Coaches content as charges stay on track for play-offs

Limerick 1-11 Kilkenny 0-14

More significantly for both managers, however, was that two emerging sides continued their progress.

Kilkenny boss Brian Cody said: “It’s no secret we’re in transition, but we have good players coming through. We have a big panel and we’re looking at everyone, including fellas who’ve been there for years. What you’re looking at most though is the attitude of the players, and it’s still top class.”

Top class also was the attitude of Limerick, who are defending a proud 2006 record. They are unbeaten in the NHL and won the Waterford Crystal competition without tasting defeat.

That’s a record their manager, Joe McKenna, was happy to see remain intact: “It could have gone either way in the end ... but I think both teams will take the draw. It was a really hard tough game, good for both teams. We showed a lot of good battling qualities, but so did Kilkenny, I think we sort of neutralised each other, in the end.”

There was never very much between these highly motivated teams. Partially aided by the breeze, Kilkenny opened the stronger and were five points to two ahead after 23 minutes.

In the final 10 minutes of the half Limerick came storming back. With a point each from the O’Grady midfield partnership (the unrelated Paul and Donal) and a penalty goal by Keane after he had been dragged down in the square by John Tennyson, the home side led at the break, 1-7 to 0-7.

There was very little between the teams after the interval. Limerick held the edge until the 57th minute when the outstanding Eoin Larkin, with his third point of the half (having been shifted from full-forward to centre-forward), tied things at 1-10 to 0-13.

The final 10 minutes (plus three for stoppages) were dogged and tense. There were few opportunities for either side on a pitch that had been cutting up since the beginning. Wing-forward Michael Rice, who had a great battle with Ollie Moran, edged the Cats ahead with a booted point with seven minutes left. Conor Fitzgerald then tied it up again two minutes later.

It was the final score, as the remaining period saw honest labour and little inspiration. Limerick especially will have to come with a more varied game-plan than the sky-high ball into the full-forward line. Brian Begley will have a height advantage over any full-back he meets, but what of the talented Andrew O’Shaughnessy in the right corner and Mark Keane in the other? The experiment of Stephen Lucey at centre-forward didn’t set the Gaelic Grounds aflame yesterday but could yet bear fruit.

Limerick and Kilkenny look certain to qualify for the quarter-finals at least.

McKenna said: “We’re still taking each game as it comes. In two weeks’ time now against Laois, we’ll show them full respect.”

Brian Cody took time out to give credit to the progress being made by Limerick: “We were looking forward to this game. We knew it was going to be tough, we were going to be tested and the players stood up to it well. It could have gone either way. Limerick have a very strong team. They’re going to be well in it this year, whoever they meet. They will be genuine contenders for everything.

“We’re happy to get that kind of test. Our approach is the same every year. You have to try and win the match. Whether your players are experienced or inexperienced, they’re going out to try and get their place on the team, so they’re going to have to put in their best effort.

“Automatically then you’re trying to win the match, and if you keep winning matches, you might win the League. I wouldn’t crib about that.”

Limerick will be expected to win their next game against Laois, and Kilkenny will be hoping for victory when they host Antrim at Nowlan Park.

Scorers: Limerick: M. Keane 1-5 (1-0 penalty, 0-4 frees, 0-1 65); C. Fitzgerald 0-3; P. O’Grady, D. O’Grady, B. Begley, 0-1 each. Kilkenny: E. Larkin 0-5; W. O’Dwyer 0-2; M. Rice 0-2; A. Fogarty 0-2; R. Power 0-2 (frees); D. Lyng 0-1.

LIMERICK: B. Murray; D. Reale, TJ Ryan (c), M. Foley; O. Moran, B. Geary, M. O’Riordan; P. O’Grady, D. O’Grady; M. O’Brien, S. Lucey, C. Fitzgerald; A. O’Shaughnessy, B. Begley, M. Keane. Subs: D. Ryan (D. O’Grady 54); D. Moloney (Geary 61); N. Collins (P. O’Grady inj. 69); P. Kirby (Begley 70+2).

KILKENNY: J. McGarry; J. Tennyson, JJ Delaney, D. Cody; J. Tyrell (c), B. Hogan, T. Walsh; R. Mullally, P. Cleere; R. Power, D. Lyng, M. Rice; W. O’Dwyer, E. Larkin, A. Fogarty. Subs: M. Comerford (Lyng 46); M. Fennelly (Mullally 52); J. Dalton (Hogan 57).

Referee: B. Gavin (Westmeath).

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