Friday 15 December 2017

Horgan pulls Rebel strings as Cats finally run out of lives

Cork 0-19 Kilkenny 0-14

Henry Shefflin tackles Jamie Coughlan, Cork in the incident which led to the Kilkenny star being sent off
Brian Cody walks towards the door of the defeated dressing-room
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

THE bleeding started early for Kilkenny in Thurles when Eoin Larkin drove a scoreable free wide and it continued all the way through a remarkable afternoon which may yet come to be regarded as the end of an era.

But even as their championship life blood drained away from them, Kilkenny battled on with characteristic defiance, stretching every sinew in an effort to summon something special to rescue them from the ever-worsening situation.

This time, there was no reprieve as Cork grew with the demands of the day to construct a win that was based on building their game plan around the traditional principle of doing the simple things well and allowing everything else to flow from that.

Their work ethic never faltered and with so much pace and accuracy in their ranks, they presented Kilkenny with a challenge that in ordinary circumstances would have been mighty tough but which moved to a new level of difficulty when Henry Shefflin was sent off by Barry Kelly for a high challenge on Jamie Coughlan just before half-time.


Shefflin had been booked – rather harshly it must be said – in the 11th minute and when he carelessly tackled Coughlan he was leaving himself open to the red-card sanction which Kelly delivered.

The second card may have been merited but Shefflin, scarcely one of hurling's great sinners throughout his 14-year senior career, can feel aggrieved over the first card.

While Shefflin's dismissal tipped the scales very firmly in Cork's favour, they had already nudged that way in a first half where Kilkenny were infected by a very rare disease. With no fewer than four specialist free-takers, they appeared spoilt for choice, but it turned into one of those horrible days that will haunt their dead-ball snipers for a long time.

Larkin and Richie Power missed two each while Shefflin was also off target, misses which were made all the more significant by the consistent accuracy of Cork captain Patrick Horgan.

He landed eight points in the first half to help Cork into a 0-11 to 0-6 interval lead. It would have been a sizeable advantage in any circumstances but with a numerical advantage as an extra plus for the second half, Cork were primed for their first championship win over Kilkenny since the 2004 All-Ireland final.

Cork had laboured with 14 men for the second half of the Munster final so they would have known exactly how Kilkenny were feeling as they resumed action, with Lester Ryan having replaced Cillian Buckley as Brian Cody began repair work. And when Larkin was fouled by Shane O'Neill in the square shortly after the restart, it looked as if Kilkenny might get the goal they so badly needed to kickstart a revival.

Power fired to the net but the penalty had to be retaken due to encroachment in the goal area. The retake and rebound were blocked and while Power scooped the ball over the bar, Cork had escaped without conceding a goal. O'Neill was booked for the initial foul but it probably should have been his second yellow as he was lucky to escape sanction in the first half.

The penalty save was a significant moment and while Kilkenny later cut the deficit to three points, it was as close as they got. Cork struck five unanswered points between the 46th and 60th minutes to move eight points ahead and were already looking forward to a place in the semi-final for a second successive year.

For Kilkenny, it was a case of a bridge too far on a journey that has taken them to places they've never previously been. With the exception of the first 10 minutes of the second half, when they out-scored Cork by 0-3 to 0-1, they hurled with little of the fluency that has long been their hallmark.


The attack found it very hard to make progress against a tigerish Cork defence which filled the channels very well and were almost always first to the breaks. Daniel Kearney hurled well at midfield, while the attack was sharp and inventive on the wide expanse of Semple Stadium.

Horgan would have been in the stands except for the successful defence of his case for wrongful dismissal in the Munster final, a decision which had a big bearing on yesterday's game, where his accuracy from frees and general play yielded more than half his side's scores.

However, Shefflin's dismissal provided the real talking point. He was finding it difficult to force his way into the game but, given his remarkable performances over the years, there would have been an assumption among Kilkenny supporters that the best was still to come in the second half.

Instead, he was sitting in the dug-out while Kilkenny's undermanned attack struggled to unlock a Cork defence which, apart from the penalty incident, provided Anthony Nash with high-security protection.

Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy was even less troubled but with Cork picking off points from all angles and distances, they had match-winning capacity well out the field. Once again, Cork failed to score a goal but with their point-scoring equipment in such fine working order, they had an alternative means of winning the game.

As for Kilkenny, the handicap of playing with 14 men for so long was always going to leave them seriously vulnerable. And yet when they assess the game in its entirety, the missed opportunities from placed balls in the first half will be hard to ignore.

Had they scored all five – a yield which would usually be within their scope – they would have been level at half-time, rather than dealing with a five-point deficit and the question of how to improvise with a five-man forward line for the second half.

The missed chances were debilitating enough without having to cope with the loss of their spiritual leader in what was his first start this season.

Still, Kilkenny were the first to admit that Cork were the superior force on the day, using intelligent variations while underpinning their entire effort with a relentless determination.

Ultimately, it provided the winning formula on an afternoon when Kilkenny lost an All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time in their history.

SCORERS – Cork: P Horgan 0-11 (8fs), C Lehane, P Cronin 0-2 each, L O'Farrell, S Harnedy, J Coughlan, S Moylan 0-1 each.

Kilkenny: E Larkin 0-6 (3fs, 1'65'), R Power (1f), M Fennelly 0-2 each, P Murphy, T Walsh, A Fogarty, W Walsh 0-1 each.

Cork – A Nash 8; S McDonnell 7, S O'Neill 7, C O'Sullivan 7; T Kenny 8, C Joyce 7, W Egan 8; L McLoughlin 7, D Kearney 8; S Harnedy 7, J Coughlan 7, P Cronin 8; L O'Farrell 7, P Horgan 9, C Lehane 7. Subs: S Moylan 7 for McLoughlin (55), C Naughton for Coughlan (71).

Kilkenny – E Murphy 6; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 7, J Tyrrell 7; T Walsh 7, B Hogan 6, K Joyce 7; M Fennelly 6, E Larkin 6; C Buckley 5, R Power 6, H Shefflin 5; W Walsh 5, R Hogan 5, C Fennelly 6. Subs: L Ryan 5 for Buckley (h-t), A Fogarty 7 for Power (57), TJ Reid for R Hogan (63).

Ref – B Kelly (Westmeath).

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