We'll wring more years out of this Kilkenny side yet. For the 13th season of Brian Cody's 16 in charge, they will see out the summer in Croke Park in September. That they're not what they once were is irrelevant. Far more interesting is the fist they're making of what they are.
They cleared the bar by inches here, squeezing out the last drop of a 2-13 to 0-17 victory over Limerick in front of 45,478 sodden playing guests.
The two-point winning margin was the tightest squeeze Kilkenny have had in an All Ireland semi-final under Cody, save for the couple they lost to Galway and one draw.
“It was as hard as you could get,” said Cody afterwards.
“I thought Limerick played outstanding, they threw everything at us and we were tested in every way. I suppose what shone through again was our absolute spirit to the end, competing manfully throughout the game.
“I thought our genuineness was superb, as was Limerick’s because they kept going. We got goals and those were crucial. It was just a powerful game to win. Tough conditions – it wasn’t a day you were going to do something terrific with the ball. But we were tested and we came through, thank God.”
The hurling was feral at times, in conditions borrowed from the end of the world. The storm that passed through Dublin 3 early in the second half was a loud-rain special and it coincided with Limerick’s best spell of the match. They scored five points on the bounce to edge into a two-point lead with 15 minutes to go..
This was Limerick's time. They had more than held their own in the first half and had only gone in behind at half-time because Richie Hogan popped up on the end of a hospital pass from Colin Fennelly in injury-time, survived a Wayne McNamara shoulder and found the net from 20 metres out.
But though Hogan's goal knocked Limerick back on their heels it didn't leave them seeing stars. Instead it was TJ Ryan's side who barrelled into the second half. Séamus Hickey was immense, Declan Hannon not far behind. Seanie Tobin came off the bench to nick a point, Shane Dowling kept his end up from placed balls.
Their sideline was a catherine wheel of fist-pumps at every decision that went their way. A goal in that spell would have set them free.
But Kilkenny are Kilkenny. Cody sent on Henry Shefflin and Richie Power just as Limerick were threatening to disappear into the distance. There were only two points in it when Power came on but Kilkenny hadn't scored for 15 minutes.
And then, in the flick of a wrist, they turned it around. Richie Hogan launched a free from his own 65 that dropped in front of the Limerick goal. In the thicket of ash that rose to meet it, Eoin Larkin got the vital touch. Goal. Kilkenny 2-11 Limerick 0-16.
Power’s introduction made the game look like the wind had changed direction. He was fouled for the next free, handing TJ Reid an easy chance to put Kilkenny two ahead. Dowling hit back with the point of the game from out on the left touchline but soon after Power was in on goal at the other end only to be hacked down by Donal O’Grady.
The Limerick captain should have seen the line – he was already on a yellow card – but James McGrath took no action. Reid tapped over the free and Kilkenny were two clear with seven minutes to go. From there, they hooked and blocked and harried and crowded their way to the finish line.
“I thought we responded well to the first goal,” said Ryan afterwards. “We moved back down and got some great scores, started the second-half well. I think the second goal probably was a sucker punch because we’d been going well at that time. That’s hard to take. We went back up the field, even at the end, a few balls spin this way and that way, ball shaves the post. It was tight . . . .
“I certainly couldn’t ask for any more. I credited them afterwards, it was an incredible performance. We came up against an incredible team today.”
Not the first team to find that the bottom line against Kilkenny, not the last. September is their stage again.