Fennelly a shining light in laboured display
Kilkenny 0-20 Limerick 0-17
Kilkenny, with a performance that was good in parts, not altogether Champagne in others, ended Limerick's interest in the championship in Nowlan Park last night. Having lost their last two championship matches they will be grateful just to sample that winning feeling again. They withstood a late rally from Limerick who produced three quick points in the final four minutes, trimming the home lead down to two.
Experience told. TJ Reid pulled a ball out of the sky, broke past his marker and pointed. Limerick responded through Shane Dowling, but in injury-time, Lester Ryan scored another from out on the sideline and that sealed it. Limerick's summer was done.
Of the four teams entering tomorrow morning's draw for the second round, Kilkenny will have the benefit of the toughest match. That should count for something. They won't be fooled into thinking that this will move them up the ranks of All-Ireland contenders, but there were still plenty of positives to draw on.
Michael Fennelly returned for his first outing since last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay against Waterford and, after a slow start, had a towering performance. In the second half when they needed him to, he stood behind the midfield area and eradicated any hint of danger. He is not box-to-box any more, but he has a canny instinct when it comes to reading the play, ending the game with more possessions than any other player.
Kilkenny will be delighted to have survived a tough match in which Limerick were never quite out of sight. They never trailed by more than three in the first half, were two in arrears at half time (0-10 to 0-8) and drew level with 43 minutes played after three points without reply.
Richie McCarthy was outstanding at full back in denying Colin Fennelly a clean catch or a score. Declan Hannon showed strong leadership in the middle of their defence and in attack Peter Casey scored three points from play. They were typically game and spirited throughout. This must be seen as a platform to a more extended challenge next year, with some excellent young hurlers like Kyle Hayes giving grounds for optimism.
Defeat would have consigned Kilkenny to their earliest championship exit in Brian Cody's time in charge and, uniquely, seen them eliminated without a win. Backs to the wall, they showed some of their trademark resilience. Aside from Fennelly's man of the match performance, they had four points from Walter Walsh who was particularly effective in the first half, and Paul Murphy also rediscovered his old form, being the pick of a hard-working and claustrophobic defence.
It wasn't all happiness and light. Ger Aylward was taken off again, scoreless, a fate that also befell Richie Hogan who hit four poor wides. But those who came in made an impact. Ryan scored twice and thundered into the match. Kevin Kelly scored two sweet points in the time he was given to make an impression.
Limerick had the wind in the opening half and played with five forwards, using Cian Lynch in a deeper position. Lynch had a quiet evening by his standards, taken off late in the match after failing to score.
In the first half Fennelly had a one-handed shot at goal saved by Nickie Quaid and Chris Bolger raced through a gap in the Limerick cover after 11 minutes but scooped the ball over the bar. In the second half Quaid came to their rescue again when saving from Bolger.
Limerick created a goal chance only three minutes into the match, with good approach work from David Dempsey and a perceptive lay-off setting Dowling free. But Dowling couldn't reach the ball in time and the opportunity was lost.
For most of the time the Kilkenny defence dealt comfortably with what came their way and in the final ten minutes there was a brilliant hook from Lester Ryan as Pat Ryan wound up for a shot at goal.
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-8 (6fs); W Walsh 0-4; P Deegan 0-3; K Kelly, L Ryan 0-2; C Bolger 0-1. Limerick: S Dowling 0-8 (6fs); P Casey 0-3; K Hayes, G Hegarty 0-2; B Nash, P Ryan 0-1.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, P Walsh, J Lyng; J Holden, C Buckley, C Fogarty; Michael Fennelly, P Deegan; R Hogan, Walter Walsh, TJ Reid; C Bolger, C Fennelly, G Aylward. Subs: K Kelly for Aylward (44 mins); L Blancfield for Hogan (51); L Ryan for Deegan (55); M Byrne for Bolger (63).
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, R McCarthy, M Casey; D Morrissey, D Hannon, S Hickey; P Browne, D O'Donovan; S Dowling, C Lynch, K Hayes; P Casey, G Hegarty, D Dempsey.
Subs: B Nash for Hegarty (45 mins); J Ryan for O'Donovan (49); T Morrissey for Dempsey (54); P Ryan for Browne (58); G Mulcahy for Lynch (67).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).
Sunday Indo Sport