Allianz National Hurling League semi-final: Kilkenny 2-22 Cork 0-22
Just like so many other games in this year’s hurling League, the flame died before it reached the fuse. With the outcome still open to bids Cork were reduced to 14 men early in the second half, after a mass brawl that started, and half-stopped, and resumed and grew, until about 20 players were involved, not one of them knowing what had caused the row in the first place. All of it was mindless and pointless.
Immediate consequences were unavoidable: a sample selection of four players were booked and the young Cork full back Eoin Downey was dismissed on a straight red card. Downey had been one of the real successes of Cork’s League campaign, but unless Cork can find some mitigation in the video he looks certain now to miss the opening game of the championship next month. Early suggestions were that it might be a case of mistaken identity.
The exchanges had become niggly a few minutes before the brawl, when Billy Drennan was fouled for a penalty, followed by bits and pieces of shaping and shoving. After Drennan drilled the ball to the corner of the net Kilkenny’s advantage was stretched to six points, and they managed the game well in the time that remained, without being wildly impressive either.
Having run Limerick to four points in the All-Ireland final nine months ago, it is hard to imagine that the League final will be as close on the evidence of this weekend’s matches. TJ Reid, Adrian Mullen, Eoin Cody, Richie Reid and Billy Ryan were all unavailable yesterday and there is little or no chance of all of them been in the frame for selection in a fortnight: possibly Cody and Ryan, Derek Lyng indicated afterwards; maybe Richie Reid.
But like so often in the past, Kilkenny have not balked at the prospect of taking the League to the last day and they have their wish again. “Absolutely. That’s what we want,” said Lyng. “There’s no point in being here otherwise. We’re playing against a phenomenal team and we’ll have a crack at them and either way we’re getting ready for championship. We’re going to learn a huge amount from it. That can only be good in terms of our development as a team so I’m looking forward to that.”
Having played with the wind in the first half Kilkenny led by three points at the break, 1-12 to 0-12. On three different occasions in the opening half they pulled five points clear, but it never felt like there was that much between the teams on the run of play.
Kilkenny had 1-9 on the board before they committed their first wide after 25 minutes, and that kind of efficiency is hard to bat against. Most of their scores were from Drennan, who once again was deadly from placed balls and quietly productive with his passing.
Martin Keoghan was the pick of the Kilkenny forwards, though, with his clever runs and generous link-up play. He scored Kilkenny’s first goal mid-way through the first half after Jack O’Connor was turned over in the middle of the field. When the ball reached Paddy Deegan 30 metres from the Cork goal he wasn’t content to take a handy point, and by driving at the Cork full-back line he created an overlap. Keoghan accepted the pass and drove a low shot to the Cork net.
Just like every other Cork line-up in this year’s League it contained a share of innocence and players adjusting to this level in real time. Padraig Power continued to make a good impression, and after a ropey start, he looked really threatening and promising.
Against the wind, five of Cork’s starting forwards scored from play. The exception was Conor Lehane, whose boom or bust profile shows no sign of reform in the late autumn of his career.
In a milky spring sun, and on a dead surface, the quality of the hurling was in season with the end of March. There were fumbles and mis-placed passes on both sides, but there was no shortage of earnestness. The pity is that until the row, it looked like a game that both teams could profit from.
Cork made a slow start to the second half and were already under pressure to get back into the game before Downey was dismissed. Pat Ryan, the Cork manager, was unhappy with how Cork used the ball against the extra man, but this was a greater test than anything Cork had faced since the opening night against Limerick, and the inexperience of the team told against them this time.
Kilkenny pulled eight points clear in the middle of the fourth quarter, and Cork brought it back to four, but they never threatened to score the goal that they desperately needed.
Kilkenny: E Murphy, M Butler, T Walsh, P Walsh, D Corcoran, H Lawlor, D Blanchfield, C Fogarty 0-1, A Murphy 0-2, T Clifford 0-1, J Donnelly 0-2, P Deegan, B Drennan 1-13, 1-0 pen, 0-9 frees, 0-3 65s, M Keoghan 1-0, R Hogan 0-1. Subs: C Kenny 0-1 for Hogan 50 mins; G Dunne 0-1 for Clifford 59 mins; N Brennan for A Murphy 68 mins; C Delaney for Corcoran 70 mins; E Cody for Butler 72 mins.
Cork: P Collins, N O’Leary, E Downey, D Cahalane, T O’Connell, C Joyce, R Downey 0-1, R Roche, E Twomey, C Cahalane 0-2, C Lehane, S Barrett 0-3, S Kingston 0-9, 0-8 frees, P Power 0-2, J O’Connor 0-1. Subs: T O’Mahony 0-1 for Twomey 50 mins; P Horgan 0-3 frees for O’Connor 50 mins; G Millerick for C Cahalane 54 mins; B Hayes for Power 67 mins. Sent off: E Downey 50 mins.
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).