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Cats forced to dig deep to survive Treaty onslaught

Kilkenny 2-13 Limerick 0-17
It’s quite some time since Kilkenny had to grunt and graft in such a manner to win an All-Ireland semi-final.

That Limerick showed us a different side to Brian Cody’s men is as much a compliment to them as the victors.

That will provide cold comfort this morning as they wake up to the painful realisation of a second successive All-Ireland semi-final loss.

And yet this was nothing like 12 months ago when stage-fright arrested them so alarmingly against Clare.

Here, they sized up their opposition in an electric duel and bested them for the lion’s share of general play.

Kilkenny managed just 1-4 in the second half, their full-forward line failed to score from play and for 16 yawning minutes of the second half they didn’t trouble Nicky Quaid’s goal.

So how did they win?

The two goals were considerably helpful. Richie Hogan’s in first half injury-time put them ahead for the first time in the game and provided them with a 1-9 to 0-10 half-time advantage.

Richie Power’s, in the 56th minute although Eoin Larkin claimed he touched Hogan’s long free delivery to the net, followed a period where Limerick notched five points without a response.

On an afternoon which had more in common with January than August, just three more points were scored in the remaining 16 minutes.

Much of that had to do with Kilkenny’s tenacity. After they went two up with a TJ Reid free on the hour mark, they defended heroically.

Declan Hannon fired over his fifth point of the game in the 62nd minute but Limerick’s advances were blunted over and over again.

The work-rate of Kilkenny had been perfectly illustrated in the 42nd minute when Colin Fennelly was alert to deny Graeme Mulcahy a shot on goal after David Herity had been level to a David Breen shot.

All hands were to the pump in the closing stages, Fennelly and Eoin Larkin making their presence felt; Paul Murphy stepping up twice to clear vital ball.

Committing so many forward, when Limerick’s attacks broke down Kilkenny could send long ball into plenty of space for their inside men, substitutes Power and Henry Shefflin.

Power broke free in the 65th minute only to be tripped by Donal O’Grady’s hurley. A clear goal chance, James McGrath was right not to award a penalty but wrong not to issue O’Grady a second yellow card.

The Limerick captain’s first was for a wild aerial pull from which Hogan provided the ball in for Power’s goal.

“I was a long way from that,” said Cody of the foul on Power. “I don’t know where it happened. With Richie’s pace it looked as if he was gone clear on goal, and it would have been a massive score at that stage. We got a 20-metre free but I have no idea where it happened.

“Richie was out a long time but he was moving well in the weeks he was back. His aerial ability was important a few times there for us and Henry always contributes when he comes on.

“But it was the genuineness from everybody — Colin Fennelly took a ball off our goal-line at one stage, and he was in the full-forward line then. That willingness to chase defined us, I suppose.”

Recalling the incident, TJ Ryan shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s hurling. In the first half Shane Dowling spun your man. These things happen in hurling and I wouldn’t change a single thing. It was an incredible battle.”

Dowling’s faceguard had been pulled by JJ Delaney in the 28th minute, a sending off offence this year but McGrath awarded only a free.

Tom Condon had done something similar to Eoin Larkin earlier in the game too and nothing was made of it.

Putting Kilkenny two up in the 67th minute, Reid struck over the 20m free and Kilkenny returned to battening down the hatches but the best Limerick could muster was a Dowling effort that went wide.

Kilkenny had been on the ropes. Reid had an topsy-turvy day on frees and in the first half they posted seven wides. That was as unusual as the day itself, a roll of thunder in the seventh minute followed by the floodlights being turned on 10 minutes later.

Limerick’s intensity wasn’t dampened by the rain, Seamus Hickey and Hannon the pick of their bunch. Herity also had to react quick in the 26th minute when Dowling met a long ball first time.

Kilkenny, though, were never went behind by anything more than three points although much of that had to do with the Fennellys who were picking off their shots.

A superb one-handed strike by Dowling put Limerick three up after half an hour but the three final scores of the half were Kilkenny’s, the last being Hogan’s goal when Colin Fennelly was fouled in the build-up.

“One or two of our guys thought he was going to give a free,” said TJ Ryan, “but look the ball ended up in the back of the net and that’s it.”

Limerick almost answered it with a goal of their own when JJ Delaney had to clear off the line after a close-range shot by Breen.

It was just one of the what-ifs for Limerick. For Kilkenny, it’s what now. Cork or Tipperary. After yesterday, they’ll believe they can absorb anything that’s thrown at them.

Game-changer

Three Kilkenny blocks in the 64th and 65th minutes illustrated their defiance as they hung onto what was at that stage a one-point lead.

Talk of the town

This absorbing contest decided not by the excellence of Kilkenny but the fight in them.

Did that just happen?

Where do you start? Thunder, biblical rain, confused falcons and a thrilling game.

Best on show

Richie Hogan’s credentials were apparent yet again. Paul Murphy was resilience personified. The Fennellys both enjoyed a great first half. Declan Hannon and Seamus Hickey were brilliant in defeat.

Sideline superior

Not a day when either manager had major influence on what happened in front of them.

The man in black

Two, possibly three, red card calls missed by James McGrath.

What’s next?

Kilkenny await Cork or Tipperary in September 7th’s All-Ireland final.

Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid (0-5, frees); C Fennelly (0-4); R Hogan, R Power (1-0 each); P Walsh, M Fennelly (0-2 each).

Scorers for Limerick: S Dowling (0-7, 4 frees, 1 65); D Hannon (0-5); G Mulcahy (0-2); D O’Grady, D Breen, S Tobin (0-1 each).

Subs for Kilkenny: H Shefflin for M Kelly (52); R Power for P Walsh (53).

Subs for Limerick: S Tobin for K Downes (41); T Ryan for D Breen (62); N Moran for D O’Grady (67).

Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath). KILKENNY: D Herity; J Tyrrell, P Murphy; J Holden, B Hogan, C Buckley; R Hogan, C Fogarty; M Fennelly, C Fennelly, P Walsh; M Kelly, TJ Reid, E Larkin. LIMERICK: N Quaid; T Condon, S Hickey, R McCarthy; P O’Brien, W McNamara, G O’Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; D Breen, D Hannon, D O’Grady; S Dowling, K Downes, G Mulcahy.