John Kiely points to Kilkenny’s ferocious intensity
Defeated manager dismisses notion four-week gap made a difference
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody celebrates at the final whistle after his side defeated Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson
In the past 13 years, only Brian Cody has avoided these days and their glum duty to shed light on where an All-Ireland title had been lost. At least for Limerick manager John Kiely, this hugely disappointing task wasn’t in any way complicated after an opening blitz by Kilkenny left the All-Ireland champions with too much to do to mount a full recovery.
They trailed by nine inside quarter of an hour and despite a spirited recovery, could never quite close the gap.
“When you are 11 points to two down after about 15 to 17 minutes,” said Kiely, “you have given yourself a mountain to climb. It took us a while to settle into the game. Kilkenny brought a ferocious intensity to the breaking ball and got a platform that they were very efficient with.
“They gave themselves that bit of head-start; the challenge from then on was to close that gap. We got it down to two and one and two and one, then it went out again to five and that really gave us a massive challenge again, closed it to two again and then to get it back to one and we were probably looking for that one little opening to come where we could get level.
“Had we broken that chink and got that level we could possibly have pushed on again but it wasn’t to be.”
Limerick were following in the footsteps of all Munster champions – except Tipperary in 2016 – for the past eight years in failing to reach an All-Ireland final. Kiely was asked had the four-week gap made a difference.
Asked the same question, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody conceded that the gap might have made a difference compared to his side’s more recent outing in the quarter-finals but Kiely dismissed it as a factor.
“Not at all, no. No impact and no regrets about anything we did. We gave the lads a week off. We trained hard. We were ready for tonight; we were absolutely ready. Kilkenny brought a ferocious intensity to the first 15 minutes but we responded to that in kind in the second quarter. We dominated it.
“We felt very comfortable at half-time that we had the resolve to push on in the second half but we probably struggled a little bit with our efficiency in front of goals. They had eight wides, we had 15. You only need one of those, but that’s just sport.”
He also declined to make an issue of the Limerick line-ball in the closing seconds. Darragh O’Donovan’s cut was deflected off Cillian Buckley’s stick but the officials didn’t notice and a wide was signaled.
“We knew straight away,” said the Limerick manager. “We could see by the flight of the ball. It was taking a certain flight; it changed, flew off to a different angle. We knew it was after taking a touch. What can we do?”
There was a sense of disbelief at the outcome. Limerick had been formidable looking champions, apparently hitting peak form at the right time. Whereas it had been true that Kilkenny were fielding their strongest selection of an injury-addled year, no-one could see them as the force of old.
Bottom of the league, beaten at home in the championship by Galway and edged out in the Leinster final by Wexford after a most uncharacteristically panicky endgame, how exactly does the Kilkenny manager conjure up performances like Saturday’s.
“Look, it’s either in a fella or it’s not. You can’t send out fellas there that you know in your heart and soul, are never going to be able to do that. The basic thing is you go out with total honesty first of all. You can talk about all the other things you like, essentially they’re in the county panel first of all because they’re well able to hurl, they’re good hurlers, they have plenty of skill and all the rest of it.
“And then it’s the application they bring and the honesty they bring and the sense of team they bring. Limerick are living proof of that with the way they won the All-Ireland final last year and they oozed it.”
For Cody, the next visit to Croke Park, less than 24 hours later, promised to be a most pleasant one, as he parried a query as to his preferred opponents in the final in advance of the Wexford-Tipperary semi-final.
“It’ll be very easy to be in Croke Park to watch that game. That’s a lovely day always when you know you’re in it. It will be massively difficult to win the final. But you certainly couldn’t win if you weren’t in it. And we have a chance when we’re in it.”