Defiant Cats end Limerick reign to stamp latest Cody model
Kilkenny 1-21 Limerick 2-17
Having the bend in an indoor track race makes the runner in possession such a difficult proposition to go past. The chasing pack may look like they have the gas to do it but getting it done is a different challenge.
So it was in this latest in a sequence of absorbing All-Ireland semi-finals over the last four years. Kilkenny led from pillar to post, Limerick closed and looked like they could go past but, not only could they not, they couldn't get even get on their shoulder to position themselves for the required surge.
Having trailed by nine points after 16 minutes, 1-8 to 0-2, Limerick got to within a point five times in the second half but could never close the gap. Had they done so, and they had numerous chances, we may well have been looking at a different outcome. But that's Kilkenny and that's the tradition of defiance and resilience. The faces change but the fundamentals don't.
As manager, Brian Cody has won 11 All-Ireland titles and in that time three All-Ireland champions, Tipperary 2001, Cork 2005 and Tipperary 2010 have been dethroned. This was a fourth. You suspect Cody gets as much satisfaction from that as anything else.
Almost every time a team has come up with something new and threatened to take over, (Cork 2004-'05), Tipperary (2010), Clare (2013) and now Limerick (2018), Kilkenny have responded. Galway (2017) are the outliers but still, it's the mark of the county and especially their manager that they can keep propagating as they do.
Cody will still be well aware that they could finish the season empty-handed but over their last two weekends in Croke Park he has at least delivered good on his promise after the All-Ireland final defeat in 2016 that they had players coming.
Maybe he had Adrian Mullen in mind that morning in the CityWest Hotel. Mullen wasn't even born when Cody took the reins in Kilkenny but on Saturday he franked his class with four points and a leadership role that belied his 20 years, stripping away the perception that the production line of talent in the county has run dry. Mullen is a potential 'great' in the making.
They got return from other new sources too. Full-back Huw Lawlor struggled on Aaron Gillane early on, conceding a penalty and a couple of frees, but had a storming last quarter, while Conor Browne and John Donnelly quietly chipped away in that manic middle third.
But it was the old guard that really did the heavy lifting. Walter Walsh started well with two points, Pádraig Walsh was superb in a sweeping role, Colin Fennelly lifted 1-3 and TJ Reid was the epitome of the Kilkenny message, at the centre of everything.
He didn't score from play but almost everything else he touched turned to gold. His frees were largely immaculate, but his work under the Kilkenny puck-outs sets him apart.
For Limerick, there'll be the irritation that they left so many scores behind them, having started so slowly. It's one thing to know what Kilkenny are going to bring to battle in this situation but sometimes you just have to 'live' it.
When Donnelly went crashing into William O'Donoghue early after just three minutes, it was the preface for what was to come. They were hunted at every turn. Limerick 'lived' it though and, to their credit, adjusted, getting back in the second quarter when they finally got fluency to their play.
But by then the damage was done. Kilkenny got such profit from Eoin Murphy's puck-outs and when Colin Fennelly got on to one in the 14th minute his power took him by Seán Finn and his batted goal, by now a trademark, opened an eight-point lead.
Four minutes later, Reid may well have had a second when he fielded a Murphy puck-out and took off with the intent of a goal. But this time Finn took him down, took the card and the subsequent free was a let-off.
By the break Limerick had steadied (1-12 to 1-9 behind), getting the benefit of a penalty which Gillane converted after Lawlor was adjudged to have fouled him, a good call by the ref but so often a foul in that area is overlooked.
But they had been forced to drop Kyle Hayes back to half-back to shore up as Declan Hannon, withdrawn at half-time, struggled with a suspected cracked rib after an early blow. Hayes was a peripheral figure by comparison to his wrecking ball influence against Tipperary. In fact, their much-vaunted half-forward line contributed just one point by comparison to 10 in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final.
Limerick again got great impact off their bench. Shane Dowling batted a goal while another replacement David Reidy drew a great save from Murphy.
Who knows where Darragh O'Donovan's sideline might have ended but for a deflection off Cillian Buckley for a '65 that wasn't and an equalising opportunity at the very end denied. They had every chance to go further but ultimately, that last bend just did them.