Overview of Cork-Kilkenny, Cork Kildare, August 11 2008

August 13, 2008

SOME weekend to be a citizen of the People’s Republic, even if most of the Cork people heading east yesterday didn’t have the Bird’s Nest in Beijing in mind. Croke Park wasn’t offering ceremony or choreography so much as conflict and collision, though given the apocalyptic darkness of Dublin on Saturday, a flaming torch wouldn’t have been a bad accessory.

The 71,235 spectators saw Cork take one victory south, a narrower-than-necessary three-point win (2-11 to 1-11) over Kildare in the football quarter-final. In the hurling semi-final Kilkenny put on an awesome display of power and precision to smother the men in red by nine points, 1-23 to 0-17. The Leesiders have been doing a Lazarus act in the last few weeks, but this was one rock they couldn’t roll away from the tomb.

Anyone trying to trace rust on the Kilkenny edges had some evidence early on: three wides in the first seven minutes isn’t what you expect from black and amber marksmen. Cork showed the benefit of those recent championship outings, meeting Kilkenny head-on in contact, and the All-Ireland champions had to rely — not for the first time — on Henry Shefflin to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

We mentioned rocks earlier. Diarmuid O’Sullivan began well and thrived, setting up a Jerry O’Connor point on 20 minutes. When Tom Kenny added another, Cork had a point to spare. Then Kilkenny did what Kilkenny do so well: they got a sniff of blood and opened the arteries.

A sequence of points ended with Eoin Larkin finding open country through the middle of the Cork defence on 23 minutes.

“I suppose a goal is a killer thing at that point of the game,” said Larkin after the game. “When I got it, things opened up for me — we had a two-on-one and I said I’d have a go.”

No sooner said than scored. Larkin tucked his shot into the corner and Cork would have been forgiven for trying to divert the floodwaters recently afflicting the capital to try and slow Kilkenny, but that would hardly have stopped them. Given Henry Shefflin’s form, he’d probably be able to part the waters and lead his team to the
Promised Land anyway.

Kilkenny tattooed 1-7 into Cork during that run of scores, and the men in red were eight behind at the break: it was the same
margin at half-time against Clare in the quarter-final, but there the resemblance ends. When an assassin has you by the windpipe he’s not inclined to offer an oxygen mask, and Kilkenny weren’t likely to facilitate the
resurrection men from the deep south.

Cork died hard — they put together a five-point scoring burst after the break themselves — the goal they needed wouldn’t come. Pa Cronin sniffed an opening on 47 minutes but JJ Delaney, that vanquisher of reputations, came between him and glory.

Afterwards Brian Cody spoke as plainly as ever: “All we could do is prepare and play the game. There were questions asked of us in the first 20 minutes of each half, when Cork were serious, but we weathered the storm and finished both halves strongly.”

For his part, Cork boss Gerald McCarthy had no complaints.

“We have to admire Kilkenny, we gave a marvellous performance up to the 23rd minute but we seemed to take our foot off the pedal a little bit and you can’t do that against Kilkenny, they rapped out an eight-point lead very quickly.

“Against a team like them, that’ll prove impossible to recover.”

In the All-Ireland SFC quarter final which opened the day’s proceedings, at least we weren’t waiting 25 minutes for a score, as happened in Kildare-Fermanagh, or the Amityville Horror as it’s now referred to.

Cork showed more spark than Kildare early on, and a clever finish by John Hayes, followed by Michael Cussen’s flick home, gave them a two-goal cushion they surfed, or at least sat comfortably upon, for much of the game.

In fairness to Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney, he didn’t dawdle, making four substitutions before the break, but his players looked off the pace, and the game was on schedule for a long, slow-puncture of an end game.

Then Cork made a few substitutions themselves, giving the likes of Fintan Goold and Michael Shields game time, and maybe that disruption to the personnel didn’t help their rhythm. They conceded two penalties, and though Alan Quirke saved one, when John Doyle buried the second there were only three points in it.

Conor Counihan won’t have enjoyed the end game, which involved Kildare knocking three times on the door for an equaliser that would have wiped the slow bicycle race against Fermanagh from the memory forever. The Cork boss now faces a reunion with Kerry and Pat O’Shea.

It is permissible to rub your hands at the prospect.

And at the prospect of next weekend. Kilkenny looked unstoppable yesterday. Waterford and Tipperary will have a few opinions on that matter, though next Sunday’s winners face a huge task against a driven team. Another driven team may have spent its last desperate hour together in Croke Park yesterday, with speculation already rife about possible retirements in the Cork camp.

Retirement from playing, that is. A good many of them cemented their standing as legends a long time ago.

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