Springtime may not have landed in Nowlan Park quite yet, given the chill in the Kilkenny venue yesterday, but the virtues and habits of the men in the striped jerseys remain evergreen.
Kilkenny’s two goals were the springboard for this particular league win over Cork, a healthy 8,274 on hand for the NHL Division 1A opener, but the Cats’ work-rate and application were their hallmark, as is customary.
Cork manager John Meyler was “disappointed with the result” afterwards: “Kilkenny were contesting more ball than we were, that’s it really.
“We started off really well, the first five, ten minutes, then Kilkenny just got going, tapped over a few points, got the lead, and that was it really.
“We’d a few chances in there to (Declan) Dalton and (Patrick) Horgan, but couldn’t convert, but for the middle of January they were definitely sharper than us, their movement better.
“We should have (created more). We’ve a few critical players missing, that’s not an excuse, but bit by bit they should come back, and we should be better by the end of the league, really.”
Meyler’s analysis was accurate, in particular the point about Kilkenny’s greater efficiency.
The visitors defended the dressingroom end in the first half, and both sides had personnel changes before the throw-in, with Billy Ryan and Kevin Kelly coming in for Martin Keoghan and Richie Hogan for the home side, while Cork midfielder Bill Cooper was replaced by Conor Cahalane.
It was 0-2 apiece after a low-key opening ten minutes, with Cork newcomer Declan Dalton’s sideline cut the highlight of the opening quarter.
Three dead balls from Kevin Kelly gave the Cats the lead and after a Patrick Horgan point the home side goaled.
A clever Billy Ryan lay-off on 26 minutes opened the Cork defence and sub Richie Leahy netted from close range: 1-5 to 0-5.
The game livened up somewhat, with Billy Ryan getting involved for Kilkenny and Horgan impressing for Cork. Cormac Murphy’s late effort for Cork made it 0-10 to 1-8 at the half.
John Donnelly and Murphy swapped points on the resumption before Billy Ryan fielded cleanly and soloed through to goal smartly on 40 minutes: a James Maher point immediately afterwards and it was 2-10 to 0-11.
Kilkenny were now on top and when Kelly nailed a difficult free with 20 minutes left it was 2-13 to 0-13.
Cork needed a goal to make it interesting but the Cats were able to take points to maintain their lead.
With ten minutes left, Eoin Murphy saved superbly from Horgan when a goal might have given us a storming finish: instead Kilkenny held out comfortably enough for the win.
Afterwards Brian Cody was asked how his side had cut out the supply to a Cork inside line which caught the eye early on.
“I have no idea, to be honest,” said the Kilkenny manager. “I don’t think there’s any particular set thing. I thought our half-back line was actually good in front of the lads, to be fair about it.
“It’s about what happens at the far end of the field, in terms of the delivery coming in. The lads knuckled down well and applied themselves as best they could.
“I hope it’s not a bad sign because we had a bad start last year and it didn’t do us any harm in the league. Obviously it’s good to get off to a good start, and we’re at home as well.
“We have to go to Ennis next week which will be a big test for us, so we’re glad to get a win early on.”
The omens are good for Kilkenny, particularly in view of the numerous front-line players absent yesterday. Billy Ryan’s cleverness up front was matched by Huw Lawlor’s dominance at the back.
A slew of poor wides will need to be corrected for their trip to Ennis, however, and other managers will note the time it took their half-back line to withdraw in order to protect nos. 2 to 4 behind them.
For Cork, it was the first sight of a forward line anchored by Dalton and Aidan Walsh, an alignment which will need a different game-plan to the pace-based attack of the last couple of years.
A more pressing issue will be Cork’s lack of competitiveness in the air: Kilkenny’s second goal was based on two clean catches in a row, and Meyler referred specifically to the Cats’ fielding after the game.
Add in the lurking awareness that there is no relegation from the league this year, and it was an unusual beginning to the competition.
Apart from the Kilkenny attitude on the field, which seems as eternal as the sky overhead, or the grass underfoot.
Scorers for Kilkenny: K Kelly (0-8, 1 65, 7 frees); B Ryan (1-1); R Leahy (1-0); J Donnelly (0-3); C Delaney (0-2); G Aylward, C Fogarty, C Browne, P Deegan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (0-10, 5 frees); C Murphy (0-4); D Kearney, A Walsh, D Dalton (sideline) (0-1 each).
KILKENNY: E Murphy, P Murphy, H Lawlor, T Walsh, C Delaney, P Deegan, E Morrissey, J Maher, C Fogarty (c), J Donnelly, G Aylward, G Malone, B Ryan, L Scanlon, K Kelly.
Subs: R Leahy for Malone (inj, 16); C Browne for Maher (44); L Blanchfield for Scanlon (57); P Lyng for Aylward (64).
CORK: A Nash, S McDonnell, D Cahalane, C O’Sullivan, C Joyce, T O’Mahony, S O’Donoghue, C Cahalane, C Murphy, D Kearney (c), D Dalton, L Meade, J Coughlan, A Walsh, P Horgan.
Subs: J O’Connor for Coughlan (HT); C Lehane for C Cahalane (42); D Lowney for C O’Sullivan (50); M O’Halloran for Meade (62).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford)
- Before the game there was a minute’s silence for the late Michael ‘Mick’ O’Neill, popular groundsman at Nowlan Park.