Monday 20 January 2020

Cyrill Farrell: Cats prove timing is everything to have the last laugh

A dejected Paul Browne, Limerick, at the end of the thrilling All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Croke Park
A dejected Paul Browne, Limerick, at the end of the thrilling All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Croke Park

Cyrill Farrell

WE were probably spoiled last summer. Games like yesterday seemed to roll by almost every weekend and maybe we took them for granted.

This year hasn't been quite as epic but that All-Ireland semi-final had it all. Drama right to the last minute, big players producing big plays and weather as dramatic as what was happening on the field.

There were several talking points but it boils down to the simplest of principles – goals win games. Kilkenny got two and got them at vital times. Limerick had a couple of what could only be described as half-chances but through bad luck and some superb last-ditch defending, couldn't squeeze a goal out of Kilkenny. If they had, you never know what would have happened and it might just have given them the initiative to go on and win it.

Richie Hogan's first goal came at a terrible time for Limerick. They had made much of the running in the first half, forcing turnovers, being economical in front of goal and generally playing the game on their own terms.

They could never create a telling gap – three points was as good as it got – but they looked like they had settled to the pace of the game and would have expected to be going in at half-time leading. Instead, Hogan goaled after riding a couple of tackles and sticking it in the Limerick net.

At the other end, Limerick almost bundled one over the line. A little bit of ingenuity from JJ Delaney when he flicked the ball away from danger without looking, ensured that the Cats would carry both the momentum and a two-point lead in at the break. Games at this level turn on little things. That might have been it.

Not that Limerick gave up. They remained composed after the concession of the goal and started the second half well but once again, Kilkenny struck for their second goal at a crucial time.

Limerick were enjoying their best spell of the game and had hit five points in a row to take a two-point lead. Then up popped Richie Power to guide a high dropping ball into the net in a way we had seen DJ Carey do so often. Power had handed Brian Cody's men the lead with 15 minutes to go and they wouldn't look back from there.

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We know the Cats are overflowing with star players but it was very much a team effort from Kilkenny to win. I would suggest that it is very hard to pick a man of the match from the game.

Different players put in their shifts at different times. Colin Fennelly had his moments and Padraig Walsh looked sharp early on. At times, their backline came under a lot of pressure but they stuck to the task. And they usually didn't have to wait to long before back up would arrive.

In the past we've seen them win semi-finals with the minimum of fuss. That wasn't going to happen this time with conditions that made ball striking very difficult and the undoubted quality of their opposition.

They also managed just five scores in the second half but as has been the case so often in the past with Kilkenny, it was enough to get the job done.

COMMITMENT

Credit to both sets of players that they made it so enthralling. It was a hard, honest game underpinned by total commitment from both sides who put in the work rate to match their skill.

Limerick will be sore for days but this was much different to when they crashed out to Clare at the All-Ireland semi-final stage 12 months ago. They didn't show up that day but they delivered this time and put in a performance that they can be proud of.

It's no consolation but they did everything but win. I'd go so far as to say they would have beaten probably any other team with the performance they delivered.

Brian Cody definitely had the edge with the subs he could bring in. As he did against Wexford, Seanie Tobin added something to Limerick but Kilkenny introduced the likes of Power and Henry Shefflin.

Richie might have wrapped up the game when he broke clear of the cover, only to have his legs taken away by Donal O'Grady. The Limerick captain was already on a yellow and I was surprised he didn't get sent off.

When he didn't, Limerick took their reprieve and subbed him off. It was a clever move by TJ Ryan and Co but they couldn't muster the goal they needed to reignite their challenge.

It all means that the 'Big Three' are left in the race for Liam MacCarthy. Kilkenny's team selection next time out will be hugely interesting. Brian Cody has made changes to his team in every championship game this year and I wouldn't be surprised if there's more for the All-Ireland final. Henry, Richie and others will be pushing hard and Kilkenny head for September. Did we ever doubt it?

Star quality shone for both sides in minor tussle

The skill levels in the minor match between Kilkenny and Waterford was the first thing that stood out to me. Both teams boasted players of star quality.

Up front for Kilkenny, Liam Blanchfield and Alan Murphy looked like natural forwards. Shane Bennett of Waterford is also a stylish player as demonstrated by his lovely run and finish. There were plenty of others too.

Probably the best team won. Waterford got the first score of the game but trailed until the 57th minute. They had almost timed their run to perfection. The holders had been four points down at the break but got a run on Kilkenny thanks to Bennett's goal and some excellent goalkeeping by Billy Nolan. It looked like they had snatched it. With time almost up, Murphy kept his cool to point a '65' and force extra-time and perhaps Kilkenny's experience showed from here. Both St Kieran's College and Kilkenny CBS contested the All-Ireland 'A' Colleges final this year and they kept their cool on the restart to run out convincing winners.

They looked in control but John Walsh's kicked goal put the issue to bed. They'll face a good side in the final. I know Galway have a good team this year with a few of last year's forwards eligible again but I am hearing good things about Limerick's team. Based on yesterday, whoever gets to the final it's sure to be a high-class affair.

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