McCarthy defiant but Limerick fail to rattle Kilkenny
THIS top division has been brimful of action-packed, hard-fought encounters -- but Limerick v Kilkenny at the Gaelic Grounds yesterday was not one of them.
'Mildly interesting' sums up the entertainment value, but credit is due to Limerick for three reasons: their spirit, some passages of lively hurling, and their refusal to be overawed by the reputations of their illustrious opponents.
Other than that, we saw a Kilkenny side in need of a win, and one which they achieved without being stressed out of their comfort zone. They shipped a few knocks, and a tinge of red mist was evident when Limerick's Andrew Brennan got sent off for a second yellow card in the 66th minute following a loose pull on Eoin Larkin, but the All-Ireland champions never had to dig too deep.
Limerick fans gave their side commendable support, and the second-half performance deserved applause because the home team outscored Kilkenny by nine points to five. Unfortunately, the damage had been done with Kilkenny racking up 2-12 to Limerick's 0-7 in the first half, and had they needed to step on the gas, the Noresiders could have responded to any serious threat on their dominance.
In fairness, the goals which book-ended the start and finish of that first half by Kilkenny had a big bearing on the outcome. The game was just over a minute old when Aidan Fogarty danced into clear space to hammer home the first score and the first goal.
Half-time was looming when Larkin soloed through the Limerick defence to rifle home the second goal in the 34th minute.
TJ Reid got his ninth point, all frees bar one from play and another off a superb sideline cut, a minute later to send Kilkenny in at half-time leading by 11 points.
At the other end, Limerick's Paudie McNamara proved deadly from frees, scoring four for the home side. Their other three scores were well-taken points by Sean Herlihy, Richard McKeogh and Brian O'Sullivan.
So what would happen after half-time? Limerick manager Justin McCarthy and his backroom team got to work in the dressing room.
"The main thing is with any team at half-time not to lose heart, number one, and not lose concentration, and then to be up for it again," he said. "So there was no drop of the heads. We asked them to fight like hell, go for the ball and take risks, take chances."
The Limerick players responded to the challenge and raised the pace. McNamara got seven more scores to end the match with a personal tally of 0-11 (two from play, seven from frees, and two '65s).
Richard McKeogh and Graeme Mulcahy got the other Limerick scores in that half. A Derek Lyng point, two by John Mulhall, and one each by Eoin Larkin and Aidan Fogarty were Kilkenny's contribution to the second-half scoreline.
Brian Cody gave Limerick credit for their battling qualities, but got what he came for -- two points.
"It was a decent game. It was competitive," said Cody. "We built up a small bit of a cushion up to half-time but Limerick were very competitive right through the game and up to the very end.
"To me, obviously Limerick are short players, but the players who were out there are very decent hurlers and there's a good spirit."
The elephant in the sitting room is still the issue of the Limerick players who continue to make themselves unavailable, but McCarthy and the men who are prepared to wear the green jerseys remain as competitive as their talent and experience will allow.
For all that, the facts are that Limerick have played six and lost six and now have one chance to end the drought by winning away to Dublin.
"It's all a learning process. This team's for the future. It will take a while but they're going in the right direction," McCarthy said. "There's a bit of life in the team."
Scorers -- Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-9 (7f, 1sl); E Larkin 1-1; A Fogarty 1-1; J Mulhall 0-3; M Comerford 0-2; D Lyng 0-1. Limerick: P McNamara 0-11 (7f, 2 '65s); R McKeogh 0-2; B O'Sullivan, S Herlihy, G Mulcahy 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- R O'Neill; D Fogarty, N Hickey, PJ Delaney; T Walsh, J Tyrrell, J Tennyson; P Hartley, J Fitzpatrick; J Mulhall, D Lyng, TJ Reid; E Larkin, M Comerford, A Fogarty. Subs: P Hogan for T Walsh (ht); S Cummins for J Tennyson (60); R Hogan for A Fogarty (60).
Limerick -- T Flynn; D Lynch, D Kenny, S O'Neill; S O'Riordan, A Brennan, C King; N Quaid, P Browne; S Helihy, B O'Sullivan, C Mullane; G Mulcahy, P McNamara, R McKeogh. Subs:D Breen for N Quaid (h.t); T O'Brien for S Herlihy (51); Thomas O'Brien for C Mullane (52).
Ref -- A Kelly (Galway).