John Meyler heaps praise on young guns as Rebels finish with a flourish to gun down Cats
Allianz NHL Division 1A: Cork 1-24 Kilkenny 0-24
A first league win over Kilkenny since 2012 leaves Cork's new manager John Meyler in high spirits as he heads to his native Wexford for the second round on Sunday next.
But that journey comes with a warning. Last year's encouraging opening league win over Clare was quickly muted by an insipid performance against Dublin in Páirc Uí Rinn a week later.
This will do for now; there were positives aplenty. Cork showed little teeth in the recent Munster League while Kilkenny became embroiled in a punishing Walsh Cup final that than ran to extra-time on heavy ground.
Maybe that told in the decisive eight minutes of injury-time on Saturday night when Cork outscored them 0-5 to 0-2 after the sides had been level 13 times.
The long postscript followed treatment to the injured Cillian Buckley who was subsequently stretchered off, but not before he had scored three fine points from wing-back.
For most of the game there were no more than two points between them, but Cork found an extra gear once play resumed after Buckley's departure to finally melt Kilkenny's resistance.
Meyler had an unhappy time against Brian Cody's teams when managing Wexford in 2007 and '08, suffering three brutal championship beatings, so this will do his confidence no harm. "Any time you play Kilkenny, it's always going to be intense and competitive and that game certainly was competitive tonight," he said.
"I was delighted with the second-half performance. We upped it there, Conor (Lehane) got a few nice frees, Jack O'Connor came in, Tim O'Mahony played well at centre-back. They're all young fellas learning their trade but it's only a win, only two points."
Lehane, exemplary throughout, finished with 0-11, nine from placed balls, and Robbie O'Flynn on this evidence will torch a lot of backlines in what should be a long career ahead.
But Kilkenny at the moment are not the force they were. TJ Reid made his return as a second-half substitute and Liam Blanchfield was also introduced, but they remain without influential players like Paul Murphy, Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan.
They have turned to some of last year's U-21s and the team worked assiduously against Cork as it had done in the Walsh Cup final, despite suffering a poor start that saw them fall 1-1 down after only two minutes. They recovered well to lead at half time, 0-15 to 1-11.
The teams exchanged the lead at different points of the second half, before Kilkenny slipped three points down approaching the hour mark, and still found a way to claw their way back and pull level with six minutes left.
That run of three scores included a magical strike from Pádraig Walsh who raced up to the halfway line and sent over a booming point in the 58th minute, Kilkenny's 20th of the night.
TJ Reid landed a free and Walter Walsh hit a big score from out on the sideline to level the match at 0-22 to 1-19.
Buckley's injury stalled play for six minutes and when it resumed, Cork had more scoring power, making light of a poor surface which did none of the players any favours. Given the fine stadium around it, this fundamental flaw must be addressed as a matter or urgency.
O'Flynn had Cork on the board after 15 seconds with a point and Darragh Fitzgibbon's penetrating run set up Shane Kingston for the game's only goal after two minutes, Kingston netting at the second attempt with a ground stroke.
Kilkenny were reliant on Eoin Murphy to prevent Cork adding to their goal tally. O'Flynn, with a beautiful pass, picked out Alan Cadogan in the 20th minute and Cadogan's blistering strike was brilliantly diverted over the bar by the Kilkenny goalkeeper.
Eight minutes later he denied another attempt from Seamus Harnedy. In a fine evening's work, Murphy also delivered two points from long-range frees. Cork rested Anthony Nash, who helped Kanturk reach the All-Ireland intermediate club final earlier in the day, with Patrick Collins deputising impressively, making a smart save from Conor Martin in the first half.
In one of the highlights, a first-half puck out from Collins was snatched by Harnedy who, with marvellous economy, split the posts. There were long-range scores from Mark Ellis and Colm Spillane, while Richie Reid ended up with three to his credit. They were level nine times in the first half, before late scores from Reid and Murphy nosed Kilkenny 0-15 to 1-11 in front at the interval.
In the second half points from Daniel Kearney, Lehane and Fitzgibbon put some daylight between them, leaving Cork 1-19 to 0-19 ahead with 15 minutes left. But Kilkenny wouldn't sit. They face Clare in Nowlan Park on Sunday next in need of a tonic.
Scorers - Cork: C Lehane 0-11 (9fs), S Kingston 1-1, S Harnedy 0-3, R O'Flynn 0-2, M Ellis, A Cadogan, C Spillane, L Meade, D Kearney, D Fitzgibbon, J O'Connor 0-1. Kilkenny: A Murphy 0-5 (3fs); R Reid, C Buckley, TJ Reid (all fs) 0-3 each; E Murphy, (2f), W Walsh 0-2 each; P Lyng, J Maher, M Keoghan, C Martin, P Walsh, C Fogarty 0-1 each.
Cork - P Collins 8; S O'Donoghue 7, E Cadogan 7, C Spillane 7; C Joyce 7, T O'Mahony 7, M Ellis 7; D Fitzgibbon 8, D Kearney 7; R O'Flynn 8, C Lehane 9, B Lawton 6; Cadogan7, S Harnedy 8, S Kingston7 . Subs: L Meade 7 for Lawton (27); M Cahalane 7 for O'Flynn (56); J O'Connor 7 for A Cadogan (61).
Kilkenny - E Murphy 9; J Holden 7, P Walsh 8, P Deegan 7; C O'Shea 7, J Lyng 7 C Buckley 8; C Fogarty 7, J Maher 6; M Keoghan 6, R Reid 8, P Lyng 7; A Murphy 7, W Walsh 8, C Martin 7. Subs: TJ Reid 7 for Keoghan and J Donnelly 7 for Martin (both 43); L Blanchfield 6 for A Murphy (48); R Leahy 7 for Maher (56); E Morrissey 7 for Buckley (inj 65).
Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary)