Saturday 17 February 2018

John Meyler gets Rebel regime off to flier with dramatic win over Kilkenny

Cork 1-24 Kilkenny 0-24

James Maher of Kilkenny in action against Luke Meade, left, and Shane Kingston of Cork
James Maher of Kilkenny in action against Luke Meade, left, and Shane Kingston of Cork

Dermot Crowe

Cork hurling manager John Meyler got his new regime off to a perfect start with an opening National League win at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, a first over Kilkenny in the competition since 2012.

They sealed it in injury-time, finally shaking off a stubborn Kilkenny challenge. A free-scoring affair, maybe too free-scoring from a manager’s point of view, that was level 13 times, went to the wire before Cork made the decisive dart in the eight minutes added for an lengthy stoppage while Cillian Buckley was being treated.

Kilkenny were coming off defeat to Wexford in last weekend’s Walsh Cup final and again showed plenty spirit but were missing a number of key players, including Richie Hogan, the retired Michael Fennelly, and Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly who are abroad for the entire league on army duty.

TJ Reid came on in the second half but they look like they will struggle in this campaign.

Cork rested Anthony Nash after their first-choice goalkeeper helped Kanturk reach the All-Ireland intermediate club final earlier in the day.

Patrick Collins, offering rare variety in a position which tends to remain in one man’s hands for a long period of time, did his reputation no harm with a steady performance and one excellent reaction save in the first half from Conor Martin although play was called back for a free under the advantage rule.

In one of the scores of the game, his puckout in the 16th minutes was fielded by the roaming Seamus Harnedy who fired over a brilliant score.

Kilkenny’s only change from the advertised team had James Maher coming in for Ollie Walsh. Maher had seen some action in the Walsh Cup final, a match demonstrated some of the classic Kilkenny virtues from Brian Cody’s long time in charge during which there has been 11 changes in Cork’s senior hurling management.

Cork were his first All-Ireland final opponents and a constant thread in the earlier years before Tipperary replaced them as Kilkenny’s chief rival.

While Cody remains on board, Cork have turned to Meyler, after Kieran Kingston surprisingly stood down after just one year in which he led the county to a Munster title. Cork, who used weaker teams in the Munster League, started with burning pace and Kilkenny looked nervous.

The impressive Robbie O’Flynn raced through for a score after only 15 seconds and his provider, Darragh Fitzgibbon, was also creator when Cork goaded after two minutes. The midfielder laid the pass after cutting through the middle and Shane Kingston nailed it at his second attempt, with a ground stroke.

But Kilkenny soon settled. Pat Lyng landed a point and then Cillian Buckley had two in a minute before Richie Reid tied the teams in the eight minutes. Kilkenny led 0-15 to 1-11 at the interval, high scoring for late January, but the teams were level nine times in the first half.

The weather conditions were exceptionally mild for this time of year and the stadium and atmosphere didn’t disappoint. But down on the pitch the sod was loose and made lifting hazardous.

Eoin Murphy hit two long range frees for Kilkenny in the first half which nosed them in front for the first time but the game was swinging side to side, each team having good spells, neither capable of opening a gap of more than two points.

Mark Ellis hit a huge score and Colm Spillane had one for himself in a rare exception up the field while Seamus Harnedy kept the Kilkenny defence busy, winning frees and having one point himself.

He might have had a goal but for the brilliance of Murphy in the Kilkenny goal denying him after 28 minutes when Cork trailed 1-8 to 0-12. Six minutes earlier he pulled off an even more spectacular stop from a goal attempt by Alan Cadogan, picked out by a terrific O’Flynn pass.

The see-saw pattern continued into the second half. Richie Reid picked off his third point of the day to extent the Kilkenny lead, the cue for Cork to respond with scores from Luke Meade, a beauty, and Harnedy.

Lehane edged Cork in front and Kilkenny brought on Reid who levelled the match with his first strike, a free 15 minutes after the interval. Points from Daniel Kearney, Lehane and Fitzgibbon opened some daylight between them, leaving Cork 1-19 to 0-19 ahead with 15 minutes left.

But Kilkenny wouldn’t sit. Buckley hit his third point for the match, before going off injured, and Padraig Walsh inspired his side with a brilliant score after running half the field from his full back position. TJ Reid landed a free and in the 64th minute they were level for the 13th time when Walter Walsh pointed from out on the sideline, 1-19 to 0-22. 

From there it was anyone’s guess as eight minutes were tagged on for the time treating to Buckley’s injury. Lehane had his 10th point, from a free, to put Cork back in front, entering injury-time and sub Jack O’Connor flashed over another. A third from Kingston widened the gap to three again.

TJ Reid and Conor Fogarty had Kilkenny points in response but Harnedy closed the scoring in the final minute.  

Scorers: Cork - C Lehane 0-11 (0-9 fs), S Kingston 1-1, S Harnedy 0-3, R O’Flynn0-2, M Ellis, A Cadogan, C Spillane, L Meade, D Kearney, D Fitzgibbon, J O’Connor 0-1. Kilkenny - A Murphy 0-5 (0-3 fs), R Reid 0-3, C Buckley 0-3, E Murphy 0-2 (both fs), TJ Reid 0-3 (0-3 fs), W Walsh 0-2, P Lyng, J Maher, M Keoghan, C Martin, P Walsh, C Fogarty 0-1.

Cork: P Collins; S O’Donoghue, E Cadogan, C Spillane; C Joyce, T O’Mahony, M Ellis; D Fitzgibbon, D Kearney; R O’Flynn, C Lehane, B Lawton;  Cadogan,S Harnedy, S Kingston.

Subs: L Meade for Lawton (27 mins); M Cahalane fro O’Flynn (56); J O’Connor for A Cadogan (61).

Kilkenny: E Murphy; J Holden, P Walsh, P Deegan; C O’Shea, J Lyng, C Buckley; C Fogarty, J Maher; M Keoghan, R Reid, P Lyng; A Murphy, W Walsh, C Martin.

Subs: TJ Reid for Keoghan and J Donnelly for Martin (both 43 mins); L Blanchfield for A Murphy (48); R Leahy for Maher (56); E Morrissey for Buckley (inj 65).

Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).

Attendance: 16,189

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