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Shane Kingston whips home the goal against Kilkenny. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Shane Kingston whips home the goal against Kilkenny. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Cork hurlers got the bright start to the league they needed at the Páirc

NEW stadium, new LED lights, new management, new season – it all went well in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday for the Cork hurlers.

Picture: Larry Cummins. 
Picture: Larry Cummins. 

Kilkenny, who have had the upper hand over their Leeside rivals in recent years, were expected to again challenge strongly for the precious points on offer in this much-anticipated contest. And that, they did.

Level nine times in the opening half and four times in the second-half, there was only ever a puck of the ball between the sides. A ground strike from corner-forward Shane Kingston in the third minute produced the only goal in this high-scoring game, and significantly that proved to be the difference in the end - much to the delight of bainisteoir John Meyler who knows that winning home ties is a must.

Both managers put out the best teams possible for the crowd of 16,189 who turned up on a mild winter’s evening, but significantly both lineouts were minus key players and there were retirements. Meyler gave starts to Robbie O’Flynn, Tim O’Mahony and Seán O’Donoghue and they all repaid his faith in them. There were late replacements too with Patrick Collins, Mark Ellis and Daniel Kearney coming in for Anthony Nash, David Griffin and Bill Cooper.

Due to injury, Damien Cahalane and Mark Coleman were absent, and Griffin didn’t participate either, so the pressure was going to be on the back six. But there was no question about it, they all proved well worth their place.

As did Patrick Collins who came into goals instead of Anthony Nash. The Ballinhassig clubman pulled off a superb save midway through the first half from Conor Martin, and he didn’t put a foot wrong while keeping a clean sheet in the process.

Nash and Collins are two great goalkeepers and are similar in style. It looks like Collins will hold down the number one position again next Sunday for Cork’s second league game which is away to Wexford as Nash will be on duty in Croke Park with Kanturk for the All Ireland intermediate club final against St Patrick’s of Ballyraggett.

Eoin Cadogan in action against Walter Walsh. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Eoin Cadogan in action against Walter Walsh. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Cork’s full-back line of O’Donoghue, Eoin Cadogan and Colm Spillane had an assured outing. Cadogan, who returned to county hurling this year, had his hands full marking Walter Walsh, and later TJ Reid, but he did an excellent job at the edge of the square. The half-back line was Christopher Joyce, O’Mahony and Ellis – where newcomer O’Mahony showed he is an obvious talent. He played confidently throughout, and his distribution was suitably measured. Their influence none more so apparent than when Kilkenny management replaced three of their starting forwards within a five-minute spell on 44-49 minutes.

Up front, there was no Patrick Horgan (suspended for this match) and this gave O’Flynn – the scorer of two very good points - an opportunity to come into the half-forward line. Conor Lehane landed 11 points which included nine points from frees and his accuracy went a long way to securing victory. To rattle off 1-24 on their first day out is no mean return for an attack that was constantly moving around and created problems for the Cats defensively. And this was on a playing surface that surprisingly cut up as the encounter progressed which made life difficult for players at times.

Cork also had two goal opportunities denied in the second quarter when solid net minder Eoin Murphy, who as well fired two fabulous long-range pointed frees, coped impressively with shots from hard-working skipper Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan (tipped over for a point).

 Seamus Harnedy fires past James Maher of Kilkenny. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Seamus Harnedy fires past James Maher of Kilkenny. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Darragh Fitzgibbon and Daniel Kearney showed good form out around midfield and both got on the scoresheet while Fitzgibbon’s link-up play with Kingston for the major came at the end of a surging run straight down the middle. Cork introduced three substitutes: Jack O’Connor, Luke Meade and Michael Cahalane and all three were prominent.

O’Connor and Meade raised flags in the second period. O’Connor’s notched during a final hectic few minutes as Cork clung to a one-point lead, and it came after dogged defending and a perfectly placed delivery from Eoin Cadogan.

Kilkenny, who had the benefit on a tough pre-season competition in the Walsh Cup, were a point up at the interval (0-15 to 1-11) and with six minutes of normal time remaining it was deadlock (1-19 to 0-22). However, at this juncture there was a lengthy stoppage for treatment to injured Kilkenny captain Cillian Buckley. The number seven, who was one of their best performers and in addition scored three points, had to be stretched off.

The visitors seemed to lose their way after this as eight minutes of additional time was announced. That said, Cork closed out the game emphatically, and finished with some terrific points from O’Connor, Kingston, Lehane and Harnedy. They deserved the victory.

Now, with two points on the board, Cork take this winning momentum to Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday where Davy Fitzgerald’s side await.