9. Conor Fogarty; 11. Michael Fennelly (0-2), 13. Colin Fennelly (0-4), 10. Pádraig Walsh (0-2); 12. TJ Reid (0-5, frees), 14. Mark Kelly, 15. Eoin Larkin (1-0). Subs: 21. Henry Shefflin for Kelly (51 mins), 23. Richie Power for Walsh (53 mins).
LIMERICK: 1. Nickie Quaid; 3. Richie McCarthy, 4. Séamus Hickey, 2. Tom Condon; 5. Paudie O’Brien, 6. Wayne McNamara, 7. Gavin O’Mahony; 8. James Ryan, 9. Paul Browne; 10. David Breen (0-1), 12. Declan Hannon (0-5), 11. Dónal O’Grady (0-1); 15. Graeme Mulcahy (0-2), 14. Kevin Downes, 13. Shane Dowling (0-7, four frees, one 65). Subs: 19. Seán Tobin (0-1) for Downes (41 mins), 22. Thomas Ryan for Breen (62 mins), 23. Niall Moran for O’Grady (67 mins).
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)