Limerick stretch Kilkenny all the way in frantic qualifier

Brian Cody’s side were lucky that the visitors were so off target at Nowlan Park

Kilkenny 0-20 Limerick 0-17

Sooner or later we’ll know if there’s still water in the well, because for now Kilkenny are just about living off air, or experience, or else raw nerve, surviving this tense and frantic All-Ireland qualifier on nothing more.

They left in their close wake a mostly young, fearless and ultimately a little naive Limerick team who pressed Brian Cody’s team every step of the way. They just couldn’t quite hit them where it hurt most, on the scoreboard -–squandering too many first-half chances which always looked likely to come back to haunt them.

Instead, in a low-scoring and always nervy contest, Kilkenny gradually made all their experience count, leaning on it most tellingly as the game closed out, thanks in part to the brace of points from substitutes Kevin Kelly and Lester Ryan – who managed what neither Richie Hogan nor Ger Aylward could do, both replaced early in the second half, both held scoreless.

That was in part to a thick wall in the Limerick defence, centred on Richie McCarthy and Declan Hannon, but up front, Limerick's shortcomings were too overt, all five replacements coming from midfield upwards.

So Kilkenny roll on into Monday’s draw for round two, to be played next Saturday, where they’ll be lined up against Tipperary, Waterford or Dublin. One of the ‘big three’ will definitely miss out on the quarter-finals.

Cody will know and see room for improvement too, given Limerick were still level 10 minutes into the second half, after they managed to hit their first three efforts at goal all over the bar. After that, however, Kilkenny's experience at that end counted too, Pádraig Walsh hungry like the wolf in defence, Cillian Buckley and a back to form Joey Holden too.

They came early, the evening sun beaming across Nowlan Park. Kilkenny supporters must be the most punctual in the land, 15,605 in attendance come throw-in.

Less than three years since the flood of their All-Ireland semi-final, when Kilkenny shifted mountains to win, this game began equally hard-fought, with a little less quality.

Kilkenny hit the ground running, but were soon stalling in their tracks: TJ Reid's free-taking was certainly up to scratch, but Hogan shot a few off target, and instead Paddy Deegan and Chris Bolger shot their first too from play.

The Limerick forwards, constantly rotating, certainly tested their men, Kyle Hayes, last year's minor captain, and Peter Casey hitting two excellent points in the first 25 minutes, Casey levelling it up again at 0-5 apiece. Shane Dowling landed three frees in the first half too, but still, too much of their shooting – or worse still shot selection – was erratic.

Indeed, Limerick finished that half with 13 wides, and that’s only partly indicative of how wasteful they were. Kilkenny weren’t much better, also with a double-figure wide count of 10.

Kilkenny, sensing this, moved in a little closer, Walter Walsh striking three brilliant points in quick succession to open some room, 0-8 to 0-5. Still, Limerick had the last word of the half, using the breeze at their backs to close the gap back to two, thanks to a terrific point from Gearoid Hegarty, his second of the half.

Michael Fennelly, his first game since the crippled by his Achilles heel last summer, had the only real goal chance of that half, his half-hit shot easily saved by Nickie Quaid.

Limerick never gave up the chase for the goal they needed in the second half, but instead were limited to long-range efforts from Pat Ryan and Barry Nash, and a couple more frees from Dowling, as Kilkenny again laid bare that experience.

It leaves Limerick still chasing a first championship win over Kilkenny since the 1973 All-Ireland final, but on the evidence of this, that may not stretch too much longer into the future. For now, however, Kilkenny stretch on, somehow.

KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, P Walsh, J Holden; C Fogarty, C Buckley, J Lyng; M Fennelly, P Deegan (0-3); C Bolger (0-1), W Walsh (0-4), TJ Reid (0-8, five frees); R Hogan, C Fennelly, G Aylward.

Subs: K Kelly (0-2) for Aylward (44 mins), L Blanchfield for Hogan (52 mins), L Ryan (0-2) for Deegan (55 mins), M Bergin for Bolger (64 mins)

LIMERICK: N Quaid; S Finn, R McCarthy, M Casey; D Morrissey, D Hannon, S Hickey; D O'Donovan, P Browne; D Dempsey, C Lynch, G Hegarty (0-2); P Casey (0-3), S Dowling (0-8, six frees), K Hayes (0-2).

Subs: B Nash (0-1) for Hegarty (46 mins), J Ryan for O'Donovan (51 mins), T Morrissey for Dempsey (54 mins), P Ryan (0-1) for Browne (59 mins), G Mulcahy for Lynch (68 mins).

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics

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