Kilkenny 3-21 Cork 0-16
If today was about Cork learning where they were in relation to the power-brokers of hurling, Kilkenny delivered the verdict in emphatic fashion by inflicting a chastening defeat on their rivals in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 final at Semple Stadium.
The Cats produced a devastating early burst that saw them leading by 2-6 to 0-1 after just 10 minutes and showed themselves to be at a level to which Jimmy Barry Murphy’s young guns can only aspire at the moment.
That is not to say that they won’t eventually get there, as they certainly have the capacity for improvement, but Kilkenny were on another planet when it came to physicality, speed, hunger, workrate and all-round hurling.
The air was thick with anticipation prior to the throw-in but much of the pre-game hype about Cork – prompted through no fault of his own by the fact that Rebel hero Barry Murphy had returned as manager – was dismissed as premature, as Kilkenny tore into them from the off to provide the ultimate reality check.
Michael Fennelly and Matthew Ruth had points on the board when the brilliant Eoin Larkin goaled in the fifth minute.
Patrick Horgan, who was Cork’s best forward throughout, hit Cork’s first score from a free in the ninth minute but that was only to reduce the margin to six.
When Matthew Ruth rattled the net - after Patrick Cronin had twice failed to control the sliotar when on his own at the other end of the field and ultimately turned over the possession, leading to Larkin sending his team-mate free with a brilliant reverse hand-pass - the margin was ten points.
Cork never looked like redressing the balance and at times, it was scarily easy for Kilkenny, who continue to work incredibly hard from front to back. Cork were clearly bewildered, although they did stem the bleeding somewhat and had Horgan’s 20m free found the net rather than been tipped over the bar by David Herity, a seven-point margin at half time would have been manageable.
Instead, TJ Reid finished the good work of Colin Fennelly and Larkin to bag goal number three and that gave them a 3-11 to 0-6 advantage at the break.
Cork didn’t really do much better in the second half, although Horgan (free) and Niall McCarthy did plunder early points. They didn’t concede goals but the game was done and dusted.
One positive for them was the input of Leaving Cert student Darren Sweetnam after his introduction, while the major negative for Kilkenny was the departure of hurler of the year, Michael Fennelly early in the second half with what looked a serious enough injury to his right ankle.
The performances of Cillian Buckley and Paddy Hogan – playing his first game since suffering two broken ribs and a collapsed lung – would have pleased Brian Cody though, and Richie Power and Henry Shefflin will return later in the year.
So intent were Kilkenny on not offering any encouragement to Cork that when Sweetnam set Luke O’Farrell up brilliantly, the magnificent Paul Murphy was killing himself to get back to clear the corner-forward’s shot, which had Herity beaten.
It was another lesson in The Kilkenny Way, ending with another title for Cody’s Crew.
Scorers – Kilkenny: E Larkin 1-4(0-3fs); M Ruth 1-3; TJ Reid 1-2; C Fennelly 0-4; P Hogan 0-3(2fs); T Walsh, M Fennelly, R Hogan, C Buckley, M Bergin 0-1 each
Cork: P Horgan 0-9(6fs, 1pen); D Sweetnam 0-2; W Egan, J Gardiner, J Coughlan, N McCarthy, C Naughton 0-1 each
Kilkenny: D Herity; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, R Doyle; M Fennelly, P Hogan; R Hogan, TJ Reid, C Buckley; C Fennelly, E Larkin, M Ruth. Subs: K Joyce for Delaney (ht); J Mulhall for M Fennelly inj (42)
Cork: M Coleman; S O’Neill, S McDonnell, B Murphy; S Óg Ó hAilpín, E Cadogan, W Egan; J Gardiner, L McLoughlin; C Lehane, P Cronin, N McCarthy; L O’Farrell, P O’Sullivan, P Horgan. Subs: D Sweetnam for McLoughlin (ht); C O’Sullivan for McDonnell (ht); C Naughton for O’Sullivan (46); J Coughlan for McCarthy (50)
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).