Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Kilkenny show they still have the stomach for battleAugust 1, 2012 - 3:04pm
SEANIE Tobin had just equalised for Limerick with a rousing score seven minutes into the second-half. Their supporters were sensing a shock, especially as the Shannonsiders also had the wind behind them. This was the crisis moment for Kilkenny. Had they still got the stomach for battle after all they have been through; all they had won? Over the next ten minutes, the Cats gave an emphatic response.
Having been unexpectedly routed by Galway in the Leinster final, Kilkenny were in unfamiliar territory with their aura of invincibility shattered. The fit again JJ Delaney and Michael Fennelly may have returned to their ranks, but centre back Brian Hogan was an injured absentee, while the team’s confidence had to be shaken by events in Croke Park in early July. In the other corner was a young Limerick team on an upward curve.
It was now a major test for Kilkenny in more ways than one and early in the second-half at Thurles last Sunday, there was no guarantee that hurling’s greatest ever team would come through it. Everything was on the line, but the All-Ireland champions simply rolled up their sleeves and upped the ante to such an extent that the match was over heading into the final quarter. When they needed it, the players had the resolve, quality and commitment to turn the match on its head.
There had been a general anticipation that Kilkenny would be so revved up after their humiliation that they would blow Limerick away in the opening 15 minutes, but that never happened or even threatened to occur. Some of their players appeared out of sorts, as evidenced by poor touches, inaccurate free-taking and untypical hesitancy. In fact, it was Limerick who made the more compelling start with David Breen’s well executed 12th minute goal no more than they deserved.
Yet, it was already evident that their backs appeared vulnerable on the breaking ball and there was also a certain naivety, especially in the team’s full back line, in relation to being sucked out of position. Limerick were made pay for it too with two critical goals from Henry Shefflin, who also picked off a brace of points in the opening 20 minutes at a time when many of his team-mates hadn’t yet got to the pitch of battle.
Another Kilkenny stalwart Tommy Walsh, who had a really troubled 70 minutes in the Leinster final, was clearly in no mood to experience a similar trauma against Limerick. He thundered into the match at wing back and picked off a rousing long range point when his team needed it. Walsh and Shefflin were Kilkenny’s key performers in the opening-half and, underlined once again, their greatness when the pressure was on.
Trailing by only 2-7 to 1-9 at the break, Limerick’s tails were up with the elements to come, but after Tobin had equalised, they were hit by a Kilkenny blitz which yielded 2-5 without reply. Few saw it coming which made it even more noteworthy as Aidan Fogarty and Colin Fennelly, two players who considerably raised their game in the second-half, both beat Nicky Quaid from close range after the opposition defence was marked absent.
Fogarty (two), Fennelly and Shefflin (two frees) landed the points in this period of utter Kilkenny dominance to leave them leading by 4-13 to 1-12 after 54 minutes. From a position where it appeared they might be beaten, the title holders just met the challenge head on to ruthlessly expose Limerick’s limitations. It was a lost cause for John Allen’s men after that and not even Richie Hogan’s red card for a reactionary pull across Tobin on the sideline underneath the old stand, was going to alter that scenario.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.