Rebel ship swept aside by perfect Cats storm
EVEN the gods tried their mischievous hand to unseat Kilkenny but found, like so many opponents before them, that the greater the challenge, the greater the response from Brian Cody's history-chasing squad.
By the half-hour mark, Kilkenny had lost centre-back Brian Hogan and centre-forward Henry Shefflin to injury but had already secured their 21st successive championship victory and were looking forward to an 11th All-Ireland final appearance in 13 seasons on September 5.
The sides were level at 0-2 each when Hogan went off with a damaged collarbone in the 16th minute but by the time Shefflin retired with a knee injury in the 27th minute, Kilkenny were leading by 2-6 to 0-3 and safely on their way to the final.
Indeed, even at that early stage, the only matter of concern for Kilkenny supporters was whether Hogan and/or Shefflin would be fit for the final. Cork were already well beaten and beginning to look like a side that had no heart to take on the awesome storm that Kilkenny had whipped up. It says something about Kilkenny's power that their momentum was in no way lessened by the departure of Hogan and Shefflin.
James Ryall slotted in at centre-back and looked as if he was a regular in the position, while Martin Comerford replaced Shefflin and took less than a minute to mark his arrival with a spectacular long-range point.
By half-time, Kilkenny were 13 points clear (2-12 to 0-5), while Cork were on their way to their heaviest championship defeat since losing to Limerick by 18 points in 1996. Cork outscored Kilkenny by 0-14 to 1-10 in the second half but it didn't even come close to providing any sort of consolation.
It really was a compelling exhibition of power, pace and precision by Kilkenny but, it must be said, it was made easier than expected by the anaemic resistance offered by Cork.
They lost a classic All-Ireland final narrowly to Kilkenny in 2006 but had slipped to nine-point inferiors in the next championship clash two years ago and were 12 points off the pace yesterday.
In truth, the margin flattered Cork who, after a decent opening quarter, were outgunned mercilessly by a Kilkenny side who came as close to delivering perfection as was possible.
They hit Cork for 1-7 without reply between the 21st and 32nd minutes, the goal coming from Aidan Fogarty, who had sent out an early warning of Kilkenny's intentions when he fired over the opening point after just 15 seconds.
Not even Shefflin's departure made any difference to Kilkenny's power play. Losing such an influential figure might have been expected to weaken their concentration -- however briefly -- but it actually seemed to have the opposite effect.
Cork's traumatic day was going from bad, to worse, to awful as they closed out the first half with the unusual sight of Ben O'Connor sending a relatively easy free wide. By then, Cork had a mere five points on the scoreboard, three from O'Connor frees, plus one each from open play by midfielder Cathal Naughton and wing-back Sean Og O hAilpin.
No Cork forward scored from play in the first half, or indeed until the 15th minute of the second half, a statistic that shows how tightly they were fettered by the Kilkenny defence.
Despite naming him in the starting line-up, Cork took to the field without Michael Cussen, opting instead to play Cian McCarthy.
Quite what they hoped to achieve with that subterfuge is difficult to say as one suspects that Kilkenny wouldn't have been too concerned about what line-up they faced.
Shane O'Neill, who was named at corner-back, wasn't fit to play, which was a serious setback. He was badly needed in a defence that was being gradually and effectively unhinged after starting well enough.
Kilkenny were leading 0-3 to 0-2 after 17 minutes, at which stage they made the first decisive break when Shefflin played Eddie Brennan in on goal and he beat Donal Og Cusack with a crisp strike.
It was Cork who needed to be making that type of decisive break but they were utterly incapable of prising openings from a miserly Kilkenny defence.
Only three of Kilkenny's first-half total of 2-12 came from frees, while no fewer than eight different players contributed, leaving the dressing-room a very contented place at half-time. For Cork, the second half was always going to be about damage limitation but it was notable that their body language as they came back onto the pitch didn't suggest they were in any frame of mind to take on the mountainous task.
Denis Walsh started the repair work by withdrawing attackers Aisake O hAilpin and Cian McCarthy for the second half and would later replace centre-forward Kieran Murphy, as well as both midfielders, Tom Kenny and Cathal Naughton, but it was more a case of shooting in the dark than carefully lining up the targets.
Granted, it was never going to be easy against an opposition that keeps moving the target. Kilkenny resumed the second half on full throttle, scoring four points in the opening four minutes. Cork took 10 minutes to record their first score, by which stage the pace and intensity of the game had dropped significantly.
The Rebels got an opportunity to score a goal in the 48th minute when Pat Horgan was awarded a penalty when frankly it looked as if he should have been penalised for trying to barge his way through. He lined up the strike himself, only to see it deflected over the bar.
Horgan would go on to score four points from play in the final 20 minutes but, by then, there was a looseness about the game as it headed towards an inevitable conclusion.
Kilkenny got in for their third goal in the 62nd minute when Richie Power made a fine catch off a John Mulhall delivery, spun into position and fired past Cusack. It finished off an excellent afternoon for Power who looked on top of his game right from the off.
But then so were the majority of his colleagues, including the subs who fitted in so seamlessly. It really was a case of Kilkenny at their efficient best as they moved to within one win of a place in history.
As for Cork, it was a dismal end to a championship that started so promisingly when they hammered Tipperary in late May. That success must have seemed from a completely different age as they trooped out of Croke Park with nothing except memories that will haunt them for a long time.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: R Power 1-8 (0-6f), A Fogarty 1-2, E Brennan 1-1, M Fennelly, M Comerford, H Shefflin (0-1f), J Fitzpatrick 0-2 each, E Larkin, T Walsh, TJ Reid 0-1 each. Cork: B O'Connor 0-7 (0-6f), P Horgan 0-6 (0-1 pen, 0-1f), J Gardiner 0-2, C Naughton, S Og O hAilpin, N McCarthy, J O'Connor 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan 7; J Dalton 7, N Hickey 8, J Tyrrell 7; T Walsh 8, B Hogan 7, JJ Delaney 8; J Fitzpatrick 7, M Fennelly 9; TJ Reid 7, H Shefflin 7, E Larkin 8; E Brennan 7, R Power 9, A Fogarty 8. Subs: J Ryall 7 for B Hogan (16), M Comerford 7 for Shefflin (27), M Rice 7 for Brennan (53), J Mulhall 7 for Reid (55), D Lyng 6 for Fitzpatrick (63).
Cork -- D Og Cusack 6; S Murphy 5, E Cadogan 5, B Murphy 6; J Gardiner 5, R Curran 6, S Og O hAilpin 5; T Kenny 5, C Naughton 6; C McCarthy 5, K Murphy 5, N McCarthy 5; P Horgan 7, A O hAilpin 5, B O'Connor 5. Subs: P O'Sullivan 5 for A O hAilpin (h-t), W Egan 5 for C McCarthy (h-t), J O'Connor 6 for K Murphy (44), M Cussen 6 for Naughton (47), G Callanan 5 for Kenny (59).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly).