Rebels left reeling after being outclassed by Kilkenny
Kilkenny 1-22 Cork 2-17
Victory for Kilkenny in Páirc Uí Rinn, but what had appeared at one stage to be a procession was reduced to a crawl over the line in front of 8,773.
For much of the contest, the Cats had shown that the notion of weakened sides is all relative. Brian Cody didn't have any of the starting forwards from last September's All-Ireland final replay win over Tipperary available to him, but the Cats were still superior to their hosts as they established an eight-point lead by the 54th minute.
Cork, outclassed in the second half up until then, discovered some momentum again, aided by Luke O'Farrell's goal but, again, Kilkenny pulled clear and a 1-22 to 1-17 lead as injury time dawned looked to have them safe.
The hosts struck for another goal, Conor Lehane poking home the rebound after goalkeeper Eoin Murphy couldn't claim a delivery by Cork's Cormac Murphy and, with time still left, the home support believed that they could snatch victory.
They had a chance to as well, as O'Farrell claimed possession but, while his shot was close enough to fool some into thinking he had scored the winner, the ball was just the wrong side of the post.
There was much for Kilkenny to be encouraged by. Hurler of the year Richie Hogan lined out at corner-forward and finished with 11 points to his name, while Walter Walsh, the star man in the 2012 final replay against Galway, served notice that he isn't content to be a forgotten man as he produced a second-half tour de force. It looked to have killed off Cork, who were left bemused.
Five minutes before half-time, the Rebels were level, having outscored Kilkenny by 0-5 to 0-2 in the previous six minutes. Even at the start of the second half, Séamus Harnedy pointed in response to Kieran Joyce's opener for Kilkenny and just two separated the sides again. From there, though, Kilkenny reeled off five points in a row to create breathing space.
The first half was an even affair overall, hinging on Jonjo Farrell's ninth-minute goal for Kilkenny. Cork had led by 0-3 to 0-2 at that stage, but from there Kilkenny wouldn't trail again. When Walter Walsh's shot was saved by Anthony Nash, the Cork defence couldn't react in time to clear the loose ball and Farrell slid in to escort the ball over the line.
Hogan and Patrick Horgan exchanged frees in the aftermath of that, before Kilkenny were given an opportunity to establish even more of a lead, Farrell dragged down in the large rectangle by full-back Christopher Joyce.
Nash saw Hogan's shot all the way, saving at the expense of a 65, which Hogan converted. Cork, with Patrick Cronin doing well at midfield, found some momentum again however, and Bill Cooper and Horgan had the sides level, 0-11 to 18, on 30.
Hogan (two) and Mark Kelly, who impressed throughout, all had points for Kilkenny before half-time, with Daniel Kearney getting Cork's only response, and two points separated the sides as they retired.
When that lead swelled to eight, the outcome looked done and dusted. Patrick Horgan frees kept Cork in touch though and then O'Farrell got his stick to the first of Cormac Murphy's assists to reignite hope. Kilkenny prevailed, though.
Scorers - Kilkenny: R Hogan 0-11 (0-7f, 0-1 65), M Kelly 0-4, W Walsh 0-3, J Farrell 1-0, P Walsh, M Ruth, K Joyce, L Ryan 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (0-8f), C Lehane 1-2, L O'Farrell 1-0, A Cadogan 0-2, S Harnedy, D Kearney, B Cooper, P O'Sullivan 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; T Keogh, P Murphy, J Tyrrell; B Kennedy, K Joyce, C Buckley; C Fogarty, L Ryan; P Walsh, W Walsh, M Ruth; M Kelly, J Farrell, R Hogan. Subs: G Brennan for Fogarty (19, injured),
Cork: A Nash; D Cahalane, C Joyce, C O'Sullivan; A Walsh, M Ellis, C Murphy; D Kearney, P Cronin; S Harnedy, B Cooper, C Lehane; A Cadogan, P O'Sullivan, P Cronin. Subs: L McLoughlin for Cronin (45), L O'Farrell for P O'Sullivan, C McCarthy for Cooper (both 49), S O'Neill for Cahalane (57), S Moylan for Cadogan (65).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).
Sunday Indo Sport