Kilkenny 1-21 Limerick 2-17
Kilkenny’s essential Cody-ness would survive a nuclear attack. They drenched Limerick in a tidal wave here and washed away their All-Ireland title with a performance driven by the sort of manic intensity upon which two decades of empire have been built.
The names change, the faces change, the Cody-ness lives on. Everything here was built on the usual first principles. Work-rate, dirty ball, tackling, hooking, blocking, everything. Stripped down to its essentials, it was an exercise in turning Limerick’s players into the last thing they wanted to be – panicking hurlers with no time to think.
Wrap it up in the deadening accuracy of Kilkenny’s shooting on a day when they had eight wides to Limerick’s 15, and this is what happens. They’ve won each of the last 11 All-Ireland semi-finals they’ve been involved in. This is why. For 75 minutes of a pulsating evening in Croke Park, they were never led. In fact, after TJ Reid put them ahead in the first minute, they were never caught.
That last bit is on Limerick, who put in a rotten night’s shooting, particularly when it mattered most. Having hauled themselves back into a semi-final in which they trailed by eight points after just 14 minutes, the defending champions quailed at precisely the wrong moments down the stretch.
From the 48th minute to the end, Limerick scored 1-3 from 10 shots. Aside from a David Reidy goal effort late on that was saved by Eoin Murphy, they racked up five wides in 27 minutes. The killer feature of those wides was that four of the five came when Limerick had reduced the margin to a single point. Every chance they got to equalise – and Kyle Hayes, Diarmaid Byrnes and Gearóid Hegarty all had good ones – they fluffed.
When Kilkenny are in this mode, you need all the extras to flow for you. Limerick didn't have that. Deep into injury-time, Darragh O'Donovan swished a sideline ball at the Kilkenny posts that TV replays showed came off Kilkenny defender Cillian Buckley. No umpire caught it and, in fairness, there had been no huge appeal from Limerick. It should have been a 65, all the same, and we could have had extra-time. But it wasn't and we didn't.
That said, Kilkenny deserved every bit of their victory, and they’d probably even have relished extra-time. They certainly relished the beginning, when they demolished Limerick right from the throw-in. The defending champions were overwhelmed. Any gameplan they had before throw-in was reduced to ash in the opening 20 minutes as they were subjected to a good, old-fashioned water-boarding. This was Cody’s Kilkenny, in full cry. They hunted and hooked and blocked like demons, everything turned up to 11 from the beginning.
It couldn't have been a more Cody point had it readjusted its baseball cap on its way over the bar
It was a tactical masterclass too. Kilkenny dropped their half-forwards back for the Limerick puck-out and proceeded to mince whatever Nickie Quaid sent their way. As the game wore on, Graham Mulcahy – Limerick's best performer on the night – was forced to come deep to try to get on some measure of ball. It worked, but only up to a point – they really needed him close to goal.
Kilkenny's sixth point, coming in the 10th minute, was everything they've ever been under Cody. Four forwards gang-tackled Tom Morrissey as he came out with the ball on the Limerick 65, rag-dolling him until the ball screamed for mercy and squirted clear.
Adrian Mullen, the newbie 19-year-old playing in his first All-Ireland semi-final, jinked right onto the Hogan Stand sideline and split the posts as though he'd been doing it for a decade. It couldn't have been a more Cody point had it readjusted its baseball cap on its way over the bar. When Colin Fennelly goaled soon after, Kilkenny were 1-7 to 0-2 ahead with just 14 minutes on the clock.
To Limerick's eternal credit, they found a way back. They strung some passes together and started building a total. Aaron Gillane and Graham Mulcahy started making the ball stick and purloining the odd free. Tom Morrissey whipped a lovely point on 28 minutes after a bit of tiki-taka around the middle and the Limerick crowd roared in recognition. This was the hurling that won them Liam MacCarthy. Maybe it would be what could keep it.
They got a lifeline when Huw Lawlor bear-hugged Gillane in the Kilkenny square and Alan Kelly called a penalty for a foul plenty would have ignored. Gillane buried it and the half-time score was Kilkenny 1-12, Limerick 1-9. Limerick had bunkered under during the blitz but they were out in the sunlight now, still standing. Three points was nothing.
The second half never quit. Kilkenny motored on, with Mullen, Fennelly and John Donnelly icing scores to keep clear water between them and their pursuers. When Fennelly scored from yet another turnover in the half-forward line on 61 minutes, it put them five up, 1-20 to 1-15.
Back came Limerick. Shane Dowling came off the bench to plant a mesmeric Federer serve of a goal past Murphy in the Canal End. Soon after, he put David Reidy away to bring the gap back to one. Had they taken even one of their chances, extra-time would have been a cert.
But Kilkenny held out. Late summer and they’re back in a final, their first since 2016.
How does he keep doing it?
How can we still be asking?
KILKENNY: 1. E Murphy; 2. P Murphy, 3. H Lawlor, J Holden; 5. C Fogarty, 6. P Walsh (0-1), 7. P Deegan; 8. C Browne, 9. R Leahy; 10. J Donnelly (0-1), 11. TJ Reid (0-8, 0-7 frees, 0-1 lineball),12. W Walsh (0-2); 13. A Mullen (0-4), 14. C Fennelly (1-3), 15. R Hogan (0-1).
Subs: 20. C Buckley for Leahy (34 mins), 23. B Sheehan for Hogan (46 mins), 22. B Ryan for Donnelly (51 mins), 24. L Blanchfield for Fennelly (64 mins), 21. J Maher (0-1) for Fogarty (67 mins),
LIMERICK: 1. N Quaid; 2. S Finn, 3. M Casey, 4. R English; 5. D Byrnes (0-2, one free, one 65), 6. D Hannon (capt), 7. D Morrissey; 8. C Lynch, 9. W O'Donoghue; 10. G Hegarty, 11. K Hayes, 12. T Morrissey (0-1); 14. G Mulcahy (0-2), 13. A Gillane (1-9, goal penalty, six frees), 15. P Casey (0-1).
Subs: 21. B Nash (0-1) for Hannon (half-time), 19. S Dowling (1-0) for Hegarty (56 mins), 22. D O'Donovan for O'Donoghue (58 mins), 24. D Reidy (0-1) for T Morrissey (64 mins), 26. P Ryan for P Casey (67 mins).
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).