Cats back on track as Cork fold under the pressure
Kilkenny 0-22 Cork 0-15
There were times in the second-half in Nowlan Park yesterday when Kilkenny reconnected with their past in a manner that suggested the reasons for some recent malfunctions had been correctly assessed and addressed.
The on-field energy spread to stand and terrace, as their supporters in the 6,906-strong crowd sensed that the season had finally taken off after twice stalling against Waterford and Clare.
Kilkenny were an entirely different proposition yesterday, especially in the second-half, when they quelled a feisty Cork rebellion with authority.
A six-point scoring burst between the 41st and 47th minutes left Cork in their rear-view mirror and fading further into the distance all the time.
Indeed, if hadn't been for two excellent saves by Anthony Nash from Colin Fennelly in the final quarter, Cork's misery would have been a lot more acute.
Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy had been equally inspirational earlier on, making three fine stops. In addition, he ventured from goal to twice arrow long-range frees over the Cork bar.
Kilkenny had several scoring forces in attack, with TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Walter Walsh and Richie Leahy scoring 0-18 between them.
And while Fennelly didn't score, he made a massive contribution as a ball-winner and provider.
His powerful runs frequently unhinged a Cork defence which will face some tough questions in this week's debrief.
Specifically, they will be asked to explain why, after doing quite well for the first period, they leaked so heavily in that crucial spell when Kilkenny shot six unanswered points.
Selector Pat Hartnett was at a loss to explain why it had happened and was understandably disappointed over a second-half performance that disintegrated rapidly once Kilkenny raised the tempo.
"We didn't score enough in the second-half and we didn't put ourselves in a position to score enough. That was disappointing after playing so well in the first-half. We worked really hard in that first-half and got some good scores. We didn't do the same in the second-half for some reason," said Hartnett.
Cork were very enterprising early on, with Alan Cadogan, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy causing extensive difficulty for the Kilkenny defence.
Cadogan, in particular, was especially dangerous, but once Paul Murphy moved on to him, the threat reduced. Harnedy faded as the game progressed, leaving Lehane as Cork's main man.
He did well as free-taker in the absence of the dropped Patrick Horgan and in open play, too, taking his overall total to 10 points.
Unfortunately for Cork, the support lacked consistency, making life much easier than it should have been for a Kilkenny defence where Conor Fogarty was outstanding.
Newcomer Jason Cleere had a satisfactory debut, while Paul Murphy was much more effective in his familiar corner-back role after a spell at No. 6.
Kilkenny led by 0-11 to 0-10 after a high-intensity first-half, where both sides did quite well to limit the impact of a strong, swirling wind which changed sides on a few occasions.
Kilkenny were more precise than Cork, who shot six wides, as opposed to two by the home side.
Kilkenny's miss ratio increased in the second-half - they shot seven wides - but they were still comfortably in control from the 46th minute on.
Cork's woes increased just past the hour mark when Cormac Murphy, a first-half sub for Daniel Kearney, was sent off by referee James McGrath on a straight red card for a wild pull on Cillian Buckley.
Murphy had done quite well, but will now miss next Sunday's clash with Waterford, while it's feared Kearney could face an even longer period on the sidelines after injuring his wrist.
Kilkenny's next test is against Tipperary in Thurles on Saturday night, a challenge for which they are much better primed than before yesterday's game.
"It's very hard to get points in this league, so if we'd gone away from this game with no points, then we'd be facing a real serious battle. The battle is still there, but it's comforting to have two points," said Brian Cody.
He faced one of the most unusual questions he has been asked during his long managerial career, when it was put to him that a report on a local radio suggested this might be his final year.
Cody batted the query away with a mischievous response.
"Is that a medical report? I'll check with my GP first if that's the kind of talk that is going on about me, because I'd hate to think that my mortality is that threatened. We'll have to wait and see if this is my last year. I hadn't heard the rumour, nor did I spread it either," he said.
The entire Kilkenny camp is a happier place today after a performance where the lack of goals was about the only resemblance to the efforts against Waterford and Clare.
It was Kilkenny's third game without scoring a goal, but on this occasion the drought continued only because of Nash's excellence.
"He pulled off a few great saves, so we were in there creating the chances. I'd never complain when we are making the chances," said Cody.
Cork also created some good goal chances, but having failed to take them they were reliant on the points route for survival. While they matched Kilkenny in that department in the first-half, they fell away badly after the break against physically stronger opponents.
It's an aspect that will occupy Cork manager Kieran Kingston and his fellow strategists as they build towards the championship.
"We struggled to come to terms with their work rate and intensity. Any time you lose a game is a worry. Any time you feel you're out-muscled is a worry as well," said Kingston
"The second-half was concerning. We are trying to get a balance between youth and experience in our squad. That's going to take a while. It's not an excuse - it's a fact."
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-7 (6f), R Hogan 0-5, W Walsh, R Leahy 0-3 each, E Murphy 0-2 (2f), C Buckley, C Martin 0-1 each.
Cork: C Lehane 0-10 (4f, 3 '65s), A Cadogan 0-2, S Harnedy, B Cooper, D Brosnan 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: E Murphy 8; P Murphy 7, P Walsh 7, C O'Shea 7; C Fogarty 8, J Cleere 7, K Joyce 6; C Buckley 7, P Deegan 7; C Fennelly 8, R Hogan 8, R Leahy 8; W Walsh 8,TJ Reid 7, C Martin 6.
Subs: S Prendergast 7 for Joyce (ht), J Maher 6 for Leahy (63).
Cork: A Nash 8; K Burke 6, D Cahalane 6, C Spillane 6;C Joyce 6, M Ellis 7, M Coleman 8; B Cooper 6, D Kearney 6; D Brosnan 5, C Lehane 8, S Kingston 5; A Cadogan 7, S Harnedy 6, L Meade 5.
Subs: C Murphy 6 for Kearney (22), P Horgan 5 for Kingston ( 57), S McDonnell 6 for Burke (57), L O'Farrell for Meade (62).
REF - J McGrath (Westmeath)