This time it was defeat with defiance from the men in unaccustomed blue jerseys, however.
Cork’s aggression and application meant they were unrecognisable from the abject side hammered by Dublin the previous weekend, and this was a fair approximation of championship intensity. No wonder Cats boss Brian Cody was so animated in delight at the final whistle.
“They came into the game under a bit of a cloud,” said Cody of Cork. “But we knew it was absolutely the worst time to be playing Cork after last weekend, they’re a proud hurling county and such a skilful hurling team — they were in the All-Ireland final just a couple of years ago.
“Their form wasn’t right last weekend but it was right tonight, and they really, really tore into us.
“They slaughtered us at times, no doubt about that, and for us to walk off the field having won the game was a very good achievement.”
Slaughtered is strong but accurate. Cork deployed Seamus Harnedy at the tip of their attacking spearhead and he caused trouble for Kilkenny all night. Luke O’Farrell was busy around the field and Conor Lehane accurate and effective. Further back the field Christopher Joyce and Stephen McDonnell were terrific, but manager Kieran Kingston will be heartened by Cork’s appetite for work and thirst for contact.
They led by four at the break, went behind within ten minutes of the restart and were six up going into the final ten minutes, a sequence of events most of the 8,000-plus crowd would have welcomed before throw-in.
How did they lose, then?
In TJ Reid, Kilkenny had an accurate free-taker and in Walter Walsh and Colin Fennelly two indefatigable sidekicks. On a night when Richie Hogan struggled — despite one beautiful point from the wing — they needed other key players to stand up and they did. Five consecutive points at the start of the second half, for instance, put them right back in contention after a rocky opening 35 minutes.
“We lost our way (at the start of the second half) but Kilkenny were always going to get a purple patch,” said Cork selector Pat Ryan after the game. “We came back into it well. We showed good heart to come back into it and went ahead ourselves. We’re disappointed we didn’t hold out but Kilkenny are a good team, too. We know that has to be the standard going forward now.”
Though Harnedy always looked likely to score when in possession, Cody and his selectors also moved Paul Murphy to sweep across to nullify the Cork threat. Lester Ryan shored up midfield and hit three points from long range.
Then there were the two late goals, by Reid and Fennelly, which helped Kilkenny over the line. They hadn’t had real goal chances before that but they had the experience to wait and strike when the openings eventually came.
“The hardest goal to get is the one you’re trying to force,” said Cody. “Forcing goals, it’s not going to happen, and it wasn’t going to happen tonight. We ended up getting the two goals but we kept the scoreboard ticking over.
“It wasn’t anyone’s inspiration, or something happened that someone thought of something fantastic — it was frantic, the whole game was non-stop and we’re very relieved to have won.”
Cody and co will note the damage caused by Harnedy up front — so will other counties, come to that — but they can also point to the early blow which was the departure of Conor Fogarty, so vital now to the team’s efficiency, in the first minute with injury.
For Cork management the positives ranged from authoritative new ‘keeper Patrick Collins to a general improvement in attitude and application, but they couldn’t engineer victory from a winning position.
“I thought our fellas were always going to raise their standards tonight,” said Pat Ryan.
“Knowing their character, we knew they were hurting. But it’s still a disappointment we didn’t close it out. It would have been great to get the two points, but we have a lot to work on.
“We’re more positive going home tonight than last Saturday, but we still lost, and that’s not good enough for Cork hurling.”
Perhaps, but still better than where they were.
S. Harnedy (1-3), P Horgan (0-6, 4 frees, 1 65). C. Lehane (0-6, 1 free), B. Cooper (1-0) C. Murphy (0-2); L. McLoughlin, P. Haughney, B. Lawton, L. O’Farrell and D. Kearney (0-1 each).
TJ Reid (1-12, 0-10 frees), C. Fennelly (1-2), L. Ryan, W. Walsh (0-3 each), D. Cody, R. Hogan, J. Power (0-1 each).
P. Collins, K. Burke, D. Cahalane, S. McDonnell ( c), C. Murphy, C. Joyce, L. McLoughlin, P. Haughney, J. Cronin, B. Lawton, B. Cooper, C. Lehane, L. O’Farrell, S. Harnedy, P. Horgan.
D. Kearney for Cronin (48); S. Moylan for Haughney (58); P. O’Sullivan for Horgan (65); W. Egan for Murphy (69).
R. Reid, P. Murphy, J. Holden, S. Prendergast ( c), P. Walsh, K. Joyce, C. Buckley, C. Fogarty, D. Cody, C. Fennelly, TJ Reid, C. Martin, W. Walsh, R. Hogan, K. Kelly.
L. Ryan for Fogarty (1); J. Maher for Martin (HT); J. Power for Kelly (50).