The day Cats ran out of lives

Brian Cody looks on as Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin  runs back to the bench after referee Barry Kelly sent him off.  Picture: Ray McManus

Defeat by Cork yesterday signals the end of an era for Kilkenny

Everything ends badly, said that great philosopher, Tom Cruise.

Otherwise it wouldn’t have to end.

The end came yesterday for Kilkenny. Not as a force in the game, because they will always be a powerhouse, but this version of the stripy men, that unique mixture of implacable and stylish, will surely not be seen again. At the end of the game they were scratching for a goal. A man short. Not invulnerable any more. Mortal.

Cork gave them the death of a thousand cuts rather than a knock-out blow to win an All-Ireland semi-final berth, the Rebels playing a calm, controlled game to pepper points rather than hunting goals.

First things first, though. Henry Shefflin got the line yesterday just before half-time, and the game tilted Cork’s way. Jimmy Barry-Murphy agreed on the importance of the dismissal.

“The sending off was significant, it always is,” said the Cork manager.

“It happened to us in the Munster final. In the second half we got a bit edgy. We’ve had a few defeats. We haven’t won much in the last few years and it’s hard to beat a team like Kilkenny.

“They were never going to go easy, and our lads showed great maturity at times, when they had to. Anthony Nash made two blinding saves and only for that, it would have been a different game.

“If they’d gotten a goal, given our vulnerability after the Munster final, I’m not sure how we would have reacted.”

Unsurprisingly, Brian Cody had a different take on Shefflin being sent off. The big Kilkenny man shook his head when asked about the incidents after the game.

“I have no idea,” said Cody. “I couldn’t believe it, to be honest. I didn’t understand it but then again maybe I am not able to understand it.”

It hasn’t been a happy time for referees making significant decisions — we almost said Westmeath referees, but apparently they’re a bit sensitive about that kind of thing — but Barry Kelly probably slept easy last night. Neither offence was a red on its own; taken in tandem, they drew the appropriate sanction.

Shefflin wasn’t dominating the game before his red card — Tom Kenny was too mobile for the Ballyhale man, who still doesn’t seem to be moving freely. It wasn’t pleasant to see Cork supporters jeer the Kilkenny man as he approached the subs’ bench — the big redhead has been a credit to the game for almost a decade and a half — but then, it was equally distasteful to see a former Kilkenny hurler shouting abuse at Kelly after the game.

Cork led at the half and on the resumption we had what must be described as, in accordance with long-standing tradition, chaotic scenes. The midfield throw-in area became a war zone but Kilkenny continued upfield and won a penalty.

Richie Power goaled his first attempt, but given that Tommy Walsh was impersonating Mick Lyons with Keith Barr back in 1991, and almost made the Cork square before the sliotar, the penalty was retaken. Cork held out the second time and Power’s eventual point seemed a poor return when a goal would have energised the black and amber.

One point that many will take away from the game was Kilkenny’s failure on placed balls. By the time the 23rd minute rolled around, Shefflin had taken over after misses by Eoin Larkin and Richie Power. Shefflin promptly missed as well.

The most surprising aspect of that breakdown has to be the fact that technically Kilkenny have always been so accomplished: every team banks on a guaranteed return from placed balls, and their lack of success in the first half, in particular, left them facing an uphill battle in the second period. Cork’s Patrick Horgan suggested the wind was tricky facing the Town End goal, but the litany of Kilkenny wides was near fatal.

Cork now face Dublin in a novel semi-final pairing, and the Rebels have the advantage of competitive games while the Dubs have been resting up. Jimmy Barry-Murphy versus Anthony Daly on the sideline, while in the second semi-final it’ll be Davy Fitzgerald and John Allen: Cork 1976-78 v Clare 1995-97.

And Kilkenny? We weren’t expecting Brian Cody to tell us he’d delivered a version of Napoleon’s Farewell to the Old Guard in the Cats’ dressing room, and he didn’t enlighten us, though his choice of tenses was interesting (“They are a massive team, they have been and they are”).

They’ll be back. It’s just that it won’t be quite the same.


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