Cats show nerves of steel on biggest stage once more

Filing an attendance yarn during the week, the mandatory phone call was put in to Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn.

Cats  show nerves of steel on  biggest stage once more

“What kind of Kilkenny crowd do you expect will travel to Croker on Sunday?” enquired yours truly.

“No more than 10,000,” replied Quinn. “Well, you see Sunday is our 17th All-Ireland semi-final in 18 years. We are well accustomed to semi-finals down here.”

A crowd of 45,471 turned out at Croke Park yesterday afternoon, the Limerick supporters, as expected, outnumbering the Kilkenny following three-to-one. Indeed, with the rain bucketing relentlessly down, strong parallels were drawn with the 1985 semi-final. You know, the game where reigning champions Cork arrived as raging hot favourites only to be vanquished by Galway. Said Mícheál Ó hEithir on that greasy afternoon when Noel Lane plundered Galway’s fourth goal: “Cork fans didn’t travel for the game. They were waiting for the final. They’re not going to have a final to travel to now.”

Fifty-five minutes into yesterday’s pulsating contest, it appeared the same misfortune was set to befall Kilkenny. Shane Dowling, standing in front of an irate Brian Cody, had snatched his fourth free of the afternoon, Limerick’s advantage stretched to two (0-16 to 1-11).

The favourites were rattled.

As Brendan Cummins surmised on RTÉ Radio, Cody had spent the last five minutes hurling at right half-back such was his frustration with proceedings, the performance of referee James McGrath, and, indeed, the performance of his own players.

The bulb in the Kilkenny aura flickered, was the end nigh? The hurlers were present on the field and, indeed, on the bench to swing the pendulum back in their favour. The question was: had they the temperament?

In the ensuing passage of play, Richie Hogan’s free was superbly flicked to the net by Eoin Larkin. An old-stager standing up when the need is greatest. Richie Power drew the foul from Wayne McNamara in the subsequent action. Reid’s accuracy was unwavering.

Still, Limerick raged against all elements. They crashed and crashed against the Kilkenny wall in desperate hope of finding a route through. Impenetrable proved the Cats.

On 64 minutes, Graeme Mulcahy launched the sliotar at goal, but Brian Hogan produced the block. Donal O’Grady gathered the breaking ball, shot away, blocked again, this time by Joey Holden. Cue Thomas Ryan to try his luck. Michael Fennelly, 40 yards from where he should have been, closing down the Limerick substitute. Chance gone.

Doubts of their temperament. A foolish act is to question this Kilkenny team.

“They have done it before and they did it again,” said Cody. “So many questions were asked of this team and they answered each and every one of them.

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

TJ Ryan agreed: “You have to give credit to Kilkenny for that. They got the hooks and the blocks in, they put the pressure on. Maybe there might have been a few question marks about them this year but they responded in every single way. They’re league champions, they won Leinster and they’re back in an All-Ireland final. What more can you say?”

Wonder how many Ned expects to travel to the final. Of the 13 reached under Cody, you imagine interest will reach a crescendo on September 7.

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