Kilkenny's early blitz ends Rebel resistance
Game on: 4pm. Contest over: 4.11pm.
Kilkenny fizzed through the opening period in Thurles yesterday like men who were expertly programmed to impress on Cork's new-look team that there's a world of difference between routine league games and a final.
Kilkenny led by 2-6 to 0-1 after 11 minutes, setting Cork a recovery target which was never likely to come anywhere close to being realised. By half-time Kilkenny were 14 points ahead (3-11 to 0-6), leaving Cork facing a further 35 minutes of torture.
"From half-time on, we were fighting for respectability," said Jimmy Barry-Murphy in an honest assessment of a game where the warning lights flashed for Cork right from the off.
"We'd have liked to get a few goals to take the bare look off the scoreboard but we couldn't manage it.
"It's very disappointing to be beaten by so much -- we didn't show what we're capable of."
Quick, low ball in the direction of full-forward Eoin Larkin caused all sorts of problems for Cork, whose full-back Stephen McDonnell couldn't figure out how to tether his nimble opponent.
Larkin whipped in Kilkenny's first goal in the fifth minute and set Colin Fennelly up for a second five minutes later. The points were flowing too off the sticks of Michael Fennelly (one), Matthew Ruth (two) and Paddy Hogan (three) as Kilkenny grabbed power in a manner which left Cork in no doubt that they were up against a much different outfit than the one they beat by two points at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in March.
It was as if the sight of the trophy gleaming on the presentation podium concentrated Kilkenny minds to a degree that took them much closer to the championship pace than Cork.
Their third goal arrived just before the break, when the Cork defence finally surrendered to the sheer weight of pressure of another wave of attack, allowing TJ Reid an unchallenged strike which whizzed to the net.
Cork scored only two points from open play in the first half, whereas Kilkenny landed 3-7, with the remaining 0-4 evenly shared off frees from Larkin and Paddy Hogan.
There was never the remotest chance that Cork would peg back a 14-point lead so the only real target they could give themselves for the second half was to make some inroads into the deficit.
They failed on that front too (the second-half was drawn on 0-10 each) and even when Kilkenny dropped the tempo, they still had the craft to close Cork down.
The arrival of Darren Sweetnam for the second half brought vital energy to Cork around midfield but the attack found it all but impossible to figure out a way to create the goal openings they so badly needed.
Barry-Murphy began repair work at half-time, sending Sweetnam on for Lorcan McLoughlin and Conor O'Sullivan for McDonnell and continued it in the second half as he withdrew two of his attackers, Paudie O'Sullivan and Niall McCarthy.
O'Sullivan scored 3-6 in the run to the final but couldn't build on it against JJ Delaney or sub Kieran Joyce.
Delaney withdrew at half-time with a leg injury and Kilkenny lost Michael Fennelly with a damaged ankle after 42 minutes but it made no appreciable difference to the overall trend.
With the likes of Henry Shefflin, Richie Power,
Noel Hickey, Michael Rice and Aidan Fogarty already unavailable, it underlines the remarkable depth of the Kilkenny panel that they could lose Delaney and Fennelly in the course of yesterday's game and still win by 14 points.
All six forwards, plus the two midfielders and wing-back Tommy Walsh all scored as Kilkenny racked up another huge score while not conceding a goal for a third successive game.
It all helped to install them as league champions for the sixth time in the Brian Cody era and left them signing off the spring campaign much happier than last year, when they were well beaten by Dublin in the final.
That setback had no relevance in the championship, which will provide Cork with some encouragement as they sift through the debris of yesterday's devastation.
Barry-Murphy said afterwards that he hoped the nature of the defeat wouldn't drain his players of too much confidence but there can be no doubt that losing a league final so heavily was the last thing they wanted after a campaign where their only previous defeat was against Galway.
Cork needed a bright start yesterday but it was clear from the off that Kilkenny were drumming to a much livelier beat. They drove at Cork in waves and once Larkin slipped in for the first goal, Kilkenny looked very much like a side which had ready answers to every Cork question.
Conor Lehane, who had scored an average of almost four points per game in his previous six outings, was well marked by Richie Doyle in the first half and by Tommy Walsh later on, while Cork's inside-forwards made little headway against the Kilkenny full-back line.
In fairness to Lehane, he continued to battle on bravely but with Kilkenny so dominant all over the field, there was little he or anybody else could do to alter the trend.
Barry-Murphy admitted afterwards that Cork expected setbacks along the way as they re-configured the set-up, but they could never have anticipated that Kilkenny would accelerate to cruising speed so quickly. Clare stayed with Kilkenny until well into the second half in the semi-final but Cork couldn't even match them over the first 10 minutes.
It looked altogether as if Cork were overawed by the experience and once Kilkenny sensed weakness they wasted no time in racking up a match-winning total as quickly as possible.
Now, the big question is what impact this defeat will have on Cork, who meet Limerick or Tipperary in the Munster semi-final in seven weeks' time.
Barry-Murphy insisted that they could take plenty of positives out of the league but yesterday was a dismal negative which they will need to wash from their system pretty quickly.
As for Kilkenny, it was ruthless business as usual as the league trophy once again joined the Liam MacCarthy Cup in their trophy room.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: E Larkin (3f), C Fennelly 1-4 each, TJ Reid 1-2, P Hogan (2f), M Ruth 0-3 each, M Fennelly, T Walsh, R Hogan, C Buckley, M Bergin 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (6f, 1 pen), D Sweetnam 0-2, J Gardiner, N McCarthy, J Coughlan, W Egan (f), C Naughton 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- D Herity 7; P Murphy 8, JJ Delaney 7, J Tyrrell 7; T Walsh 8, B Hogan 7, R Doyle 7; M Fennelly 8, P Hogan 7; R Hogan 7, TJ Reid, 7 C Buckley 7; C Fennelly 8, E Larkin 9, M Ruth 7. Subs: K Joyce 7 for Delaney (ht), J Mulhall 6 for M Fennelly (42), M Bergin 6 for P Hogan (62).
Cork -- M Coleman 6; S O'Neill 7, S McDonnell 5, B Murphy 6; S Og O hAilpin 6, E Cadogan 6, W Egan 6; L McLoughlin 5, J Gardiner 6; C Lehane 6, P Cronin 6, N McCarthy 5; L O'Farrell 5, P O'Sullivan 5, P Horgan 6. Subs: D Sweetnam 8 for McLoughlin (h-t), C O'Sullivan 6 for McDonnell (h-t), C Naughton 6 for O'Sullivan (46), J Coughlan 6 for McCarthy (50).
Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath).