A most deserved victory for Kilkenny as tight as the scoreline suggested otherwise. The Cats were better than the Munster and All-Ireland champions for the vast proportion of this game.
Yet again the Munster winners fail to reach the final and while the four-week gap was evident in how sluggish Limerick were in the early stages Kilkenny’s resilience in the second half was what solidified their authority of this game.
In front of a disappointing 55,001 crowd in Croke Park, Brian Cody’s men led from start to finish, 1-12 to 1-9, having been nine points up at one stage earlier. After some brilliance from the Ballyhale Shamrocks pair of TJ Reid and Adrian Mullen, they were five up on the hour mark and again four minutes later when Shane Dowling managed to shape a goal, his batted effort escaping Eoin Murphy.
A point from another Limerick substitute, David Reidy, followed but Limerick failed to build on it. Diarmuid Byrnes struck a long-range free wide and James Maher extended Kilkenny’s lead to two in the first of five additional minutes.
Murphy then denied Reidy a goal attempt from an acute angle and while Byrnes followed up with a 65 Limerick couldn’t close the gap. Limerick’s claims that a Darragh O’Donovan sideline puck was deflected for a 65 were ignored and Kilkenny’s final appearance was sealed.
That lay-off looked so evident in Limerick’s early play when Kilkenny, playing their third game in Croke Park in 27 days, were incredibly sharp.
Their intensity on Limerick’s puck-out was impressive, Kyle Hayes crowded out on a couple of occasions while the nerviness in their short restarts gave Kilkenny ample confidence.
It wasn’t until the seventh minute that Limerick opened their account and by the time they added their second five minutes later Kilkenny had six on the board, Walter Walsh sending over a brace.
Limerick’s shot-taking was also questionable as much as it was their inside line that were winning their battles.
Kilkenny’s goal came in the 14th minute as a result of a massive Murphy puck-out being gathered by Colin Fennelly and the full-forward batting the ball past Nickie Quaid after a short solo.
Nine points up was as good as it was for Kilkenny, though, and they didn’t register a point from play between Pádraig Walsh’s 13th minute effort and Richie Hogan’s in the second minute of additional time.
Three Limerick scores on the bounce from the 19th to the 21st minute brought them back into this but there were still errors being made like Gearóid Hegarty’s poor touch before he gave away a free for Reid to convert in the 26th minute.
Limerick’s fortuitous penalty, awarded for Huw Lawlor hustling Gillane in the first minute of injury time, was sent to the net by Gillane and the Munster champions found themselves just two back before Hogan’s point widened the margin to three.
Scorers for Kilkenny: T.J. Reid (0-8, 7 frees, 1 sideline); C. Fennelly (1-3); A. Mullen (0-4); W. Walsh (0-2), J. Donnelly, P. Walsh, R. Hogan, J. Maher (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick: A. Gillane (1-9, 1-0 pen, 0-6 frees); S. Dowling (1-0); D. Byrnes (1 free, 1 65), G. Mulcahy (0-2 each); D. Reidy, B. Nash, P. Casey, T. Morrissey (0-1 each).
KILKENNY: E. Murphy; J. Holden, H. Lawlor, P. Murphy; C. Fogarty, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; C. Browne, R. Leahy; J. Donnelly, T.J. Reid (c), W. Walsh; A. Mullen, C. Fennelly, R. Hogan.
Subs for Kilkenny: C. Buckley for R. Leahy (34); B. Sheehan for R.Hogan (46); B. Ryan for J. Donnelly (52); L. Blanchfield for C.Fennelly (64); J. Maher for C. Fogarty (67).
LIMERICK: N. Quaid; S. Finn, M. Casey, R. English; D. Byrnes, D. Hannon (c), D. Morrissey; C. Lynch, W. O’Donoghue; G. Hegarty, K. Hayes, T. Morrissey; P. Casey, A. Gillane, G. Mulcahy.
Subs for Limerick: B. Nash for D. Hannon (inj h-t); S. Dowling for G. Hegarty (56); D. O’Donovan for W. O’Donoghue (58); D. Reidy for C. Fennelly (64); C. Delaney for J. Holden (blood, 66-70); P. Ryan for P. Casey (67).
Referee: A. Kelly (Galway).