Kilkenny are back in the All-Ireland SHC final following what can be only described as one of the greatest games of the modern era after they beat Limerick by 1-21 to 2-17 at Croke Park this evening.
The game was played at an intensity that has rarely been witnessed at the Jones Road venue. Right from the start, they hunted in packs and put Limerick on the back foot.
Limerick’s All-Ireland win last year was certainly not a fluke as they played their part in an incredible match, without hitting their best form.
For Kilkenny, they had massive performances from TJ Reid, Adrian Mullen, Colin Fennelly, Huw Lawlor and Padraig Walsh, while Aaron Gillane and Graeme Mulcahy were two of Limerick’s better performers.
Kilkenny got their tactics spot on in the opening half from Eoin Murphy’s puck outs right through the field as their half forwards worked tirelessly to win dirty ball, which they did excellently early on.
Even after the first quarter, the question had to be asked, could Kilkenny sustain this intensity for seventy minutes.
But they did, and pushed on in the second half, despite Limerick’s best efforts. When Shane Dowling goaled in the 63rd minute, it looked as if the Shannonsiders would finish the stronger, but try as they may, they were met by a wave of black of amber who looked to have 25 players on the field at times.
The Cats came out like a team possessed, led by their inspirational captain Reid who drilled over two frees in the opening two minutes.
Walter Walsh opened his account with a trademark over the shoulder score. The hits were going in hard and they were mostly coming from a determined looking Kilkenny side.
Limerick looked stunned, but one player who brought the game to them was Gillane who looked dangerous throughout and he popped over their opening score in the sixth minute.
Kilkenny's TJ Reid gathers possession ahead of Limerick's Peter Casey
Reid who had more possession than the entire Limerick team in the opening seven minutes then produced a moment of magic by cutting over a line ball from 40 metres.
Walter Walsh and Adrian Mullen added scores before Limerick were on the scoreboard again as Graeme Mulcahy pointed in the 12th minute, 0-06 to 0-02.
Kilkenny were growing in confidence as Limerick were like rabbits caught in the headlights. The superiority was confirmed when Padraig Walsh drove over from out the field.
However, there were glimpses that Limerick were begin to settle into the game, but they suffered a sucker punch when Colin Fennelly used his strength to win possession, turn and bat the ball to the net, just like he did against Cork in the quarterfinal.
Another Reid free made it 1-08 to 0-02 by the 17th minute and it looked as if the Leinster side would cruise home.
Not so, Gillane (free), Mulcahy and Peter Casey all pointed, before Reid stopped the rot with two trademark frees.
Gillane’s third point made it 1-10 to 0-06 by the 26th minute, but Limerick were winning more 50/50 battles at this stage.
Kilkenny were relying on Reid’s free for scores as he pointed his seventh free from the sideline. Another free by the Kilkenny captain was sandwiched between two points by Gillane, (from play and a free).
Tom Morrissey who hadn’t been in the game much swung over a point to make it 1-11 to 0-08. A Gillane free left five points between the teams as half time approached.
Then one of the big moments of the game occurred when Huw Lawlor was adjudged to have fouled Gillane in the small squad and referee Alan Kelly had no hesitation to point for a penalty, which Gillane gave Eoin Murphy no chance with.
Richie Hogan pointed in the 37th minutes which was the last score of the half as Kilkenny led by 1-12 to 1-09.
The start of the second half saw Fennelly point before Gillane (free) and Diarmuid Byrnes (free) had Limerick up and running.
Reid, who didn’t score from play, but put in a man of the match performance added another free before a Gillane double from placed balls left just one point 1-14 to 1-13 between the teams by the 44th minute.
The expected surge forward by Limerick never materialised as the impressive Mullen popped over another point.
The sides kept exchanging points as Gillane (free), John Donnelly, and Barry Nash all got on the scoresheet.
The minimum was still between the teams by the 50th minute, but Kilkenny hit another purple patch with a brace of points from both Fennelly and Mullen to see them go five points clear by the 60th minute.
Dowling was introduced then and just three minutes later he had the ball in the net after he raced through and batted to the net, giving Murphy no chance in the Kilkenny goal.
Another sub David Reidy had time and space to point and it looked as if Limerick were in the ascendency, but Mullen showed maturity beyond his years with his fifth point.
A Byrnes ’65 was the last score of the game, but Limerick had one last chance when yet another sub Darragh O’Donovan had a line ball, which went wide although there were genuine calls for a ’65 as the ball looked to have deflected off Cillian Buckley.
Nonetheless, Kilkenny were certainly worthy winners in what was one of the game’s classics.
Kilkenny - E Murphy; J Holden, H Lawlor, P Murphy; C Fogarty, P Walsh (0-1), P Deegan; C Browne, R Leahy; J Donnelly (0-1), TJ Reid (0-8, 7f, 1sl), W Walsh (0-2); A Mullen (0-4), C Fennelly (1-3), R Hogan (0-1). Subs: C Buckley for R Leahy, B Sheehan for R Hogan, B Ryan for J Donnelly, L Blanchfield for C Fennelly, C Delaney for J Holden, J Maher (0-1) for C Fogarty.
Limerick - N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, R English; D Byrnes (0-2, 1f, 1'65), D Hannon, D Morrissey; C Lynch, W O’Donoghue; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey (0-1); P Casey (0-1), A Gillane (1-9, 1-0pen, 0-6f), G Mulcahy (0-2). Subs: B Nash (0-1) for D Hannon, S Dowling (1-0) for G Hegarty, D O’Donovan for W O’Donoghue, D Reidy (0-1) for T Morrissey, P Ryan for P Casey.
Referee - A Kelly.Tweet