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Rebels rule, but Shefflin red leaves bad taste

CLEARING THE LINE: Cork's  Shane O'Neill gets his shot away as Kilkenny's Walter Walsh closes in. Picture: Donall Farmer

Cork 0-19 Kilkenny 0-14
A convincing win for Cork in this All-Ireland SHC quarter-final in Semple Stadium yesterday, the reigning All-Ireland champions dethroned by a younger, hungrier and, on the day, superior side.

Unfortunately it was also a win shrouded in controversy. A minute before half-time Kilkenny wing-forward Henry Shefflin was hunting behind his own half-back line, chasing down Cork centre-forward Jamie Coughlan when, as often happens, his hand and hurley drifted high and caught Coughlan around the throat. Yellow card. Fair enough. Sadly for Henry it was his second, his first coming in the 11th minute for a most innocuous tap on Tom Kenny.

If this turns out to be the end of the greatest team ever to have graced hurling then so be it. Kilkenny over the past 13 years have been a revelation, brought great honour not just to themselves but to the game itself. But every era ends.

If it turns out to be the end of the greatest player ever to grace a hurling field the manner of his leaving would be a travesty.

In 65 championship appearances spanning 14 seasons this was Shefflin’s first red card (he was sent off and replaced under experimental rules in the 2009 league).

Regardless of whether he decides to play for another season or not, that first yellow should be appealed to take the blot from his record.

It was a dominant performance by Cork. From the throw-in they took the fight to Kilkenny and though the Cats were first on the board with an Eoin Larkin 65, for the entire first half the fired-up Rebels were on top.

They led by five at the break, 0-11 to 0-6 and were worth every point of it.

Their defence was utterly dominant. The full-back trio of Stephen McDonnell, Shane O’Neill and Conor O’Sullivan suffocated the Kilkenny inside line of Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly who managed just a single shot between them, Hogan putting that wide.

Likewise the Cork half-back line were totally on top. Veteran Tom Kenny had the job of handling Shefflin and was doing so with ease. He did likewise on Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly in turn and had an outstanding 70 minutes. Centre-back Christopher Joyce didn’t just dominate his position, he dominated Kilkenny’s main play-maker Richie Power while on the other wing William Egan had his best-ever game in a red shirt with Cillian Buckley gone at half-time.

In midfield, and though Lorcán McLoughlin worked tirelessly, the tigerish Daniel Kearney really caught the eye popping up all over the field, showing superb skill and stamina.

Up front Patrick Horgan was leading the scoring, and oh how Cork benefited from his presence.

Horgan scored eight points in that opening half, a couple of real beauties from play, and was aided in the scoring stakes by Seamus Harnedy, Jamie Coughlan and Conor Lehane.

Team captain Pa Cronin was happy to act as ball-winner and supplier while corner-forward Luke O’Farrell showed well.

Kilkenny, meanwhile, were relying almost entirely on their midfielders for scores. Free-taker Eoin Larkin with three (missed a few easy ones, as then did Henry Shefflin and Richie Power in turn) while his partner Michael Fennelly did his best to hold back the red tide with two good points.

Seconds into the second half Kilkenny had a great opportunity to goal when Eoin Larkin broke through before being stopped in uncompromising and illegal fashion by Shane O’Neill, lucky to survive with only a yellow card for his wild pull.

Richie Power goaled the subsequent penalty but referee Barry Kelly rightly ruled it out as several players broke inside the 20m line. The penalty was re-taken but this time Cork keeper Anthony Nash was up to it with a brilliant save, bettered a split-second later when he stopped Tommy Walsh’s rebound. Power did point the resultant break but it generated a feeling that this was going to be Cork’s day.

So it proved. With Horgan still doing the business up front, abetted now by Cronin, Lehane, sub Stephen Moylan and O’Farrell, they gradually pulled away from the champions.

Kilkenny did make a late run and Nash made another superb save, this time from Michael Fennelly but there would be no denying Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Cork.

Such a pity there had to be such a sour note.

Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (0-11, 8 frees), C Lehane, P Cronin (0-2 each), L O’Farrell, J Coughlan, S Harnedy, S Moylan (0-1 each).

Scorers for Kilkenny: E Larkin (0-6, 3 frees, one 65), R Power (one free), M Fennelly (0-2 each), P Murphy, A Fogarty, T Walsh, W Walsh (0-1 each).

CORK: A Nash; S McDonnell, S O’Neill, C O’Sullivan; T Kenny, C Joyce, W Egan; L McLoughlin, D Kearney; S Harnedy, J Coughlan, P Cronin (c); L O’Farrell, P Horgan, C Lehane.

Subs for Cork: S Moylan for McLoughlin (56), C Naughton for Coughlan (70+1).

KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; E Larkin, M Fennelly; C Buckley, R Power, H Shefflin; W Walsh, R Hogan, C Fennelly (c).

Subs for Kilkenny: L Ryan for Buckley (35), A Fogarty for Power (inj 57), TJ Reid for R Hogan (63).

Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).