IT will be scant consolation for Cork that they contributed generously to a pulsating NHL encounter with Kilkenny at Nowlan Park last Sunday.
Approaching the last 20 minutes, the Leesiders led by three points, 1-11 to 0-11, after full-forward Luke O'Farrell had notched a goal and a point in quick succession to send their prospects soaring. But they were forced to go the next 18 minutes without a score, as Kilkenny raised the tempo when the need was greatest, laying the foundations for victory with five unanswered points, including one from a penalty by substitute Richie Power.
After Patrick Horgan ended Cork's lengthy barren spell from a free, the home side responded with three more points, and there could be no disputing they deserved to collect the spoils in view of their superiority for much of the second half. Yet, Cork can be justifiably proud of their gallant bid to upset the odds, and they showed from the outset they were ready to put it up to the league and All-Ireland champions on their home patch.
With Conor Lehane and Stephen Moylan sharing four points, and Paudie O'Sullivan and midfielder Daniel Kearney also on target from play, they led by 0-7 to 0-3 after 26 minutes, an advantage that didn't flatter them in the slightest. They had been denied a goal in the opening minute when Kilkenny 'keeper Eoin Murphy made a brilliant save to foil Patrick Horgan, and Murphy later proved equal to an effort by Luke O'Farrell.
Lehane and, to a lesser extent, Moylan were leading lights up front as Cork made the early running, while Pa Cronin and Daniel Kearney both kept their end up well at midfield. But the most encouraging aspect of the visitors' first half performance was the control exerted by their defence in which Lorcan McLoughlin and Chris Joyce were especially impressive in the half-back line.
Stephen White also did his bit in this sector to limit Kilkenny's progress, while Killian Murphy, making his league debut as a late replacement for the injured Shane O'Neill, Brian Murphy, and the ultra-efficient Conor O'Sullivan were equally unyielding in front of 'keeper Anthony Nash. It's a measure of Cork's superiority at the back that none of the Kilkenny forwards raised a flag from play until Colin Fennelly pointed in stoppage time to leave the teams tied, 0-7 to 0-7, at the break.
That Kilkenny finished the first half strongly owed much to the promptings of Michael Fennelly, who thundered into the picture at midfield, and they would have turned over in front had not a Richie Hogan effort from a penalty been saved by Lorcan McLoughlin in the 33rd minute. Kilkenny restructured their attack for the second half, and, with Richie Hogan showing up well at corner forward, they began to move with increasing menace as they twice inched ahead shortly after the restart.
They could have been opened up a wider gap had Hogan been on-target with a couple of chances, but the teams were equally wasteful overall, finishing the match with 12 wides apiece. Aided by points from Conor Lehane and Paudie O'Sullivan and another from a free by Patrick Horgan, Cork regained the lead but they had slipped behind by the minimum again before Luke O'Farrell's explosive burst threatened to spur them on to victory.
O'Farrell's goal resulted from great work by Stephen Moylan, but his point was a splendid individual effort after he had skinned Kilkenny full back JJ Delaney. Unfortunately, the service to O'Farrell was limited enough after that, as Cork began to struggle at midfield and in the half forward line where only Conor Lehane had the beating of his marker, and he promised more than he achieved with some hasty shooting.
By contrast, Kilkenny's tactic of constantly re-jigging their attack yielded rich dividends, with Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly causing the main problems for an over-worked Cork rearguard as the second half aged. Cork had gone 25 minutes without a score from play before Conor Lehane, placed by Patrick Horgan, rattled the net in stoppage time, but it was a case of too little too late, and their fate was sealed when the inspirational Micheal Fennelly posted the insurance point for Kilkenny in the dying seconds.
Kilkenny: E Larkin 0-6 frees, C Fennelly and R Hogan 0-4 each, R Power 0-3, 0-1 penalty, T Walsh, L Ryan and M Fennelly 0-1 each
Cork: C Lehane 1-3, L O'Farrell 1-1, P Horgan 0-3 frees, P O'Sullivan and S Moylan 0-2 each, D Kearney 0-1
Kilkenny: E Murphy, C Fogarty, JJ Delaney, J Tyrell, T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce, L Ryan, M Fennelly, W Walsh, E Larkin, R Hogan, G Aylward, C Fennelly, A Fogarty Sub: R Power for Aylward
Cork: A Nash (Kanturk), K Murphy, B Murphy, C O'Sullivan, L McLoughlin, C Joyce, S White, D Kearney, P Cronin, C Lehane, C McCarthy, P O'Sullivan, P Horgan, L O'Farrell, S Moylan Subs: M Cussen for McCarthy, C Spillane for Kearney
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly)