The intermediate grade may not possess the same lustre as its senior counterpart but this triumph in the All-Ireland IHC final was still celebrated on Noreside.
Kilkenny exacted revenge for their defeat to Cork at the same juncture 12 months ago with a commanding closing quarter display at the core of their victory in front of an attendance of 1,580. The fact that they outscored their opponents by 1-9 to 1-2 in that spell illustrated the power of their finish to the game.
Cork’s hopes of victory appeared to be resuscitated in the 58th minute when wing-forward Colm Casey crowned a marauding run, by swivelling and crashing a shot to the net off his left-hand side.
They trailed 1-15 to 1-13 at that point but Kilkenny’s response was both clinical and telling. Full-forward Peter Cleere, who posed problems all day, got on the end of a long ball to bundle home his second goal of the evening in the 62nd minute and livewire attacker Bill Beckett smacked over two points to seal victory.
Cork centre-back, Kevin Hartnett, was sent off in the closing stages for a second yellow card.
“We’re delighted to win it after losing to Cork last year,” admitted Kilkenny boss Pat Hoban.
“Cork have been an Achilles heel to Kilkenny in this grade over the years. The second goal for us was the match winner and we were in control then. To be fair to the lads they never panicked when they conceded the goal. They just kept playing away.”
Kilkenny completed the match in storming fashion and started likewise. In the second minute Cleere nabbed the first score of the match when he whipped to the net, but only after Cork goalkeeper Declan McCarthy had brilliantly repelled shots by Bill Beckett and Michael Grace.
Niall Walsh converted a free soon after and an accurate effort from play by Richard Dollard had Kilkenny 1-2 to 0-0 clear after five minutes.
Cork, hurling with a fierce wind that blew down to the Town End of the Thurles venue, slowly began to find their feet.
Tadhg Healy and Danny O’Callaghan played plenty ball, Eoin Conway’s freetaking was accurate and Bill Cooper made a huge impression at centre-forward. By the 17th minute Cork were in front by 0-7 to 1-3 and their lead could have been greater but for an outstanding reflex save from Liam Tierney to deny captain Mark Harrington a goal.
By half-time Kilkenny had edged in front 1-6 to 0-8 and while the game was delicately poised during the third quarter, the Leinster champions made the burst for the line thereafter.
Full-back Paul Murphy, who featured at U21 level this year, looks a superb defensive prospect while corner-back Kieran Mooney, midfielder Pat Hartley and attackers Beckett and Grace were others to shine. Their victory was enhanced by the fact that it was achieved without centre-back Paddy Hogan and corner-forward Eoin Guinan who were declared unavailable due to the proximity to next Sunday’s senior decider. “I knew earlier in the week about the situation,” remarked Hoban.
“We were trying to get the players (Paddy Hogan and Eoin Guinan) but they just weren’t available. My attitude was they could have been injured anyway so we just drove on. That’s why we have the panel and replacements that can come in.”
Hoban is hopeful that this success will pave the way for prosperous careers for some of the team’s members.
“Pat Hartley, Michael Grace and Niall Walsh are on the extended senior panel so they’ve a great week ahead of them. To be fair to Brian (Cody) he does look at this grade and he has brought players through over the years. Some of the younger guys there like Paul Murphy at full-back, have a great future.
“I’d love to see them stepping up and playing senior for Kilkenny. It’s the first All-Ireland for the county this year and hopefully it will give momentum to the minor and seniors ahead of next week.”
Scores for Kilkenny: P Cleere 2-0; A Healy (3fs), B Beckett (1f) 0-4 each; M Grace 0-3; N Walsh 0-2 (1f); K Mooney (1f), R Dollard, N Doherty, B Lennon 0-1 each.
Scores for Cork: E Conway 0-7 (7fs); C Casey 1-1; B Cooper 0-3; D O’Callaghan 0-2 (2fs).
Cork: D McCarthy; M Walsh, C Fogarty, B Coleman; T Healy, K Hartnett, M Ellis; D O'Callaghan, B Fitzgerald; B Corry, B Cooper, C Casey; M Harrington, E Conway, M O'Sullivan. Subs: S Corry for Fitzgerald (48), B Lawton for Conway (53), J Halbert for O'Sullivan (55)
Kilkenny: L Tierney; M Phelan, P Murphy, K Mooney; J Cotterell, R Cody, N Doherty; P Hartley, N Walsh; B Beckett, R Dollard, N Cleere; M Grace, P Cleere, A Healy. Subs: B Lennon for Cody (37), N Doherty for N Cleere (47)
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).