Cork 1-27 Kilkenny 2-20
Cork will contest the Allianz Hurling League final for the first time in seven years after a slow start was overcome in Saturday night’s semi-final against Kilkenny at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Trailing by 1-4 to 0-1 inside six minutes, Cork battled back to parity on more than one occasion but it wasn’t until the 63rd minute of the game that they led for the first time. From there, they found an extra gear, with a 65th-minute goal from Darragh Fitzgibbon putting them two ahead.
It was not an outcome that looked too likely in the opening stages of the first half. Kilkenny’s notice of intent was served as Eoin Cody pointed after three seconds, one of three first-half points for the wing-forward, though Robert Downey began to get more of a grip on him as the opening period progressed.
There was a general early malaise about Cork though – after Darragh Fitzgibbon levelled, Kilkenny struck for an unanswered 1-3, the goal scored by Martin Keoghan in the second minute following a good run by Mikey Carey and strong work from Pádraig Walsh.
Slowly, Cork began to find their feet, with Alan Connolly the stand-out for them in the first half, scoring three points from play and earning one of the seven frees that Patrick Horgan converted.
Fitzgibbon also had some bright moments while Ciarán Joyce continued his excellent progress with another fine display in defence. Five points on the trot between the 17th and 22nd minutes had Cork level at 0-9 to 1-6, but a lead score couldn’t be found and Alan Murphy and David Blanchfield gave Kilkenny some breathing space again.
Cork almost responded to that with a goal as Connolly did well to win a Patrick Collins puck-out and produced a lovely disguised pass to set Shane Barrett away. He fed Conor Lehane, whose shot was saved by Eoin Murphy, with Horgan first to loose ball only to send his ground shot back across the face of the goal.
Connolly pointed after Horgan left the resultant 65 short but Kilkenny remained sharp in attack, even without the luxury of attempts from dead balls – the first-half free count was 13-2 in Cork’s favour.
Kilkenny’s second goal arrived on the half-hour as Eoin Murphy sent a puckout to his brother Alan and he found the impressive Carey before Keoghan again rounded off the move. At the break, it was 2-12 to 0-14 in favour of the visitors, with Alan Murphy converting an injury-time free after referee Seán Stack had reversed a Cork free moments before when Mark Coleman took too long over the ball.
Alan Murphy was on target again in the opening minute of the second half but this time around Cork were far better than they had been. Conor Lehane had impressed in a general sense up to then and he added two points as well as setting up another for Connolly. When sub Tim O’Mahony pointed in the 45th minute, it was level at 0-20 to 2-14 but a lead score remained elusive and Alan Murphy and Cody put Kilkenny back in front.
Cork didn’t let them out of sight though and a Horgan free – moments after missing one – cut the gap before O’Mahony forced a turnover and Horgan got his ninth and first from play.
It was his last contribution but Lehane, who took over dead-ball duty, put Cork ahead for the first time.
While sub John Donnelly and Murphy replied to put Kilkenny 2-18 to 0-23 ahead, it was their last assault and Fitzgibbon’s goal – from a lay-off by sub Jack O’Connor after Conor Cahalane’s delivery – was the turning point. He added another point to finish with 1-3 while Lehane sent over three more to ensure that Cork remain in the hunt for a first title since 1998.
P Horgan 0-9 (0-8 f), C Lehane 0-6 (0-3 f), D Fitzgibbon 1-3, A Connolly 0-4, S Kingston, S Barrett, R O’Flynn, T O’Mahony, C Joyce 0-1 each.
M Keoghan 2-0, A Murphy 0-6 (0-4f), E Cody, B Ryan 0-4 each, P Walsh 0-2, D Blanchfield, C Kenny, C Buckley, J Donnelly 0-1 each.
P Collins; N O’Leary, D O’Leary, D Cahalane; R Downey, M Coleman, C Joyce; D Fitzgibbon, G Millerick; R O’Flynn, S Barrett, C Lehane; A Connolly, P Horgan, S Kingston.
T O’Mahony for D O’Leary (half-time inj), S Harnedy for Barrett (47), C Cahalane for Kingston (52), J O’Connor for Horgan (59), S Quirke for Millerick (69).
E Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, C Delaney; M Carey, P Deegan, D Blanchfield; C Kenny, C Buckley; W Walsh, P Walsh, E Cody; B Ryan, M Keoghan, A Murphy.
J Maher for Kenny (46), J Donnelly for Keoghan (61), R Reid for Buckley (64).
S Stack (Dublin).