Kilkenny 2-13 Limerick 0-17
Goals in either half from Richie Hogan and Eoin Larkin helped Kilkenny edge past Limerick in this afternoon’s All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final at Croke Park.
Limerick’s brave effort fell just short as Kilkenny claimed a two-point victory in front of 45,478 spectators at GAA HQ, to set up a final showdown with Cork or Tipperary on September 7.
Hogan struck a crucial goal in first half injury time to hand Kilkenny a 1-9 to 0-10 interval lead.
And Hogan was involved in Larkin’s vital goal, with 14 minutes remaining, sending in a lofted free that the James Stephens hitman flicked to the net.
That goal arrived at a stage when Limerick were 0-16 to 1-11 clear – and sensing an upset.
But Larkin’s goal put Kilkenny back in front again and it was a lead they would not relinquish.
Kilkenny clung on grimly in a finish that could have seen Donal O’Grady sent off.
The Limerick captain desperately hauled down Richie Power when the Kilkenny sub was through on goal, but referee James McGrath opted not to flash a second yellow card.
It was a bizarre call from the referee, who also issued no card in the first half when Kilkenny full-back JJ Delaney pulled at Shane Dowling’s helmet, an offence now deemed worthy of a red card.
Overall, Kilkenny just about shaded a gripping contest that was made difficult for both sets of players by dreadful weather conditions.
Bar a break early in the second half, heavy rain fell throughout and the floodlights came on well before half-time.
Declan Hannon finished with five points from play for Limerick on a day when Colin Fennelly flashed over four for Kilkenny.
All of Fennelly’s points were scored from play, with TJ Reid notching five frees.
But it was the goals that proved decisive and they came at the most opportune times, when Kilkenny were behind.
The sides were level at 0-2 apiece and again in the 13th minute, when Kilkenny’s Pádraig Walsh tied the scores at 0-4 each.
Shane Dowling then produced one of the game’s highlights, producing a magnificent catch and point in the 15th minute, before further scores from Hannon and Dowling (free) opened up a 0-7 to 0-4 lead.
And Limerick were 0-10 to 0-7 in front on the half hour mark when Dowling scored a brilliant point, improvising with a one-handed strike.
But Kilkenny would finish the half with an unanswered 1-2 as Michael Fennelly and Walsh flashed over points before Hogan’s brilliantly-taken goal.
Colin Fennelly fired Kilkenny 1-10 to 0-10 clear after the restart before David Herity, who pulled off some decent saves while also enduring a couple of jittery moments, denied Paul Browne.
Limerick cut loose with a rush of scores to move into a 0-16 to 1-11 lead but Kilkenny, being Kilkenny responded with a goal just when it was most needed.
Larkin was credited with the goal as the sliotar dropped in a forest of hurleys, and the Cats were back in business.
They would hold out until the finish and now history beckons on September 7.
In the first All-Ireland final since 2012, Henry Shefflin, who came on as a second half substitute, could claim a 10th All-Ireland medal.
And if the Noresiders do lift Liam MacCarthy again, manager Brian Cody will have masterminded his 10th final victory.
KILKENNY: D Herity; J Tyrrell, JJ Delaney, P Murphy; J Holden, B Hogan, C Buckley; R Hogan (1-0), C Fogarty; M Fennelly (0-2), C Fennelly (0-4), P Walsh (0-2); M Kelly, TJ Reid (0-5f), E Larkin (1-0).
Subs: H Shefflin for Kelly (52), R Power for Walsh (54).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; T Condon, S Hickey, R McCarthy; P O’Brien, W McNamara, G O’Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; D Breen (0-1), D Hannon (0-5), D O’Grady (0-1); S Dowling (0-7, 4f, 1 65), K Downes, G Mulcahy (0-2).
Subs: S Tobin (0-1) for Downes (41), T Ryan for Breen (62), N Moran for O’Grady (62).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath)