Sunday 21 January 2018

Kilkenny survive late Limerick onslaught to maintain unbeaten streak in the qualifiers


Liam Blanchfield of Kilkenny in action against Michael Casey of Limerick during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Kilkenny and Limerick at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Liam Blanchfield of Kilkenny in action against Michael Casey of Limerick during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Kilkenny and Limerick at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

VINCENT HOGAN in Nowlan Park

Kilkenny survived a searching examination of their Championship appetite in Nowlan Park tonight, edging out a fired-up Limerick to go into Monday's round two All-Ireland qualifier draw.

A rip-roaring contest went right down to the wire with Shane Dowling dropping a 75th minute free into the Kilkenny square, Limerick desperately chasing the goal that might have brought this contest to extra-time. It wasn't to be, however, Padraig Walsh emerging from a ruck of players with the sliotar just as referee, Brian Gavin, blew time.

It was tough for Limerick in a frenzied but largely poor quality contest in which Kilkenny, remarkably, spilled a total of seventeen wides.

That said, they are now just one victory away from the All-Ireland quarter-finals and, with neither TJ Reid nor Richie Hogan yet firing on all cylinders, Brian Cody will be hopeful that they may yet be a big player in the race for Liam MacCarthy.

It was a slow-burn game, neither side able to take any compelling initiative. Limerick despatched Dan Morrissey and Seamus Hickey to shadow Kilkenny's danger-men, Hogan and Reid respectively, and - to begin with at least - they seemed well up to the task.

Certainly any notions of a quickfire Kilkenny start dissipated quickly, the Cats struggling to get any purchase out of a Limerick half-back line in which Declan Hannon was a commanding presence.

The sides were level at 0-4 apiece after 20 minutes, a situation that had to be hugely encouraging to Limerick manager John Kiely. But his side was accumulating an alarming number of wides (they would have thirteen by the midpoint) with only Kyle Hayes and Gearoid Hegarty looking truly menacing in attack.

Much to the delight of locals in a 15,605 attendance, Walter Walsh then came storming into the game, drilling over three points from play between the 27th and 34th minutes. His middle score was a magnificent effort, out-muscling Hannon under a puckout on the right-wing before firing high and confidently over the town-end goal.

It seemed then that Kilkenny might be ready to push on, but they were unable to manufacture a genuine goal chance in the half, the only threat to Nicky Quaid's net coming when Michael Fennelly was put through on goal by Reid only to be crowded out and forced into an unconvincing, spooned effort the goalkeeper dealt with comfortably.

It meant that Kilkenny's half-time lead was a threadbare 0-10 to 0-8 against opponents whose shooting had, largely, let them off the hook.

They would have been particularly worried by Hogan's struggles to escape Morrisey's suffocating attention, the Danesfort man drawing a blank in a half during which Kilkenny themselves had spilled a thoroughly unflattering ten wides.

Limerick really stormed into things after the resumption with Dowling and Peter Casey especially causing Kilkenny major problems, yet Michael Fennelly was having a fine game on his return to midfield with Cillian Buckley also excellent at centre-back.

Dowling's only point from play brought Limerick to just 0-13 to 0-14 adrift with just under 20 minutes remaining but, critically, Kilkenny struck the next three scores through substitutes Kevin Kelly, Lester Ryan and a fourth from play for Walter Walsh.

With neither side threatening a goal, Kilkenny simply had to see things out during a pulsating finish in which terrific defensive work from Lester Ryan and Paul Murphy particularly managed to frustrate the Munster men. In the end, Limerick needed someone to get a touch on Dowling's late free but Kilkenny held firm and will now be the draw that nobody wants on Monday.

SCORERS: Kilkenny - TJ Reid 0-8 (0-6 frees), W Walsh 0-4, P Deegan 0-3, K Kelly and L Ryan 0-2 each, C Bolger 0-1.

Limerick - S Dowling 0-8 (0-7 frees), P Casey 0-3, G Hegarty and K Hayes 0-2 each, P Ryan and B Nash 0-1 each.

KILKENNY: E Murphy, P Murphy, P Walsh, J Holden, C Fogarty, C Buckley, J Lyng, M Fennelly, P Deegan, C Bolger, W Walsh, TJ Reid, R Hogan, C Fennelly, G Aylward. Subs K Kelly for Aylward (44 mins), L Blanchfield for Hogan (52 mins), L Ryan for Deegan (55 mins), M Bergin for Bolger (64 mins).

LIMERICK: N Quaid, S Finn, R McCarthy, M Casey, D Morrissey, D Hannon, S Hickey, D O'Donovan, P Browne, D Dempsey, C Lynch, G Hegarty, P Casey, S Dowling, K Hayes. Subs B Nash for Hegarty (46 mins), J Ryan for O'Donovan (50 mins), T Morrissey for Dempsey (54 mins), P Ryan for Browne (59 mins), G Mulcahy for Lynch (68 mins).

Referee - B Gavin (Offaly).

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