Thursday 19 September 2019

Kilkenny can claw back into contention

There was a time when the circumstances behind tomorrow’s clash would have left Cork and Kilkenny hurling people deeply uncomfortable, but all has changed in the modern day championship where, in certain circumstances, it’s possible to lose three games and remain in contention for the All-Ireland title. (stock photo)
There was a time when the circumstances behind tomorrow’s clash would have left Cork and Kilkenny hurling people deeply uncomfortable, but all has changed in the modern day championship where, in certain circumstances, it’s possible to lose three games and remain in contention for the All-Ireland title. (stock photo)
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

There was a time when the circumstances behind tomorrow's clash would have left Cork and Kilkenny hurling people deeply uncomfortable, but all has changed in the modern-day championship where, in certain circumstances, it's possible to lose three games and remain in contention for the All-Ireland title.

Neither Cork nor Kilkenny are quite in that category, but both have lost twice in the provincial championships and still find themselves cantering along in the All-Ireland race.

So how are they to be assessed? Are Cork to be judged on the first and last round Munster round-robin defeats by Tipperary and Clare or by the wins over Waterford and Limerick?

Which presented the more accurate report on Kilkenny's well-being, the wins over Dublin and Carlow, the draw against Wexford or the defeats against Galway and Wexford in the Leinster final? Cork's seven-point win over Limerick in a 'must-win' game was undoubtedly the pick of all those performances, a game when they drove their capabilities close to the maximum. It showed the heights they can reach on a good day, just as the disappointing outings against Tipp and Clare provided examples of how sloppy they can be at other times.

Two wins from five games - one against Carlow, who were only finding their feet at this level, one against Dublin, who lost to Laois last Sunday - raise questions about Kilkenny, which need to be answered comprehensively tomorrow if they are to take their case to the semi-final.

The hardest ones emerged from the Leinster final in a game where there was never more than two points between the sides until Liam Óg McGovern pushed it out to three in the 65th minute.

Tough, unrelenting, fiercely physical and close all the way, it was the sort of contest Cody's men won so often in the past, but this time they were 'out-Kilkennyed' on the run-in.

One of Kilkenny's difficulties has been the over-reliance on TJ Reid. Obviously his free-taking always ensures that he is their leading scorer by a distance, but he is also top sniper from play on 3-11.

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Patrick Horgan, Cork's chief marksman, gets far more consistent support in the scoring stakes from Seamus Harnedy, Alan Cadogan, Shane Kingston, Conor Lehane and Darragh Fitzgibbon.

Kilkenny start as outsiders tomorrow, a position they haven't experienced against Cork for a long time. Their rating may be predicated on the Leinster final defeat by Wexford, but it must be pointed out that they shot 12 wides to Wexford's three.

An improvement in their shooting could be enough to give them the edge, and leave Cork still without a win in Croke Park since the 2013 semi-final success over Dublin.

Verdict: Kilkenny

Irish Independent

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