A HAPPY man and, even more so, a relieved man.
That was John Meyler at the end of Saturday’s Division 1A relegation playoff after Jamie Coughlan’s injury-time goal had given Cork a deserved if laboured victory.
The handful of visiting supporters in a crowd of just over 1,000 could have been forgiven for fearing the worst at half-time when Meyler’s troops trailed by 1-8 to 0-6 after playing with a stiff breeze.
But all changed utterly in the closing quarter, with a cracking goal by Jack O’Connor bringing the sides level 12 minutes from the end before Coughlan sealed the win at the death.
Both goals came from substitutes, rendering this a game won off the bench, yet Meyler was as pleased with much of Cork’s hurling – if not their finishing – in the first half as he was with their play in the second period.
“I thought in the first half our movement was really, really good and we could have had three or four goals,” he revealed afterwards.
“But we weren’t doing the right things and we were shooting bad wides. Against the wind maybe things suited us better. The substitutions helped too.”
In any given year there are three aspects to the National League, the manager elaborated.
"Firstly, to be competitive (“like we were today”). Secondly, to win matches. Thirdly, to find and blood new players."
On the latter count Tim O’Mahony, Robert Downey and Ger Millerick were all singled out for praise on Saturday by Meyler.
Overall, he added, this year’s league served its purpose for the county.
“You are trying to win matches and blood players.
"I am happy overall with the six games we played. We won three and lost three.
"It is very easy to go with a full team every week, but if you do that you don’t know where you are at the end.”
Meyler’s opposite number was not so upbeat, Brian Cody confessing that he was “disappointed overall” with Kilkenny’s form.
“We didn’t do well, obviously, from a results point of view. We would have been hoping to have done better. The quarter-finals are going ahead without us.”
Saturday’s game, he felt, “wasn’t about relegation, it was more about where you play next year.
"In the league we have been very, very competitive for the last few years. We didn’t do well this time.”
While the hosts may have been missing more big names than their opponents, Cody will still be disturbed at their failure to kick on in the second half.
Kilkenny went in at the interval leading by 1-8 to 0-6 following Alan Murphy’s goal from a penalty won by James Maher three minutes before the break.
But Anthony Nash would not be called into serious action thereafter whereas Eoin Murphy at the other end was busy from start to finish and twice denied Conor Lehane, a thorn in the losers’ side throughout, in the first half. Kilkenny restarted with a point from Richie Hogan; Cork resumed by dropping two balls short to a grateful Murphy.
Gradually they began to find a rhythm, however, working the ball patiently out of defence instead of risking going long and having their deliveries die in the breeze. Four unanswered points, three of them Lehane frees, had them back to within two points at the three-quarter mark.
With 12 minutes remaining the winners’ persistent knocking was rewarded.
O’Mahony lasered a precision ball out of defence that O’Connor killed before rounding his man and steaming through to smash home a terrific goal. Even Murphy couldn’t stop this one.
The wides count told its own story: Cork 18 Kilkenny 10.
Another way of putting it might be to say that the visitors should never have left it so late. Still, all was well that ended well.
Both managers were quick to point to the big picture and echoed each other in that regard.
“We have eight weeks of hard work ahead of us before we play Tipperary on May 12,” Meyler pointed out.
“I am delighted to have got this game.”
We have a lot of work to do,” Cody said. “There are eight weeks to the first round of the championship. We will get stuck into the work.”
To the victor the last word. The bottom line for Meyler?
“The win was important after last Sunday [the Páirc Uí Rinn debacle versus Tipperary] to give us that little bit more confidence.”
Scorers for Kilkenny: A Murphy (1-4, goal penalty, 2 frees, 1 65’); R Hogan (0-5, 3 frees); N Brassil (0-3); R Leahy (0-2); J Maher and B Ryan (0-1).
Cork: C Lehane (0-8, 6 frees, 1 65’); S Kingston (0-3); J O’Connor, J Coughlan (1-0); L Meade (0-2); M Coleman, C Murphy (0-1).
KILKENNY: E Murphy; M Cody, P Deegan, C Wallace; E Morrissey, C O’Shea, T Walsh; J Maher, C Browne; R Leahy, A Murphy, P Lyng; B Ryan, R Hogan, N Brassil.
Subs: A Nolan for Wallace, G Malone for Lyng (h/t); J Donnelly for A Murphy (52); M Keoghan for Leahy (62).
CORK: A Nash; S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, D Browne; R Downey, T O’Mahony, M Coleman; G Millerick, B Cooper; C Murphy, R O’Flynn, L Meade; S Kingston, A Walsh, C Lehane.
Subs: D Fitzgibbon for Murphy, J O’Connor for Walsh (45); J Coughlan for Kingston (68).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)