Power, son of the former star of the same name, was in magnificent form as this highly-rated Kilkenny side deservedly took the spoils. However, they’ll be the first to admit it was by no means a vintage performance and a big improvement will be needed if they are to retain their title.
Clearly the better hurlers, it took the Leinster champions a long time to wear down a dogged Cork side who battled bravely. But, in the end, they had to give best to a slicker Kilkenny side who, apart from Power, had excellent players in Donncha Cody, John Dalton and John Tennyson.
Cork, who struggled big time in attack, led for three quarters of the match, mainly due to the excellence of Michael Aherne, Shane O’Neill and Brian Clifford, but were made to pay a heavy price for conceding too many frees, which Richie Power punished every time. Only Maurice O’Sullivan looked the part up front.
Cork won the toss, elected to play with the wind, and got the perfect start with an Eoin Manning point after a minute. It got better for the Leesiders four minutes later when Aisake O’hAilpín knocked down Ronan Conway’s long delivery to Kevin Canty and the Valley Rovers man first-timed the sliotar to the net.
Kilkenny settled after the early Cork scores, and with Power unerring from frees, had the deficit down to a point at the end of the first quarter.
Cork coped well with the threat of the highly-rated James Fitzpatrick and Power through great defending by Niall Horgan and Michael Aherne. However, they had a huge let-off in the 20th minute, when goalkeeper Eoin O’Sullivan brought down Michael Fennelly’s delivery in his own square and the in-rushing Fitzpatrick looked certain to score. O’Sullivan saved Fitzpatrick’s initial attempt but was penalised for lying on the ball and from the resultant 20-metre free, Power knocked over his fifth point from a placed ball.
Cork missed a great goal chance when Ó hAilpín had only the goalkeeper to beat, but he drove wide from 12 metres. And it was Kilkenny, with Power now showing his class, who finished the half on top as Power landed his sixth point, although Cork still led 1-5 to 0-7 at the break.
Cork resumed the second half with Michael Allen in for the out-of-touch Mark Harrington and, playing with a lot more purpose, and after Maurice O’Sullivan stretched their lead with a point, it took a great save by Kilkenny keeper Colm Grant to deny the Ballyhea man a goal in the 32nd minute at the expense of a 65, which Michael Aherne pointed to stretch the Cork lead to 1-7 to 0-7.
While Kilkenny continued to struggle to find their rhythm, Cork chased and harassed them at every opportunity but in doing so, continued to concede needless frees which the mercurial Richie Power punished every time. After he levelled the game for the first time in the 42nd minute with his third point in a row from a free, James Fitzpatrick gave his side the lead for the first time with a point soon after.
Power was clearly having a huge influence for Kilkenny now and he showed marvellous vision to pick out midfielder Pat Hartley for a magnificent point which stretched his side’s lead to three with 15 minutes to go.
Cork were clearly feeling the Kilkenny heat but Maurice O’Sullivan, easily their best forward, eased the pressure with a point. However, Kilkenny, clearly in no mood to surrender their lead, hit back strongly and it was that man Power again who restored his side’s three-point lead when he pointed his eighth free. And when Eoin Guinan added another, the Cork challenge looked to be finally broken.
However, the Leesiders, desperately keen to follow their seniors into the final, struck back with a vengeance when substitute Diarmuid Dorris flicked home a splendid goal with three minutes to go but they never looked like getting another as the Kilkenny defence held firm for a deserved victory and a crack off Galway in next month’s decider.
Scorers for Kilkenny - R. Power 0-10 (0-8 frees), E. Guinan 0-2, P. Hartley, J. Fitzpatrick, M. Fennelly 0-1 each.
Cork - K. Canty 1-1, D. Dorris 1-0, M. O’Sullivan 0-3 (frees), R. Conway 0-2, M. Aherne 0-1 (65).
KILKENNY: C. Grant; S. Cadogan, J. Tennyson, J. Dalton, P. O’Donovan, D. Cody, D. Prendergast, M. Fennelly, P. Hartley, D. McCormack, R. Power, A. Healy, R. Wall, J. Fitzpatrick, E. Guinan. Subs: M. Nolan for McCormack, A. Murphy for Healy.
CORK: E. O’Sullivan; E. O’Sullivan, N. Horgan, S. O’Neill; B. Coleman, M. Aherne, B. Clifford; S. Cronin, E. Manning, M. Harrington, B. Barry, R. Conway, M. O’Sullivan, K. Canty, A. O’hAilpin. Subs: M. allen for Harrington, D. Lucey for Cronin, D. Dorris for Conway, A. O’Connor for Allen.
Referee: B. Kelly (Westmeath).