Shefflin helps Cats back on their feet
Kilkenny 4-16 Limerick 1-16:ALL-IRELAND champions Kilkenny staggered again at Thurles yesterday but composed themselves sufficiently to see off the youthful challenge of Limerick.
The big beating in the Leinster final seemed to have left an initially uneasy legacy as the favourites were tentative in the first half and under huge pressure from eager and committed opponents.
The victory, which was ultimately thorough and deserved, came at a price, as Richie Power was replaced by half-time after a seismic collision with Wayne McNamara and looked in trouble as he was helped off.
Then with 12 minutes left, Richie Hogan whipped his stick across Seán Tobin and after being alerted by linesman James Owens, referee Michael Wadding reached unhesitatingly for his back pocket to flash a red card, meaning both Richies are most unlikely to play Tipperary in three weeks’ time in the unusual context of an All-Ireland semi-finals after three straight years of contesting finals.
On a more positive note Tommy Walsh had his best match of the season. Having started nervously, he gradually came into the match and by the end of the first half he was making trademark interventions, thieving dropping balls and getting up for a score of his own.
The returning centrefield of Michaels Fennelly and Rice made sure the team didn’t re-live the Leinster final horror around the middle but Limerick still created plenty of opportunities.
There were other negative indicators. A point initially awarded to Power was revoked when the linesman (Owens again) advised Wadding it had been wide.
Then Declan Hannon was awarded a point after David Herity in the Kilkenny goal looked to have taken it down safely from above the bar. Herity also got caught overstepping on a puck-out.
It took familiar heroics from Kilkenny’s godfather Henry Shefflin, who shouldered the burden in the early stages, helping himself to an opportunistic 2-2, to keep the champions in the fight.
The goals came in the space of three minutes when he first latched on to a rebound from Nickey Quaid’s save and squeezed the ball into the net and then the second came in the 20th minute after Colin Fennelly, whose dynamic display made little of his injury worries coming into the match, had split the defence and delivered the scoring pass,
Shefflin managed to make some kind of a connection to float the ball home. Even then Kilkenny led by only one, 2-3 to 1-5.
Limerick had come out aggressively, competing well in all areas and taking a couple of early scores from Shane Dowling’s free and Niall Moran’s point. In the 12th minute Graeme Mulcahy slipped the ball to David Breen, who ran in to finish to the net for a 1-2 to 0-2 lead.
Kilkenny were more stretched than usual and didn’t close off space as effectively as is normally the case. Although debutant Kieran Joyce was steady at centre back, Brian Hogan was missed as there was a lack of coherence in the early stages when Limerick created space and chances.
There was some inaccurate use of the ball in attack but the mistakes that cost Limerick most dearly came from turnover ball, coughed up in defence, which invited the opposition back into the match.