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Hogan's heroics force Rebels to submit

Out of the gloaming then stirred a humdinger in Nowlan Park.

We could make little sense of it in the press eyrie, so swept over to the dressing-rooms for illumination.

Denis Walsh was first in from the rain, dismissing the puzzlement of strangers. What had he learnt from a schizophrenic battle?

"What I learnt is that we'll be in contention in 2011," said the Cork manager.

Every day has a context and this one didn't need the oxygen of spin. Cork's last league game here in '09 unzipped a 27-point trouncing. "To really bury us meant a lot to them," wrote Donal Og Cusack of Kilkenny afterwards.

Last August, the teams met in an All-Ireland semi-final and the margin was down to 12. A small mercy for Cork, but nothing to shorten a winter.

Yesterday? It took them 38 minutes to summon their first score from play, Kilkenny leading 0-10 to 0-2 at half-time in what looked a complacent march to the league points. "It's a wonder they're not wearing coats," one wag observed of the Cork forwards, such was the colossal indifference exhibited for anything resembling awkward ball.

Yet, staring down the barrel of another humiliation, Cork somehow found a little salt in their personalities.

They would out-score Kilkenny 1-8 to 0-4 through the remainder and, but for the unyielding brilliance of Richie Hogan, would almost certainly have pulled off an incredible escape.

But Hogan was mesmeric from start to finish and, with just seconds of normal time remaining, fired over a score as good as any the old venue has ever borne witness to.

Pat Horgan had just fired home a Cork penalty to level the game when, from the puck-out, Hogan collected, soloed left into space and -- with the angle narrowing to penal arithmetic -- fired a spectacular point over his shoulder.

Horgan soon levelled again with a free before Hogan -- the smallest man on the field perhaps, but the most dependable target for puck-outs -- collected again, only to be fouled this time by William Egan.

A mild scuffle was fizzling maybe 10 yards behind him as the Danesfort man went through the formalities. In fact, he already had his right arm raised as the 60-yard free sailed over Martin Coleman's crossbar, triggering raucous celebrations in the 5,471 attendance.

"Great game, great contest," smiled a typically impassive Brian Cody later. "Richie was strong for us all day."

So the forensic?

Well, Cork did perform emergency surgery. Jerry O'Connor had been introduced for a struggling Graham Callinan on the half-hour and neither Michael Cussen nor Pa Cronin returned for the second period, their places taken by Tom Kenny and Cian McCarthy.

The changes brought an edge to their attack that had, palpably, been absent in the opening half. Jackie Tyrrell was lording it at centre-back for Kilkenny and Cork's preference for a short puck-out seemed ill-advised in the conditions, particularly as the recipient invariably then dropped his delivery down Tyrrell's throat.

Throughout the field, there were little bushfires of trouble. One erupted on 19 minutes when the Cork backs reacted furiously to what they considered an intemperate pull by Hogan. Referee James Owens -- who had already awarded the free to Cork -- rounded up the culprits and issued three yellow cards. Two to Cork (John Gardiner and Eoin Cadogan), one to Hogan.

The Rebels were being out-hurled and, patently, outsmarted.

Walsh, mind, wasn't looking at it in such primary colours. "Early on, I don't know what it looked like," he told us.

"I actually thought we played well enough in the first half. We kept the game tight. We probably mis-placed four or five passes and they got four or five scores off them. The scoreboard maybe gave a slightly distorted picture at half-time.

"I thought maybe we had just a couple of lads off colour, who weren't up to the intensity of it. On another day, that'll come for them. But Kilkenny just executed everything.

"Every encouragement we gave them, they punished us. The question then was could we work our way into the second half. And we did."

The turnaround, to begin with, came slowly and incrementally. O'Connor's introduction clearly energised his twin brother and the two combined smartly for the first score of the second half.

But when Hogan then had time to drop the sliotar, double back, retrieve it and score almost casually in the 41st minute, Kilkenny were 0-11 to 0-3 ahead and in little apparent danger.

They would only score once more, though, between that and Hogan's wonder 69th-minute score, by which time the game was hissing like a kettle neglected on a stove.

Cork's points came largely from Horgan frees, whilst Kilkenny began running into little squalls of misfortune. Tyrrell had to go off with a hamstring pull and, with eight minutes of normal time remaining, JJ Delaney's foul on Paudie O'Sullivan drew his second yellow.

Niall McCarthy soon scored his second point of the day from the left wing and, when 'Cha' Fitzpatrick then brought down O'Sullivan in the 'square', Owens considered his options before signalling the penalty. Horgan blazed it to the net and, inexplicably, the sides were level.

Thereafter, it fell to Hogan to give the game his personal copyright, albeit the puck-out for his winning point came after McCarthy spilled a scoring opportunity for Cork.

"Maybe we should have got something out of the game, but we didn't. And we'll have to live with that," said Walsh after.

Had the comeback reflected something important psychologically for his team?

"Hard to know," he sighed. "This time last year, we beat them in the league. What can you read into it? But, from the point of view of morale, the manner in which we dug in was more pleasing than anything."

For Cody (left), the texture of Kilkenny's opening victories over Tipperary and, now, Cork has pretty much ran to order.

Given the absentees, he is playing this league with one hand virtually behind his back. Yet, he keeps getting encouragement from all generations.

Michael Kavanagh hurled well and without fuss in this, his 21st campaign in a Kilkenny shirt. Conor Fogarty was equally impressive in the other corner, while PJ Delaney had a storming outing at left-half back.

"'Twas a great contest out there" said Cody. "Cork really came at us. The better they got, the more difficult we found it I suppose. A tough-earned win."

The valuable ones usually are.

Man of the Match -- Richie Hogan (Kilkenny)

SCORERS -- Kilkenny: R Hogan 0-10 (5f, 1 '65), M Fennelly, J Mulhall, M Rice and E Brennan 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 1-6 (6f, 1-0 penalty), N McCarthy 0-2, B O'Connor and C McCarthy 0-1 each.

KILKENNY -- D Herity 8; C Fogarty 7, JJ Delaney 6, M Kavanagh 7; T Walsh 7, J Tyrrell 8, PJ Delaney 7; P Hartley 6, M Fennelly 7; J Mulhall 7, M Rice 7, A Fogarty 6; C Fennelly 6, E Brennan 7, R Hogan 9. Subs: TJ Reid 6 for C Fennelly (53 mins), P Hogan for Tyrrell (58), 'Cha' Fitzpatrick for Hartley (61).

CORK -- M Coleman 8; S Murphy 5, E Cadogan 6, S McDonnell 7; J Gardiner 8, W Egan 8, R Curran 6; G Callinan 5, B Murphy 6; B O'Connor 7, N McCarthy 7, P Cronin 5; P Horgan 6, P O'Sullivan 6, M Cussen 5. Subs: J O'Connor 7 for Callinan (30), C McCarthy 6 for Cronin (h-t), T Kenny 7 for Cussen (h-t), C O'Sullivan 7 for S Murphy (43), C Naughton for Curran (56).

Ref -- J Owens (Wexford).

Irish Independent