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Cork in shock, everyone in awe

‘SHOCK and awe’ is a term employed for a warfare doctrine conceived in 1996 in the United States’ National Defence University by Messrs Ullman and Wade; in plain speak, however, it’s called ‘rapid dominance’, and is designed ‘to overwhelm the opposition by the use of massive firepower, superior battlefield awareness and dominant manoeuvres, an intimidating display of force to paralyse the opposition’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.’

It could just as easily have been conceived in Nowlan Park in 2006 by Brian Cody, along with Kilkenny managerial cohorts Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey. Yesterday, in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park we witnessed the latest episode.

Many times over the last five seasons of utter dominance we have seen Kilkenny, at strategic times, apply the tactics described above – shock and awe. First quarter against Limerick in the 2007 All-Ireland final, second quarter against Waterford in the 2008 final, final ten minutes of the first half against Cork in 2008 also, middle 20 minutes against Galway in the Leinster semi-final last year, third quarter against Galway again this year – on and on and on.

Yesterday, it started in the 17th minute. With the score at 0-3 to 0-2 in Kilkenny’s favour, the thousands who had travelled from Leeside felt they were in with a chance – keep the score down, avoid conceding goals, make it a dogfight, and you never know what might happen.

Then came the first shock, the first Kilkenny goal, and it was set up by the man who, more than any in the Kilkenny attack, understands the value of the tactic. After good work by outstanding midfielder Michael Fennelly, Henry Shefflin found himself in space but over 45m from the Cork goal. Most would have taken the easy point on offer, but Henry could see more – ‘superior battlefield awareness’. He headed for goal, drew the cover, parted to Eddie Brennan who had ghosted across to the other corner, no chance for Donal Óg Cusack. Five minutes later, after the sides had exchanged points, second nuclear strike; huge James Ryall clearance into the red zone, Cusack enticed off his line, ball falls to Aidan Fogarty, goal. Cork still in shock from that double-strike, Kilkenny up the ante; six unanswered points from five different sources (Fogarty, Richie Power, Martin Comerford, Michael Fennelly, Eoin Larkin – ‘massive firepower’), and what had been a one-point gap was now 13 – 2-10 to 0-3, game over after 32 minutes.

From there to the finish Kilkenny played well within themselves. It was still a 13-point gap at the break, 2-12 to 0-5, and Cork actually ‘won’ the rest of the game, lost by ‘only’ 12 points eventually, but what matter? Fifteen minutes of shock and awe, that was what it took, that was all it took, 15 minutes during which Kilkenny put on that ‘intimidating display of force’, 15 minutes during which Cork’s ‘perception of the battlefield’ was indeed paralysed, even the most experienced among them apparently helpless, overrun, overpowered.

The ‘will to fight’ wasn’t crushed, and Cork fought on, but this war was well over. Patrick Horgan particularly finished powerfully, and the introduction of Jerry O’Connor made a difference to Cork, Ben also going very well in the final quarter. The power, however, was with the Cats. Ryan, Dalton, Hickey, Tyrell, Walsh, Hogan/Ryall, JJ, Cha, Fennelly, these guys are the defensive platform; Shefflin, Brennan, Power, the nuclear options; all the others, including the reserves – shocktroopers in their own right.

A few pertinent points: Kilkenny lost centre-back, Brian Hogan (16 mins) and talisman Henry Shefflin (27 mins), to injury in the opening half-hour, but never lost a beat, James Ryall coming in as a replacement for Hogan and slotting seamlessly into place, Martin Comerford deputising for Henry and scoring with his first touch. Richie Power took over the free-taking duties, and did it superbly (Richie also got the third Kilkenny goal, a great grab and turn on 62 minutes to put Kilkenny 3-20 to 0-13 ahead.

The Cork gamble of starting Cian McCarthy didn’t work, but the forwards as a whole (with the late exception of Patrick Horgan and Ben O’Connor) disappointed, failing to register a score from play ‘til Horgan’s point in the 50th minute.

Shock and awe – the Rebels shocked, and surely now some serious thinking is needed Leeside; the whole hurling world in awe of this magnificent Kilkenny team after another overwhelming display in what now appears to be an inexorable and unstoppable ‘drive-for-five’.

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan; John Dalton, Noel Hickey, Jackie Tyrrell; Tommy Walsh (0-1), Brian Hogan, JJ Delaney; James Fitzpatrick (0-2), Michael Fennelly (0-2); TJ Reid (0-1), Henry Shefflin (0-2), Eoin Larkin (0-1); Eddie Brennan (1-1), Richie Power (1-8), Aidan Fogarty (1-2).

Subs: James Ryall, Martin Comerford (0-2), Michael Rice, John Mulhall, Derek Lyng.

Cork: Donal Óg Cusack; Shane Murphy, Eoin Cadogan, Brian Murphy; John Gardiner (0-2), Ronan Curran, Sean Óg O hAilpín (0-1); Tom Kenny, Cathal Naughton (0-1); Cian McCarthy, Kieran Murphy, Niall McCarthy (0-1); Patrick Horgan (0-6), Aisake O hAilpín, Ben O'Connor (0-7).

Subs: William Egan, Paudie O'Sullivan, Jerry O'Connor (0-1), Michael Cussen, Graham Callanan.

Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).